Candidates + Artists (Part Two) – Mayoral Race

We asked the candidates for Atlanta Mayor four questions about artists and Atlanta. It was a brief questionnaire. We are happy to report that we heard back from almost all of the candidates currently running. We did NOT receive a questionnaire response from the following campaigns: John Eaves, Vincent Fort, and Rohit Ammanamanchi. We emailed each campaign several times with reminders and we called each campaign (where we could find a phone number). C4 Atlanta does not endorse any candidate for Mayor or persons for any other elected office. Our goal was to get feedback from candidates about their ideas for supporting artists in Atlanta. There are many issues outside of the arts facing Atlanta–that is not lost on us. However, we serve artists in accordance with our mission so we focused on artists as central to our questionnaire.

Atlanta Skyline

*You may download a PDF Version of candidates’ responses    

To recap, here are the questions that we sent on behalf of our Advocacy Committee (artists, staff, and board members):

  • 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?

    In no particular order, here are the candidates’ responses (note: we did not edit responses)

Keisha Lance Bottoms

“Our cultural leaders come in many forms. They are the young men who create music in their basements, the young women who design and sew their own clothes, the parents who support the Arts through volunteer hours and donations, they are the children who find passion in exploring culture in our Centers of Hope.

Cities across the country have turned to artists to inform their long-term planning. As Atlanta faces the future, we should certainly engage local artists for their uniquely valuable perspectives on the kind of city we can and should be. Minneapolis turned to local artists when deciding how to address a variety of social and environmental issues. San Francisco established an artist-in-residence program to increase public interest in recycling and re-use. And other cities, including Portland, Oregon and Philadelphia, have since adopted the artist-in-residence model, often in their planning departments. I think a program of this type would be a great fit for Atlanta, and I would be excited to work with artists and members of the philanthropic community to explore such a program as mayor.

Artists and artistic expression are vital to Atlanta’s culture and character. But I am connected to the arts in a more personal way: my father was a professional musician and, growing up, I saw everything it took to bring his craft to life. As mayor, I will bring those experiences with me to office, and I am looking forward to working with City Council to find ways to elevate the arts and to protect artists. I’ve brought forward one such idea with my All Rise Atlanta plan, which includes a proposal to support entrepreneurs and small businesses, including artists, by providing workspace, mentoring, and technical and other assistance to help them succeed.

Just like too many Atlantans, artists often struggle to make ends meet, taking on work outside of their creative field – including minimum wage work – just to pay the bills. At the current federal minimum wage of $7.25, a parent who works full time, year round, does not earn enough to be above the federal poverty line. That is why I passed legislation as a City Councilmember that raises the minimum wage to $15 for City of Atlanta employees, and why I will fight as mayor for the ability to raise the minimum wage for every Atlanta worker. I will also use the convening power of the mayor to bring artists and arts organizations together with public and private funders and local developers to address the particular needs of artists with respect to live/work options. Solving these issues starts with a collaborative stakeholder effort to identify the specific housing and workspace barriers artists are up against and – through research including a survey of other cities’ best practices — to identify a potential solutions that will work.”


Peter Aman

“The beauty of arts and culture is that no one has a monopoly. No one has ownership. The City, non-profit executives, and others can be at the vanguard as it relates to growing our cultural footprint, but that does not make them the leaders. If the John Lewis mural impacts your day, as it does for me as I head into the office, then muralist Sean Schwab is a leader. If you watch the show “Atlanta,” and it impacts the way you look at our city, then Donald Glover is a leader. From an arts and culture standpoint, hip-hop has put Atlanta on the map and you cannot talk about hip-hop without groups like Outkast. Atlanta’s arts cultural leaders come from all mediums, their audiences decide who they are.

I love the “City Walls” program in Detroit. Through a government pilot, they’ve taken blighted buildings, and other frequent targets of graffiti, and re-imagined them as canvasses. I would love to transcribe that model here. It’s a creative way to link arts and the built environment to the betterment of both. I am also a large proponent of the HIRE LA’s Youth program. The city partners with non-profits to find paid internships and on-ramps to meaningful employment for young people ages 14 to 24. The Office of Cultural Affairs plays a large part in that. I would like to try something similar in Atlanta where we approach the creative class and look for ways to guide aspiring artists towards meaningful employment.

We will start with bringing the arts and culture community, including artists and stakeholders, together with the City Council, other city departments and government entities to collectively find ways to work together. I often talk about finding ways to improve city services and get rid of unnecessary bureaucracy. That includes access to the city – making it easier to for artists to work with and in the city. Free speech is a particularly important issue in the arts world right now, most notably with murals. Right now, before a mural petition even gets to city council, three different officials have to review and approve it. Penalties can also be excessive. There’s plenty of work that can be done to streamline things. With regards to New York, I think that freelancers, not just in the arts, but in all sectors, should be paid in full and on time. Issuing city penalties for failure to comply is something worthy of conversation.

