But Councilman Stuart Fleming’s comment that, “Most taxpayer’s would say they don’t want to spend $2 million dollars on the Museum of History (over 10 years). There are better ways to make our community relevant,” was a negative and unnecessary way to open constructive dialogue. The councilman may have meant well, but his comments have been seen as alarmist by the museums and other grant recipients, who work hard to provide a cultural base and city identity to tourists and local citizens alike.
I’m tempted to discuss grant numbers and how those dollars are spent, but in the end, I believe it’s more relevant to discuss the many positive benefits of a culturally sound city base. Turnstile results merely show numbers, not the hearts and minds and word-of-mouth recommendations of our many visitors. Here’s how you measure that. Cut the already meager funding for our cultural institutions, and you’ll see a measurable decrease in new businesses and new residents moving here. Families and businesses (of any size) research these things prior to committing to a move. Communities that demonstrate a shallow commitment to a strong cultural base may save money, but lose in the long run when potential newcomers, and their spending, go elsewhere.
Pedicabs and trolleys are wonderful, provide a great service, and an income for their owners, but to even suggest them as a possible grant recipient shows a lack of understanding for the big picture. The ROI would be close to zero, and it’s unlawful. Who really visits a destination solely because they have pedicabs or trolleys? Not many, but visitors use them once they’re here to see cultural attractions.
Councilman Fleming is correct in that new ways to look at the city, and “incubating new things,” should be on the table. The mayor and previous city council concurred last year when they authorized “Vision 20/20,” made up of 14 community members from business, restaurants, churches and others, to do just that. Recommendations were made concerning proper parking, aesthetics and signage to improve the experience for visitors to Marietta.
Should we cut museum funding in order to finance those projects? Let’s see. Better signage to find a museum that may fail as a result. Smart?
Due to declining hotel/motel and car rental use during the recession, the city council was forced to cut grant funding for non-profits. It was implied funding would be restored when the economy revived. Last year, with an improved economy, grant funding was still held to the previous level, with no funds restored. Consequently, a surplus was created of approximately $140,000 plus, its use to be decided later. Meantime, museums continued to take a hit, because of continued lower funding, increased costs and struggling to provide services comparable to before. All at a time when services and deeply needed staff should be added to accommodate visitor increases.
Last year, the Marietta Art Museum kicked off its inaugural ChalkFest event. Professional artists nationwide were invited. It will be a full festival this year. The same festival in Lake Worth, Fla., lasts two days and has a $1.2 million impact. Funding cuts save money short-term, yet ensure that Marietta may never achieve that success.
To quote Mark Brennan, PhD., author of “The Importance of Incorporating Local Culture into Community Development,” “Local cultural arts commitment, regardless of economic or political conditions, serves as a valuable tool to sustain area government, development and social improvement efforts. Cultural arts can serve as a central focus to attract tourism and other efforts that use promotion, preservation or enhancement of local and regional cultures.”
We need to restore and increase local cultural funding, not cut it, to continue to be known as “one of the best small cities in America!” A political humorist once wrote that “Atlanta was the place where bad malls go to die.” Let’s never join them. Increase funding!
Kee Carlisle is chairman of the board of the Marietta Museum of History.