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    Posted August 17, 2010

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Atlanta AEA Members March for the Arts in Georgia

Terry Burrell

On April 19, 2010 hundreds of Atlanta artists mobilized to protect funding for the arts in Georgia. Twenty or so Actors’ Equity Members participated in the march, which was organized by Ismail ibn Conner, an Atlanta actor and playwright working on the multi-year Koltes project with 7 Stages. Minka Wiltz, a local Equity member then starring in Black Pearl Sings at Horizon, led the group in depression-era protest songs as they marched. Many carried signs and banners, but Capitol police required the marchers to pull their signs from their support sticks when they reached the gold-domed building.

Earlier in the week, the Georgia House of Representatives passed a FY2011 budget slashing funding for the Georgia Council for the Arts, which has supported arts in the state since 1965 through direct grants, grassroots arts programs and distribution of NEA arts grants. After budget cuts in previous had reduced GCA staff by more than 60% and eliminated some granting programs altogether, the proposed cut would have caused the elimination of the agency. In addition to the reduction in state appropriations by over $1.6 million, the loss of NEA and regional granting partners would have removed over $1 million per year of arts funding in Georgia. The prospect of living in the only state in the nation without an arts council or any agency capable of partnering with the NEA mobilized the entire arts community, with over 400 people marching from the Rialto Theatre to the steps of the State Capitol Building.

Barry Stewart Mann
Photo Credit: Barry Stoltz

Broadcast and print media covered the hundreds of marchers and their exuberant event, with video and articles appearing on blogs and print media for several days afterward. Spotted at the protest were AEA Members Terry Burrell, Carolyn Cook, Israel Hillary, Paul Holly, Doug Kaye, Park Krausen, Eric Little, Barry Stewart Mann, William S. Murphey, Wendy Palmer, Allen O’Reilly, Theresa O’Shea, Barry Stoltze, Widdi Turner, and Lisa J. Watson. AEA members who lead area professional theatres also provided support: Tom Key, Artistic Director of Theatrical Outfit; Lisa Adler, Co-Artistic Director of Horizon Theatre and Jon Goldstein, Resident Stage Manager and Gallery Coordinator of ART Station.

Happily, after the event prompted heightened awareness of the issue and state Senators received many, many phone calls, the Georgia State Senate restored funding for the GCA. The budget amount allows GCA to remain a partner with the NEA for the upcoming grant cycle, but just barely. Budgetary constraints remain in effect throughout the agency, and Atlanta artists and patrons will continue to advocate for a healthy artistic community in Georgia.

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