Author: Jessyca Holland

The Candidates + Artists (Part Three) – City Council

Yesterday, we posted the candidates for Mayor of Atlanta responses to our questionnaire. You may also download the PDF version of their responses HERE.

We also collected responses from candidates for city council. We received a number of replies from almost all of the districts. This was a little tougher to collect. We received bounce-back emails, some candidates didn’t have a website, or no email information was available on their Facebook pages. After qualification, we culled down our list and used the email contact info found on the city’s site. The initial outreach took hours because of the amount of sleuthing it took to find contact emails for candidates. I mention all of this to explain why we don’t have a majority of responses; however, we do have feedback from some viable candidates (about 15 of them).

I am not going to copy city council replies within the body of this blog–it is a lot of pages. However, we created a handy-dandy PDF with city council candidate responses: City Council Candidates’ Responses on the Arts (PDF)

Image of Atlanta
Photo by Ibstidham0. Courtesy of pixabay.

Just a note from me – nobody owns arts advocacy. Not us. Not anyone. In my opinion, the more voices the better. The more artists are engaged, the better. After this election (and very likely runoff(s)) we know one thing will be true: we will have a new mayor and we will have a city council that looks much different than what we have now.

Stay engaged. Stay engaged. Stay engaged. 

Our elected officials work for you. Volunteer. Join your local neighborhood association and NPU. Your voice matters. I know many in our city have been left out for years. I hope to see those people reclaim their voices in local politics. Look around your local meetings. Who is there? Who isn’t? How can you, as an artist (or arts supporter) use your privilege (education, social status, etc.) to widen the circle of inclusion? Diverse cities are stronger.

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We often ask: “how do we keep artists in Atlanta?” This is a complex question that requires a comprehensive-solution based approach. Education, jobs, affordability, transportation–these are part of the solution for artists and other sectors. But often we leave out civic engagement. Making space for artists to create ties to a city–to strengthen their social cohesion also helps retain artists.  That is C4’s interest. We want to see artists call Atlanta home. This is why we entered with more fervor the advocacy space two years ago. We also support artists self-organizing without institutions within their own networks. Together, we can build the Atlanta that truly supports art workers. Having said that, we are happy to continue to reach out to elected officials on policy matters that affect artists. We will keep doing this now and after the election. So! Onward and upward…and into 2018 which will usher in the gubernatorial race! (I need a nap)

Please vote on November 7th. #ArtistsVOTE

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 

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!

Art Takes Guts

I cannot remember where I heard it. But I think about it all the time. I think about it when I want to drag my feet getting to work. I think about it when thoughts of procrastinating sink in to my tired brain. I think about it when working on the weekend to meet a deadline. I think about it whenever I have a “brilliant” idea but no action or plan to back it up.

No business ever failed for lack of good ideas.

The human brain requires energy. It requires a complex system of organs working together to fuel those thoughts. The guts fuel the brain.

I know it is a weird analogy but I like to think of our strategic plan as the “guts” behind our mission. It takes guts. It takes guts to be a freelance artist, and it takes guts to be an entrepreneur.

It takes guts to be an artist

Over the years, I have heard this sentiment: “Me? I’m doing fine. I’m working regularly. I don’t need a plan.”

Mustering up the energy to create is no easy feat. I will agree with that. However, we need more than ideas to earn a living from our creative minds. A business plan is not some gimmick–it is road map to fulfillment. It is a way to reach your goals. All of them. A good plan includes business goals that align with your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

There is never a right time. The right time is now, no matter where you are in your career.

I teach business planning for arts. Because I do, I do my best to practice what I preach. Every year, our team makes time to plan. Actually, we make time to plan every week. We do this because not because we are robots, or brilliant minds that have figured out a magic formula for success. We do this because we know our limitations. We know that we face distractions. We do this because it is a core value of our organization to mirror the behaviors what we teach others.