Dedicated housing for artists is critical. One idea I have is for shared creative spaces. The idea would be to work with non-profits to transition buildings so that the ground level can be used as free studio space while the upper levels could offer affordable units to the people working in those studios. This accomplishes two things that I think are essential: Finding artists an affordable place to live; and creating an environment where artists can work with one another and, in turn, offer a cultural space that the surrounding neighborhoods could frequent and integrate into their communities. The surest way to address housing affordability is by breaking down the silos and put forth a citywide, collaborative plan that tackles displacement and keeps our neighborhoods strong.”


Mary Norwood

“Robert Spano, Gennadi Nedvigin, Michael Shapiro, Susan Booth juust to name a few of many city cultural leaders.

Through my years as a supporter of the arts in Atlanta my husband, Dr. Felton Norwood, and I have championed the diversity of the artistic community as an enriching and essential component of life in our city. As mayor I will create a commission to report back to me with a list of specific needs and initiatives the city council and I should consider enacting. Yes, such an arts commission would no doubt take into account what is being done in other communities across the country and use these ideas to help shape what will best advance the arts in Atlanta.

[combined answer for 3&4] As mayor I will create a commission to report back to me with a list of specific needs and initiatives the city council and I should consider enacting. Yes, such an arts commission would no doubt take into account what is being done in other communities across the country and use these ideas to help shape what will best advance the arts in Atlanta.”


Glenn S. Wrightson

“Jimmy Carter – Andrew Young – Elton John – Evander Holyfield

Need an artist or two or three as advisers to the Mayor’s / City Council on most “public” decisions – where the “flavor” of spending tax dollars impacts citizens.

To insist ( as best as may ) that Council recognize both the expanse and respectable limitations of free speech – to educate the Council on the intrinsic benefit of allowing a broad understanding of allowance of expression beyond bricks and mortar – and to apply open consideration of most creative expressions that are appreciated by the majority of citizens.

I would like to have zoning revised to be open to building geodesic domes in areas of the City – which are the most economical living enclosures one can build and occupy. Would be receptive to allowing work for food and shelter arrangements.”


Ceasar Mitchell

“Atlanta has such as diverse cultural scene. In the music world, we have leaders like Ludacris, Killer Mike, Outkast, Ciara, and the Indigo Girls who have really embraced their hometown, to our amazing Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Kenny Leon has taken Atlanta’s theater world to new levels in his many endeavors here. The many artists who participate in Art on the Beltline have done amazing work in brining art outside the walls of museums and galleries.

To begin, I believe in an open and inclusive government where everyone can contribute. In addition to beautifying our City with innovative public art, I believe artists can play a significant role in addressing some of our most pressing social and political issues. Artists often have a deep sense of community and are connected to and invested in those around them. Because of this, artists have a unique perspective on challenges our residents face and can pose creative and thoughtful solutions to address each. As Mayor, I will engage local artists to raise awareness about and pose solutions to civic and social problems. I envision working with not-for-profit organizations, as well as our school system, to place these artists so that they can reach those who are not otherwise being touched by traditional government programs.

My mom taught art as an APS teach, so I grew up with an appreciation for art and an understanding that artists not only need creative freedom but also access to resources to work. To help protect the ways artists work in this city, I believe we should maintain our low sales tax rate to foster a business-friendly environment. As mayor, I would take a different approach than the current administration and ensure artists also have access to funding. This would be accomplished by utilizing the one and one-half percent required to be set aside in all capital bond projects, by City Code, for creating and maintaining public works of art. This has not been done in the past for other capital bond projects. In concert with securing new funding, I believe we can ensure those dollars go further if we identify a governance structure. We have to bring all of our existing councils together (city, county and state) and allow them, as experts, to determine how those funds are deployed. Finally, we’ve got to be an incubator, and make sure that we are creating and nurturing a new generation of artists. I also believe we should provide a path to success for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and others forging their own way. When I am Mayor, I will work with the Office of Cultural Affairs to implement two very important programs. One program will provide the resources and counsel necessary for artists and other entrepreneurs to start and maintain their businesses, while the other will provide advice regarding benefits and personal finance. I will also work with Atlanta Workforce Development to ensure that our artists have the opportunity to take full advantage of the City’s burgeoning film and entertainment industry by being informed of the various talent needs both on and off the set.

Ensuring an adequate supply of affordable housing will be one of my top priorities as Mayor. In addition to requiring developers to designate 20% of new units as “affordable” (up from the current 10-15%), I launch my “Blight to Light” initiative. This approach includes working with various development agencies, such as the Atlanta Housing Authority and the Atlanta Land Bank Authority, to transform 5,000 blighted and vacant homes around the Beltline and other historic neighborhoods into affordable housing options for low-income individuals and families. Working class teachers, police officers, firefighters and artists will be among those who qualify for assistance. Additionally, I will work with Invest Atlanta to create specific grants for artists, freelancers and entrepreneurs to secure housing.”


