After months of discussing the subject in city council meetings and policy work sessions, the proposal for the city to financially support the arts was debated once again with no resolution in sight, this time at the Norcross City Council retreat Monday.
Rusty Warner, the Economic Development manager, re-introduced the idea at the meeting as part of the vision for economic development in 2013.
"I personally feel that the arts is a key player in economic development," he said.
Warner noted the city is already a pro-arts community with art galleries, Lionheart Theatre Co. and the Norcross Arts Fest, but it needs to be more than that: Norcross should be well known for its arts.
Therefore, he suggested that the city either should keep the arts the way it is or take the next step in gaining city support, similar to what Suwanee and Duluth have.
And what those cities have are arts commissions, which consist of a group of city-paid experts who are dedicated to improving the art scenes in their areas.
Norcross City Councilman Charlie Riehm originally proposed the idea of the commission months ago in a policy work session, and it's gained some heated debates.
In the 13 years that the arts have been active in Norcross, Riehm said, the artist community is still small, so it needs a commission in order for its downtown presence to truly grow. It doesn't help that the Norcross Arts Center, also known as The Nest, has had no one in charge since Director Lori Sturgess took a leave of absence in early December.
Councilman Keith Shewbert voiced a differing opinion at the retreat. He commended Norcross' current arts scene, saying downtown has possibly the "best group of artists" he's seen considering it's grown organically and without city support. He added that he's sees many out-of-towners visiting the galleries in Norcross.
Still, Riehm requested the council move forward with the city-arts proposal in two ways.
First, the council should work with the legal department in making a policy that supports the nonprofit venues, which, he added, the city has been lenient on. If a venue has been receiving a financial break from the city, there should be a specific cutoff date around the time when the organization is expected to be self sufficient.
Riehm also asked for the city to start accepting applications for the different members of the proposed arts commission, but a few councilmen voiced that it's too early for that.
Some councilmen agreed with the first motion to creating a policy, though, so the city may see some progress with that item in future meetings. In regards to the general idea of the city funding an arts commission, Mayor Bucky Johnson pointed out that the main issue is the assurance of a return on investment.
"I'm not talking about throwing money at the arts and hoping for the best," said Johnson. Before the council makes a decision, he added, there needs to be specifics outlined: what should be expected from the commission, who's responsible, how it's funded, when the commission should see an ROI and what should be done if that doesn't happen.
Johnson also suggested creating something that doesn't concentrate only on the arts: After the mayor proposed that Norcross could copy Atlanta's Office of Cultural Affairs, which covers a multitude of areas including the arts, some councilmen seemed to nod in agreement.
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