From Artists to the Candidates (Part One)

Last month, C4 Advocacy Committee members from C4 Atlanta crafted some questions for candidates for Mayor and City Council. Our committee is comprised of C4 board members, staff, artists and arts administrators–mostly people who work on ground everyday in the arts.

Atlanta Skyline

Much of the dialogue that occurs in the city around the arts focuses on arts organizations and institutions. We know that the arts contributes over half a billion dollars to the local economy. And yet art makers in Atlanta are struggling to avoid displacement, support families, and find job security. This is NOT a divergent conversation from the broader scope of local support for arts & culture–It is more of a “yes, and…” conversation.

I was very pleased with the organization of the Mayoral Forum on the Arts. Several candidates presented some plausible ideas for supporting arts & cultural organizations + artists. Both are essential to retaining our creative workforce in Atlanta.

The questions below were crafted to drill down a little deeper about policies that would affect people–people who work in the arts. I want to note that C4 Atlanta is an arts service organization–think of our role in advocacy as similar in approach to a trade coalition. We see how what benefits ALL Atlantans will also benefit ALL artists. However, we have a mission to support arts workers (seriously, that is pretty much our mission statement on file with the IRS). We also understand that there are unique challenges artists face in regards to live-work space, transportation, affordable housing, and so forth. For example: artists are typically freelancers and paid under the 1099 structure. Many of the affordable housing initiatives in our city are based on working wage (hourly or salaried, w-2, employment). From a structural standpoint, the 1099 can be a barrier to affordable housing programs because of how traditional underwriting works. We hope that by changing the dialogue around how we view the workforce for artists, we are also addressing issues in other sectors: technology, design, consultants, insurance, appraisers, and the list goes on.

For a good part of my life, my father was self-employed. I know a little about what he went through to support a family of seven. The system is not always stacked in your favor as a self-employed worker–I digress only to say that I really have a place in my heart for artists, sole proprietors, entrepreneurs, and people doing the hustle everyday to make ends meet. It is more than just talk for me.

We sent an email to every candidate for mayor and city council for whom we could find information. We asked that they address these questions about arts workers, specifically. At the end of the day, artists vote, not institutions. There are thousands of artists in Atlanta. When Mayor Kasim Reed was first elected, he won that election by less than 800 votes. Arts Professionals: We have a voting bloc! If you think about it, 800 votes is probably equivalent to you and your closest friends’ network of colleagues. Art votes count!

We will be sending an invitation soon to invite you to a gathering right before the election to review the answers provided by candidates. More on that event in the next blog… For now, here are the questions we sent:

  • Who do you consider Atlanta’s Cultural leaders?

  • Considering such models as L.A. and Detroit (to name a few) that incorporate artists into planning and city government, what presence do you see for local artists in city government work beyond Contracts for Arts Services through OCA, Elevate, and city commissions?

  • How do you plan to work with *city council to protect the ways artists work in this city? (Some initiatives on our radar: removing barriers to small business development for artists and entrepreneurs; protection of free speech; freelancer benefits similar to NYC)?

  • How do you plan to include individual artists/freelancers in policies and programs to provide affordable housing and workspace?

*This question was modified for city council candidates, “work with the Mayor’s Office…”

 P.S. We have had some replies already. We really look forward to engaging our candidates as they share their vision for the future of Atlanta!

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