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Do the Arts Need More City Support in Norcross?

The proposal for the city to be more involved in the arts brought some debate from the Norcross City Council this week at its monthly policy work session.

At the September policy work session, Mayor Bucky Johnson and the Norcross City Council were asked to consider the following proposal: that the Norcross Arts Alliance can help the city and the art scene thrive, but it needs the city's help.

Drafted by Councilman Charlie Riehm, the proposal was presented in a PowerPoint by Lori Sturgess, director of the Norcross Arts Center known as The Nest, and G.G. Getz, an arts advocate in Gwinnett County. The women gave many reasons and statistics as to why the arts are important to a community, and why the city should fund the NAA, a 501c3 nonprofit umbrella for The Nest, which acts as a venue for art organizations, workshops for adults and children and an art outlet for educating students.

Getz said that, as Sturgess pointed out in a previous policy work session, when a person, organization or company is looking to move to a community, they ask three things: How is education, how is transportation, and what kind of arts and cultural activities are there?

The arts tell a lot about the quality of life and the environment in the area, Getz explained, and it also has a great economic impact, too.

While they calculated that Norcross events gather 148,000 people a year, Sturgess believes that number can be much bigger with the right amount of art funding.

"You're already supporting a ton of different arts-based events, and I think it's really a great start, but in order to be competitive with a lot of the other cities, even within Gwinnett County, there's going to be a need to step up," she said.

As events grow with advertising and through word of mouth, she said, the gatherings go from having mostly locals who attend to mostly non-locals. And those non-locals need a place to stay, which is where hotels will benefit, local restaurants and other businesses.

While the Norcross Art Fest can be considered an example of a large, outside festival, Sturgess and Getz explained that they want something more unique to Norcross since many towns offer similar art fests. They presented the example of Willie Nelson's Railroad Revival Tour in Duluth and how thousands of people "Liked" its Facebook page in a matter of days.

This one-of-a-kind event is the sort of thing other cities are known for, they explained.

In order for the city to help the arts, a few ideas were proposed. A cultural director for the city could be hired, as well as managing and artistic directors for The Nest. The city also could provide funding for marketing, promoting and support.

But these options revolve around more funding, so Sturgess and Getz proposed a few solutions. They gave the example of how Buford funded its performance center from surpluses in utility funds. Additionally, the city could put a $1 fee on every citizen's utility bill, and those fund could go toward the arts.

The council contemplated the idea and what they could do, if they should do anything. Mayor Bucky Johnson pointed out that a fund has been set up already for the arts, and Mayor Pro Tem Andrew Hixson pointed out that the city, using those funds, just donated $5,000 to the Norcross Arts Center for a special outside exhibit.

Is that not enough for the arts, though?

"We know there is some economical benefit to having a center like that in Norcross, there's a cultural benefit, but there's a cost. Who's going to pay the cost?" said Councilman Craig Newton.

"I'm not against the arts," said, Kaul, adding that he paid his dues to be a member of the Norcross Arts Association, "but I don't see us jumping out and using a lot of taxpayer funds to fund [the arts]."

There was much debate as to if the city even should support the Norcross Arts Center. Even though the city is renting out the Norcross Arts Center location like a business, Riehm assured that it isn't one and instead it simply aims to be self-sufficient.

"The point [Sturgess and Getz] are trying to make, that I believe in, is they're a Norcross art center," said Riehm. "[The Downtown Development Authority] put in 20,000 bucks into that place to be an arts center, not to be a business."

Hixson, even though he pointed out the recent $5,000 approval, said he isn't against their proposal.

"I think this is a much better idea than having .... Charlie [Riehm] come to us every three months, telling us 'There's another arts project, we need money,'" said Hixson. "Maybe if we were to have a cohesive attempt to do it three years ago, we would have better results."

Mayor Bucky Johnson made it clear that no definite decision would be made that night, and that they would discuss the issue further at the October policy work session.

Do you think the city of Norcross should put more effort and funds into its art scene? If so, what would you suggest is the best way to improve the arts? Tell us in the comments.

See also:

  • Does Downtown Norcross Need More Parking?
  • Should Norcross Replace its Reader Board With a Digital One?
  • Speak Out: Would You Change Skin Alley's Name?

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Charlie Riehm September 21, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Good article, Sarah! A couple of minor clarifications: * The fund for the arts the mayor referred to, a Special Arts Fund, has been used for projects like public art but currently has no funds in it. * The $5,000 Mr. Hixson referred to came from a SPLOST fund allocation for the parks; it wasn't a "donation" from the city's general fund. * The city rented the building to the Norcross Arts Center to establish an arts incubator, an art gallery, and a retail store. The store is analogous to the gift shop that every large arts center has, and it will provide some revenue to help make the center self-sufficient. ATB, Charlie Riehm
Sarah Bakhtiari (Editor) September 22, 2012 at 05:12 AM
Thanks for the corrections, Charlie! And I'm glad you like the article.
Norman Schklar September 22, 2012 at 02:18 PM
The question should not be "Do you think the city of Norcross should put more effort and funds into its art scene??, but "should the city go into the art gallery business and fund the Norcross Arts Center (NEST)". We already have several art related activities in Norcross. I do believe the City should support the arts. I'm just not sure about how.

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