I wanted so badly to bring to Atlanta a place for artists to come together to help support their goals. That is why we offer Ignite. I wanted to help connect artists to resources that I did not have access to when I was working as an actor. I feel in love with this work because I want artists in Atlanta to thrive–not just get by.

Unique

This last year, C4 redesigned several classes to keep up with the needs of artists in our community. It is our commitment to you to provide a high quality educational experience. It is our devotion to our mission. These days, there a more resources for learning the business side of the arts. Great! More access points for learning is a good thing. But I want to make the case for you to join us for Ignite this season. Here are some things that make C4 classes unique: 

  1. This is what we do! We are not riding a trend or chasing grant dollars. There is little glory in being an arts organization that does not produce or present, but we love our jobs. We hire artists who love teaching. Our team has years and years of experience in curriculum design. Which means that we will never promise you riches simply by taking on of our classes; however, we DO promise you learning objectives, trained facilitators, a variety of teaching styles for different styles of learners, and more. In other words, we are not just content experts or teaching based on our own experience–we are trained educators for adult learning.
  2. Entrepreneurship is for everyone. I love entrepreneurship as a female. I have had ideas shot down because of my gender. It is a fact. Often women and people of color get shut out of traditional modes of industry and the arts are no exception. I see artists who identify as female and artists of color doing amazing, innovative work in Atlanta. Their hill is extra steep. Despite the challenge, women and people of color are embracing the role of entrepreneur, and they are making a difference. But this isn’t just my casual observation. A recent article by Forbes pointed out that more and more millennials and people of color are becoming entrepreneurs.
  3. Connections. C4 classes connect people to people. I think the greatest value C4 classes offer is the opportunity for artists to come together from different backgrounds and disciplines, to learn from one another, to support one another, and to build a community of people who create. It is such a gift to experience. Many of the artists who have gone through our programs have meet new artists to collaborate with on projects that have received local and/or national recognition.

The time is now

There will never be the right conditions to start. You don’t need to be at the beginning of your career or in crisis. The time is now. Join us for our next round of Ignite.

Democracy Requires Effort

Several years ago, I attended a Fulton County Budget hearing. There is nothing remarkable about that statement. My staff, board members, colleagues and I have attended dozens. We attend to show support for the funding of Contracts for Art Services. But at one particular meeting, I believe a major cut was on the table so many from the arts community were in attendance, a board member and artist named LaMar Barber took a photo of me speaking to the county commissioners. He posted it on Facebook. I commented on the photo, “Democracy!” LaMar replied, “…requires effort!”

At the Fulton County Budget Hearings in 2013.
At the Fulton County Budget Hearings in 2013.

Democracy requires effort.

That phrase rings in my brain a lot these days. You may be thinking it is because of the recent election. Maybe. It really has more to do with the fact that C4 is making a more concerted effort to be involved “at the local.” Let me preface the rest of this post with this: I am not trying to be self-congratulatory. This work is hard, and there are people I know who are much better at doing it. By “type of work,” I mean, showing up. Being there for the committee meetings, the neighborhood meetings, the council or commissioner meetings. How do they have the energy? How do they have the resources?

In the arts, we often complain about not being invited to the table. I agree with that. However, I also know that you sometimes have to pull up a chair. But when is this work off mission? My answer is that I don’t think that when you work in the Independent Sector that it is ever off mission. Our work intersects often with civic issues. We do ensure that we are staying within the bounds of non-partisan participation, which is within our legal right. Having said that, advocacy, or even just civic engagement, may take focus away from programming. How do you balance that? (I am really asking here)

In some ways, it is part of the growing pains of an organization maturing. In the start-up phase, job duties are fuzzy and resources, including time, are pooled toward creating programs. That quickly moves to maintaining and evaluating programs (maybe even sun-setting programs). As Executive Director, I am working hard to place staff members into roles that best fit their strengths. Roles become more defined. All this to say, being an advocate for the arts is not glamorous. There are no Twitter wars or celebrity endorsements.