Cathy Woolard

“Chris Appleton, Radcliffe Bailey, Chantelle Rytter, Kenny Leon, Donald Glover, Lisa Adler, Lisa Cremin, Del Hamilton, Gregor Turk – we have so many great people contributing to our creative city – please forgive me all the people I’ve missed!

Artists should play a central role in any city’s development, and with Atlanta experiencing such tremendous growth, there’s an equally tremendous opportunity to allow our most creative talent a chance to shape our future. As mayor, I’ll capitalize on this moment. One of first things I’ll do is develop a plan for an annual poet laureateship in City Hall, and initiate the process of identifying the program’s first honoree. Other cities across the nation have already taken this step, and with so many great writers calling Atlanta home, it’s time our government acknowledge their contributions in a more significant way. The poet laureateship would be separate from a new artist-in-residence program, which would give one deserving local artist annually creating in any medium an opportunity to influence our city’s development and participate in planning and execution of projects across all departments.

I’d also like to involve artists in the many infrastructure projects this city will undertake in the coming years, from bus shelters and lighting to ironwork and landscape architecture. Not only would I like our new infrastructure to be artfully designed, I want artists to liaise with communities where new infrastructure will be constructed. Big infrastructure projects elicit strong opinions, and as community leaders, artists are uniquely able to advocate on behalf of the needs of residents. They’ll help design projects that actually address a need and respect the desires of the surrounding community, and be active representatives before, during, and after the construction process. Our universities are incubators for talented local artists, and as mayor, I’ll work to make sure graduating students are aware that there’s room for artists in Atlanta’s government.

Supporting and expanding our arts community will need to be a collaborative effort between the Mayor’s Office and City Council. Put simply, we can not be a world-class city until we have world-class support for the arts. Our Office of Cultural Affairs will need to expand its scope to look beyond annual festivals and pledge to help artists on a daily basis. I would work with the Council to assure that artist work spaces meet safety regulations, but aren’t burdened by improvement costs and overzealous code enforcement. New York’s freelance law is a promising step toward ensuring artists are able to work with greater stability. Freelancers deserve clear written contracts, to be paid on time and fairly, and to have avenues to seek redress should their client not uphold a commitment. As mayor, I’ll work with our city council and community organizations to understand what’s happening and what’s needed in Atlanta.  New York City has the ability to enact laws covering labor issues (as well as rent control for example) that Atlanta is not able to do without the express permission of the Georgia General Assembly.  But I’m open to finding ways to make doing business in Atlanta easier and to address any issues that we can manage at the local level.

I know firsthand that pursuing a creative calling frequently comes with financial risk. When I was in my twenties I started my own music production company, and I put a chunk of the expenses on credit and prayed for good weather. It was a gamble for me then, but it needn’t be so much of a gamble for Atlanta’s artists today. They’re an asset to our city, and they deserve our support. One form that support will take under my leadership is indeed artist-specific affordable housing. When artists live and work in our neighborhoods, it gives that area a distinctive character. We need to embrace and enhance that. I’ll offer a 100 percent tax credit per-unit to any commercial apartment owner that pledges to run an artist-in-residence program on their property. This would unleash untapped potential for artists to create in our neighborhoods without them having to worry about how they’re going to make rent. I also want to continue and expand Atlanta Public Schools’ work of converting old buildings into studios and residences for artists. This is an excellent way to make use of resources we already have and keep our creative talent within city limits.”


Kwanza Hall

Fahamu Pecou, Miya Bailey, Adam Harell, Gregg Mike, Chilly-O, David Banner, Deana Marto, ABFF Event , Dragon Con, Donald Glover and the cast of “Atlanta”

First we need to identify and build upon our existing assets within the community. The presence of local artists in city planning will be cultivated by engaging all artists and members of the art community to become part of the conversation for Atlanta’s future, as I’ve done in the heart of the city and Old Fourth Ward. Arts and cultural programming, such as events, festivals and performances, interactive classes and workshops, and a variety of other activities provide education about the historical and cultural context of a community and opportunities for participation in community life. I will empower the OCA and Elevate to create programming that initiate conversation about arts and culture and establish a structure of happenings that venture beyond current forms of expression, with plans that ensure that these activities will continue to flourish. This deliberate continuity will help strengthen creative ideas, inspire citizens, and offer hope that opportunities for the creative class exist, but more importantly matter to the city and community.

My three terms on City Council have taught me how to listen and work together to provide the community with the services they need. Listening to each city council member is the first step. It’s important to work with the city council to expand and create more art community hubs, markets, schools, and even festivals that commemorate Atlanta’s creative culture. Furthermore, work together to find ways to expand on the incentives for artists nationwide to make Atlanta their creative home.

As Mayor I will provide incentives for all citizens, especially artists, with housing incentive programs to build community hubs in underserved areas artists. Not only will artists be provided with affordable housing, they’ll be able to build a creative foundation for new communities.


This discussion aligns with Our Future Atlanta’s policy focus on arts and culture.

Funding for this initiative was provided by Our Future Atlanta and the Center for Civic Innovation. For more about Our Future Atlanta, visit: Our Future Atlanta Website