A moment of clarity at GeorgiaForward

The annual GeorgiaForward Forum took place last week, and C4 Atlanta was once again in attendance. Each year, GeorgiaForward attracts hundreds of people from throughout the state to work together in tackling statewide policy challenges and pushing for a statewide vision of prosperity. Participants in this year’s Forum offered their vision for what statewide prosperity would look like, and how we can get there. With each passing year, participants seem to more fully understand the importance of focusing on quality of life measures — including access to to the arts — to achieve statewide prosperity.

Among this year’s keynote speakers, Jamil Zanaldin, President of the Georgia Humanities Council, offered seven biographies of people who rewrote history through what they accomplished in Georgia. Eli Whitney, William Sherman, W. E. B. Du Bois, Walter White, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, and Robert Woodruff. What each of these people accomplished in Georgia helped change the course of history, all when Georgia’s position in the world was far less advantageous than it is today.

Zanaldin then spoke of what these individuals had in common with one another. Each of these individuals rose to their challenges. Each of them knew who they were and what they stood for. Each had a commitment to getting the job done, even when the odds were against them. Each of them made a lifetime commitment to their respective visions. And, certainly not least, each of them had support from their families and their community, and were faced from their supporters with a high expectation to succeed.

During the Q&A I stood up to ask Zanaldin his thoughts on our current climate. I don’t remember precisely how I asked the question. It seems at times that we’re faced here with an extraordinary amount of cynicism. It makes very little sense, some say, to make public investments in the sort of infrastructure and regulatory apparatus it takes to build a prosperous economy. But it is easy to see the world around us, as preceeding generations built it, and see it as the way things have always been. So I asked Zanaldin, essentially, if Georgia is resting on its laurels, content with what we have.

Zanaldin’s response provided a great wake-up call. Georgia today is uncertain about its achievements. What is significant about this state? Very few people in the room that day knew about all these people in Georgia’s history, or their achievements. How could we be resting on our laurels if we don’t even know what our laurels look like? Today, we’ve become materialistic in our aspirations, in deciding who we are and who we should be. What are we comparing Georgia to in terms of our future? Does everything have to be a metric? “The purpose,” he said, “exists beyond the metric.”

Point taken. As artists and arts advocates, it’s up to each of us to remember what our vision is for the state, and how our value is expressed beyond simple metrics. How do you express the value of the arts, or your vision for prosperity?

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