I sat through a three hour meeting at City Hall just so I could speak for a minute to voice my concern about the proposed “Arts & Entertainment District.” (Not against a district, just concerned about what constitutes “arts” and how money will be allocated). Many of the meeting points were completely unrelated to our work at C4. I was hungry. Famished. This isn’t heroic work. I was mostly thinking about what I needed to do when I got back to the office, and how I wished the meeting time would fly by faster. This morning I missed another city meeting because my van started acting weird. Instead of driving to the 8 am meeting, I drove to my local mechanic. I texted Audrey, Education Manager, and she went to the meeting in my stead. The meeting went on without me.

Democracy requires effort

It is also slow. When it comes to government, I often think of that aphorism, “a camel is a horse designed by committee.” The process is intentionally slow. Our founding fathers designed our government process with a plodding pace in mind to protect citizens from wide sweeping change that came too swiftly. Campaign promises are mostly rhetoric. You have to vet ideas to ensure the process is in the best interest of the people–and often, unfortunately, it is only in the best interest of part of the people. The people who have the time or capacity to show up.

It is not that I believe that all campaign promises are empty. It is just that the heroes I see are the people who show up when they can, they research the issues, they present facts, they appeal to people’s common sense and humanity, they sit through the long meetings, miss lunch, they juggle relationships and maybe children, and they do it over and over again. People like Kyle Kessler with the Center for Civic Innovation. Kyle has an amazing knack for this work. He about local politics, zoning issues, Atlanta history, meeting dates–someone needs to download Kyle’s brain. I am always in awe of how much he knows and how often he shows up.

image of greek senate
Old School Democracy

Leveraging Strengths

Over the last year, C4 has grown its advocacy committee so we can divide up meetings and tasks. Most of what we are doing is just listening. Listening and learning. There are a myriad of policies that affect the lives of artists and of arts organizations. Typically, advocacy efforts have been focused around funding. While important, there are a lot of missed opportunities when that is our only focus. There are several organizations that educate and advocate for the arts in metro Atlanta. There are also dozens of organizations that may make great cross-sector partners. Our advocacy platform is posted online. If you want to get involved, let us know.

Democracy, or even a republic, takes effort. It feels as though the nation is in turmoil some days. I am not going to suggest to anyone that national issues are not important–they certainly are important. This is a “yes, and…” moment. They are important but so are local policies, legislation, ordinances, etc. Let’s work together. Let our efforts be amplified through unity.

 

Like a Southern Whisper By Latanya Hardaway

photo of Latanya Hardaway working with paints
Latanya Hardaway. Photo credit: Cindy Brown Photography

I wanted to share this poem by a C4 Atlanta Hatch artist, Latanya Hardaway. Latanya shared this poem with us during Hatch a few weeks ago. Prior to her reading this poem, we had lengthy and weighty discussions about race, white supremacy culture, privilege and considerations for artists working with community. I have to say, I admire the heck out of this cohort. Each person in that class listens intently to one another. They also provide amazing support to one another. Latanya is no exception. I have been fortunate to get to know her more, along with her son, Earl. Both are part of the C4 family.

I asked Latanya if she would allow me to share her poem. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Like a Southern Whisper By Latanya Hardaway

I walked in the circle of change.

I bend over and picked the flowers from the garden newly planted.

I felt the breeze and listened quietly as the birds chirped.

I saw things that I’d never seen here.

Here where Sunday dinners were at Mom and Dad’s house.

I saw organic coffee shops, neighborhood gardens.

The air’s not really better from how dad sees it.

Looking through dad’s eyes, he’s painted a picture of pain.

Looking through dad’s eyes, I see anger and feel the fear of his 70 plus years.

Looking through dad’s eyes I see the change made by the “green”. Looking through Dad’s eyes, I see the alien takeover: making nothing look like home.

