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Area benefits from revamped arts funding

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

A major restructuring of the Grassroots Arts Program (GAP), a competitive grant program facilitated through the Georgia Council for the Arts (GCA), is putting more funding into the hands of arts programs across the state, and doing it more efficiently.

In the wake of a Senate Study Committee initiated in the summer of 2006 to study the budget and structure of the GAP, the Georgia General Assembly recently doubled the amount of grant money available to art programs around the state, from $500,000 to $1 million.

The legislature also adjusted the formula by which counties are allowed to disseminate grants to local art organizations.

Under the old system, 50 percent of available grant funds were distributed in equal amounts to all of Georgia's 159 counties, and the other 50 percent was distributed based on population, according to Susan Weiner, executive director of the GCA.

"We changed the formula," said Weiner. "Now, it is 65 percent by county and 35 percent by population. The result of that change means that our rural counties are getting more money."

In addition to changing the allocation formula, the General Assembly reorganized the GAP's Regional Partners Network, responsible for administering the grants at the local level. Weiner said the benefit is a streamlined grant application process.

"We decreased the number of partners in the network and we increased the number of counties each partner is serving," said Weiner. "The benefit is increased efficiency. You have better-trained staff and less individual contacts."

Until recently, Arts Clayton, one of the regional partners for the Grassroots Arts Program, administered grants to five area counties. With the restructuring, Arts Clayton will now administer grants to 10 counties: Butts, Clayton, Coweta, Fayette, Henry, Jasper, Lamar, Newton, Rockdale, and Spalding.

Sara Cookson, administrator of the GAP program for Arts Clayton, said the restructuring makes the process easier to manage.

"Our largest struggle is getting the word out to these programs that there is funding for them, if they apply," said Cookson. "What [the GCA] tried to do is bring more structure to the program by bringing in regional partners who can market it easier than before.

"This program is kind of 'the-wind-beneath-their-wings' for the smaller art groups," Cookson continued. By restructuring in a "more regional manner," Arts Clayton is able to assist more artists with grants without "overlapping our efforts," she said.

Linda Summerlin, executive director of Arts Clayton, served on the Georgia Council for the Arts from the inception 13 years ago of the Grassroots Arts Program, until earlier this year when she resigned as a council member. She said the restructuring of the GAP will ensure that grassroots art programs -- such as festivals and programs organized by schools and theater groups -- will not be overlooked when it comes to funding.

"It's a great way to help emerging arts groups in all of our counties," said Summerlin. "It's a great way to get funding to the local level and make sure that quality programming is rooted out."

Each organization that applies for a grant can get no more than $2,000 and the project must in some way be open to the public, said Summerlin. For more information, call Arts Clayton at (770) 473-5457.