What happens when you get 100-plus people in a room, mostly women, and talk about business, the arts, and the business of the arts.
A lot of creative energy. Some concrete ideas for growth and change. And a whole lot of laughs.
For the 10th consecutive year, Synchronicity Theatre this week convened its annual Women in the Arts Panel Luncheon, an event much livelier than that name might indicate. And with plenty of men in the room.
For 90 minutes, give or take, dancers, actors, directors, bankers, arts administrators, accountants, philanthropists, playwrights, marketing experts and technology types talked about the roller coaster of the Great Recession, what’s great — and lacking — in Atlanta’s arts scene, and that artists and their audiences are no longer an “us” and “them” but a community. And more, much more.
We learned that Camille Russell Love‘s favorite word is “dream,” and that Susan Booth’s is “syzygy.” Love has directed the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs for 14 years; Booth is a decade into her artistic directorship of the Alliance Theatre. The two were honored for their contributions to Atlanta’s arts culture. (And “syzygy,” by the way, means “a kind of unity, especially through coordination or alignment.”)
Ann Q. Curry, one of five panelists, started with this quote from business magnate Warren Buffett: “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.” In other words, when times are tough, you see what is valuable and what is not, who is doing the work and who is not. Curry is owner and president of Coxe Curry & Associates, which counsels and raises funds for nonprofits.
The event was titled “The New Normal: Navigating Uncharted Territory in Arts and Business,” and it seemed more timely than. Recent statistics showg that the nearly 400 nonprofit arts groups in 10 Georgia counties produce $387 million a year for the state’s economy; that Atlanta has the highest number of arts-related businesses per capita among the 100 largest cities in the United States; that the city has the second-highest percentage of arts-related employees per capita in the country; and that it is home to 3,573 arts-related businesses employing 22,826 people.
On the flip side, the region recently lost Marietta’s Theatre in the Square, which closed for financial reasons after 30 seasons. And many artists working in the nonprofit world must hold multiple jobs to support themselves.
We were asked us to consider these questions: How do the arts uniquely inspire innovative thinking? How do women leaders motivate and create thriving companies? And together, how do we produce powerful transformative ideas to make Atlanta better?
Joining Curry on the panel were Lisa Cremin, director of the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund; choreographer, dancer and teacher Juana Farfan; Hyacinth Edwards, a senior credit risk analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of America; and playwright Janece Shaffer — a mix of ages, races and professions. Ideas volleyed about included these:
Cremin: Think about where the people in this region are, and where we live. We have to go to them, not expect them to come to us. I don’t think we do this well enough yet.
Shaffer: Find like-minded people and pool your resources. It’s no longer “us” and “them.” It’s all of us, our community. Make the arts an integral part of your life, and they will feed you.
Curry: Hire arts majors. They are creative problem-solvers that pay attention to details and communicate well.
Other suggestions: Start young. Take the children in your life to theater, to the symphony, to performances. Know your local politicians. Do they understand the arts and the economy? Take them to a performance. Find an art form that speaks to your creative side, then volunteer, sit on the board, donate time and money, and take friends with you when you attend.
And finally, this bit of wisdom from Shaffer, the playwright: “Don’t go to the dang movies, go to the theater!”
Kathy Janich, Encore Atlanta’s managing editor, has been seeing, covering or working in the performing arts for most of her life. Full disclosure: She spent most of the past four seasons on staff at Synchronicity Theatre. Please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.