Then I see in his eyes a question, “Will there be a place for me?” And like a southern whisper of a word you dare not say out loud; a green organic alien speaks to him and says,” Bless your heart. Of course there will be a place for you.”

Learner-Focused Adult Education

I have been holding onto this post in my head for a few weeks. I attended a convening in early September held by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation in Kansas City, MO. The purpose of the convening is for organizations like C4 Atlanta to meet and discuss current trends, issues, etc. affecting our field. That is an anemic description but I really want to talk about one portion of the convening in which we learned about Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The session was presented by Allison Posey, CAST.

What is UDL?

From the CAST website:

Universal Design for Learning
is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.

UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.

Why is UDL necessary?

Individuals bring a huge variety of skills, needs, and interests to learning. Image that says, "One size does not fit all"Neuroscience reveals that these differences are as varied and unique as our DNA or fingerprints. Three primary brain networks come into play: Recognition networks, strategic networks, and Affective Networks.

So what does this mean, exactly? Well, it means that learners (yes, even adult learners) need to experience the aquisition of knowledge in a variety of ways to make the learning meaningful. You may be familiar with Dr. Howard Gardner’s “Multiple Intelligences, (MI)” in which GarComic illustration that shows show how not all animals can climb a tree equally: "For a fair selection everybody has to take the same exam: please climb that tree."dner posits that there exists eight ways in which learners exhibit intelligence; thus, integrated learning styles are necessary to reach different types of learners. When I was in grad school for a degree that focused on information technology, Gardner’s work was highly regarded. Both UDL and MI support a learning environment that includes ALL learners. As a colleague pointed out, UDL has a little more neuroscience behind it.  So what about adult learners? 

 

“Change the learning environment, not the learner.” – Allison Posey, CAST (presentation in KC)

The above phrase has been bouncing around in my head. I think about it everyday. Have you ever noticed that not much attention is giving how people learn past high school? Does dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other learning disabilities (really, this is about perspective) go away once we become adults? Or is the expectation that we have learned how to deal with it? My daughter, who is now a freshman in college, and I talk all the time about the difference between subject matter experts and teachers–people who actually care about learning. Is it fair to have a class for adult learners and to not think about UDL? Maybe fairness isn’t the right question… I had to challenge myself with this question: “As a leader of a nonprofit dedicated to adult learning (regardless of the subject matter), don’t I want every person sitting through our classes to have access to the best learning environment possible?”

The staff and I talked through UDL. I brought it to my board during our annual retreat. I am proud to say that UDL will be integrated into our strategic plan as a programmatic goal: to redesign ALL of our classes around the core principles and guidelines of UDL. This will take some time. The thing about this type of work, teaching continuing ed, is that the field is constantly evolving. We don’t just hammer out a class and are done with it. All of our classes have gone through curriculum updates–some simple, others drastic. For example, Chelsea, our Operations Manager, completely rewrote the curriculum for the Website Bootcamp course to ensure it stayed relevant. Our Hatch curriculum had several collaborators and the staff took weeks to map the content. We did our best to include multiple strategies for delivering the curriculum content: movement, improv, role playing, writing, visual presentations, doodling/drawing, small group breakouts, games, etc.

In a later blog, Audrey, our Education Manager will be discussing all of the elements that go into curriculum building at C4. We put a lot of thought and time into the learning progression, pedagogical framework, evaluation, and touch points. We are also reducing the number of panels we host as a way to promote a more equitable learning dynamic between facilitators and learners. We love what we do and want to be as transparent as possible about our work. All of this takes time and resources but the goals are in place. We will be adding specific tactics and objectives to a timeline soon.

As you think about your professional development trajectory, mull over this: “how do I best learn?” Let us know. Email us. Adults have specific learning needs, that is true, and they may differ from that of younger learners; however, some principles in learning are the same across the board: variety is key. Death by PowerPoint is out. As a field, it wouldn’t hurt us to think more about how our professional development offerings can be more inclusive. Not only more inclusive, but more engaging as well. Even if you are a visual learner, sitting in one spot staring at a screen while a person drones on is not conducive to inspiring genus.

While there is no large body of research to support that the neurological factors that may account for dyslexia are linked to creativity, there are researchers, artists, and educators that are exploring a possible link. Whatever the conclusion, I prefer the challenges of this quote:

…because many Dyslexics do show wonderful visual and spatial skills, we look for an analogous extra something in the brain to account for that. But perhaps we should be doing the opposite – looking for what inhibits creativity.

I look forward to exploring how C4 can modify the learning environment. It will be a journey.

Image of a neuron - National Science Foundation

 

 

When to Work for Free?

I am not going to give you the answer you may be seeking. That’s because this is a blog…and ultimately the right answer is deeply personal.

At best I hope to just talk (type, really) through a few points in this blog. The topic of working for “exposure” often rears its frustrated head during our Ignite class. Artists are tired of being asked to give away their work and/or creative energy for free. I get it.

So when do you give away your art?

It is up to you. Really. But I am going to go through a few ways of thinking about intentional giving.

Fundraisers

There is a lot of discussion in the Atlanta art community right now around art auctions/art fundraisers

Image by Chad Gierlich via flick
Image by Chad Gierlich via flick

and how they add or detract from the fair valuation of art. I am not adding to that conversation in this blog at this time. What I do want to examine is mission. If you believe in the mission of the organizer or nonprofit that is raising funds, then feel free to give. If you feel uneasy about the balance of power, then don’t give. Support the mission of organizations that speak to you and your core values. I am not putting the onus of creating value in the marketplace on the artist–what I am saying is this: be selective, be purposeful, be discriminate. Corporations do this ALL they time. They don’t give to everyone who asks.

Think about why you want to give and the impact of your gift. I know that I cannot personally give to every cause. Neither can you (unless you have a ton of money and in that case, let’s get lunch!). If you happen to receive accolades and exposure for your gift, great. I will never promise you that will happen if you give to C4. I will do my best to appreciate the heck out of you, but I would rather someone give because they believe in the work we are doing. There are some very worthy causes in our community. For thought: the average American household contributes more than $2,900 annually to charities.

Your Budget

If you want to give to a cause each year, put that in your budget. Make it its own expense line. When you have reached your giving cap, you can make the decision to dig deeper or you can say, “I am sorry, I have reached my budget for donations this year.” Again, corporations and wealthy people do this ALL the time. Track what you give. In an ideal world, I would love to be able to give away to charitable causes 10% of my income every year.

Tax Deductions

This is not tax advice. Just some stuff I know. Many of you know that if you are a visual artist, you cannot deduct the fair market value of your art donated to an auction, etc. There are legislators seeking to change this law. Realize that the change in law will not offer the fair market deductions for auctions, necessarily. Fundraising supports charitable work but itself is not a charitable activity. Furthermore, actors, dancers, singers, doctors, lawyers, CPAs, and the list goes on, do not receive a tax deduction for the time they give to a charitable cause. But they do it every year. In fact Georgia Lawyers for the Arts has a cadre of attorneys who provide in-kind service benefits in the millions. Millions. None of those attorneys are able to deduct their time spent.

A tax deduction would be a nice bonus to giving and C4 supports legislation to help artists received fair market value for art work that has a public benefit, but don’t let that be the reason or deterrent. Give because you believe in the cause.

Project Work

Fry from FuturamaArtists are often underpaid. Negotiate. Work for money, not exposure. Determine your fair value, and demand it. Your fellow artists will also be the better for it, because it will encourage the market to appreciate fair value for all arts workers. Make sure you learn about budgeting. Understand the difference between direct and indirect costs. Pay yourself–I mean really. This is key. When we asked funders what one of the biggest mistakes artists make when submitting a grant application they replied that artists often omit in their budgets a line item for their own artist’s fee. Add it as a line item in your project budget. You may have to invest up front as you begin your art career–this isn’t unusual in most businesses. Many businesses began with “debt equity.” The restaurant business, your local gym, the oil change-slash-car-wash-place, local nursery, and the list goes on. As a freelancer, do your best to move to a place where your total costs are covered in your project expense budgets.

Work toward not coming out of pocket for a project that someone else hired you to complete. You will resent the work.

There are projects that you will want to put your own money into. You may self-produce to: raise awareness for a cause, experiment with a new idea, work with a colleague you really respect, work on a piece of material (like a script) that has had your heart for awhile…or you just want to try something new. All valid reasons.

My only advice: find balance. I mean balance of power, balance of live/work, balance of paid/unpaid, and balance of love for the practice.

Internships/Apprenticeships 

I am personally hesitant to take on interns. This is because a true internship benefits the the intern more than the host company. In fact, interns are not supposed to help you expand your bottom line. I do not want free labor. I want our interns to get a) educational credit b) paid or c) a ton of experience that will help her/his career move forward. Volunteers and interns are not the same.

I think it is also worth mentioning that internships by their very nature, sometimes breed inequality. How? Think about it. You can’t support a family on an internship unless you have savings, a family member willing to cover your expenses while you intern, or the ability to pay back loans.

I am not against internships. I have had some wonderful internship opportunities.

When considering an internship, think about what you will receive from your training. How will you use it? Are you making connections? Do your career goals align with the internship opportunity? Are you learning marketable skills? Does the internship offer a stipend? Who benefits more, you or the company?

I am sure you have your own thoughts about the arts economy. Feel free to leave a comment. Remember, this is not an exhaustive research post. I am also not speaking for every staff member or board member…how could I? I am one person. I can say that as an organization, we want to see artists being paid fair wages. It’s the right thing to do. Period.

Here are a few resources for your consideration:

Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E)

Department of Labor & the Fair Labor Standards Act 

Image by Chad Gierlich via flick

 

Affordable Housing and the “Gig” Economy

There have been many conversations in Atlanta about affordable housing. Atlanta City Councilmember Andre Dickens is seeking policy change to include more affordable housing units in the city. Our building neighbors at the Center for Civic Innovation hosted a well attended session just yesterday evening that focused on affordable housing as part of their Social Studies series. The name of the event was aptly named: “Who can afford to live in Atlanta?” And when we asked artists during a recent survey what concerns they have about Atlanta, affordable housing topped the list (under transportation and in line with [fair] wage).

What is affordable housing? Is it cheap rent? Is it a low mortgage? What if you just don’t make a lot of money? What is affordable then?

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):

Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care. An estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households now pay more than 50 percent of their annual incomes for housing. A family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States.

Oh.

home in atlanta
Flickr: “Middle Class Home In Sweet Auburn” by joaquin uy

Want to have some more fun? Remember the question about wage? Here is a neat little Housing Wage Calculator for you to play with. As I played with the calculator, I discovered that the average rent within 10 miles of Atlanta is $1376/month (probably for a family?). If I am not spending more than 30% of my income on rent, I would need to earn $26.46/hour or $55,040/year. Now, my family pays about that for our mortgage. But my husband and I earn more than that combined, not just with my salary alone. Ahem. (I know what you are thinking, “but you run an nonprofit, you must be rolling in the dough!”). I don’t make enough alone to afford $1000/month.

The good news is that I get paid these days on salary. Many artists have a combination of jobs that either pay under the table, or the artists are 1099 contractors. This can affect what rental properties are available to them (not to mention money for the deposit and first month’s rent). Purchasing a property becomes even more of a challenge.

Underwriters invest in low risk. If you cannot demonstrate a consistent income, you are not low risk. You may earn more as a freelance artist than a person who works in retail; however, the person in retail is likely a W-2 employee. He/she has proof of regular income.

I know that policy change is sometimes linear. I also know that there are ways in which we as a community can help artists and freelancers find affordable housing. Even better, I know artists who own homes. But it is going to take more understanding on the part of elected officials, lenders, and policy makers to truly understand the connection between wage and housing. I will not get into fair valuation of artists in this blog. I am speaking more about institutions and gatekeepers. And this isn’t an issue that just artists face. In fact, Forbes reported in 2015:

Tucked away in the pages of a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office is a startling statistic: 40.4% of the U.S. workforce is now made up of contingent workers—that is, people who don’t have what we traditionally consider secure jobs.

This IS startling. As the Forbes article points out, contingent workers have less access to affordable healthcare, living wage, job stability and access to resources.

Atlanta: thank you for recognizing the need for affordable housing. It will ensure we compete nationally for workers.

So now what?

I have been grappling with this. Perhaps, there are resources we (C4 Atlanta) can help connect artist to that ameliorates the situation. Maybe that is helping artists become aware of the programs that are out there that can assist artists in the search for affordable housing or even home ownership. I think we also need to educate our friends in other sectors about what it really takes to make it in Atlanta as a freelance artist. I am trying. I have talked to anyone who will listen about these issues. I have talked to officials in DC and I have talked to officials locally. They are willing to help. But this isn’t going to be a quick fix.

We are living in the gig economy. It isn’t just artists. Atlanta: we want to live here. Help us do that. Or else…or else you will lose us.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Photo – Flickr: “Middle Class Home In Sweet Auburn” by joaquin uy

 

We Don’t Give Anyone Power

I have been thinking lately (as in the last several months) about the word “empower.” From a Google Search:

em·pow·er
/əmˈpou(ə)r/
verb
give (someone) the authority or power to do something.
“nobody was empowered to sign checks on her behalf”
synonyms: authorize, entitle, permit, allow, license, sanction, warrant, commission,delegate, qualify, enable, equip

“the act empowered police to arrest dissenters”
  • make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.
    “movements to empower the poor”
    synonyms: emancipate, unshackle, set free, liberate

    “movements to empower the poor”

    Look at the second example: “movements to empower the poor.”

    You see, I struggle with this word but most of all, I struggle with how this word has been used by my Got Privilege Textorganization. Or how this word is used by the arts community. Yesterday, I read a thoughtful piece by Margy Waller about the word, “help.” Margy asserts that our intentions to “help” a community can come from a place of privilege. We want to help, to make better, to clean up, to unshackle…to make more like “us.”

    Empower. I have tried to remove this word from my lexicon. I still see it pop up in descriptions of our services (note to self: talk to the staff about this). Empower automatically denotes a tension in status. The one who empowers has the power to share–the one who is empowered is powerless, or at least he/she lacks enough power to accomplish a specific goal.

    We (C4) don’t empower artists. We provide tools. We facilitate. We provide services.

    Just a detour: I have been speaking with an adviser (for lack of a better term) who has reminded me on a few occasions that elected officials need us (voters, citizens, etc.) more than we need them. However, it is often that power dynamic that keeps us from civic engagement or from rightfully petitioning our government and its civil servants. We have the power. Do you know who else has power, ideas, thoughts, solutions, experience, knowledge and history: the very communities we believe we empower. Our audience is mainly artists. They have power. You have power. I don’t give you that. I can listen. I can share ideas. Together we can combine our assets. Together we can affect change.

    girl boxerAs an artist, the power over your career is your own. And understanding the weight that the power you wield carries is important to your success. Understanding that often the entities you work with also need you more than you need them is important. We don’t always accept that the power dynamic works in our favor, but often it does.

    I don’t have a solution that all of a sudden restructures centuries of colonial language. For my part, I will try to examine my perspective and challenge myself to be more thoughtful about not just language but intention. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.