MEET Jessyca and Joe: art community activists & Atlanta enthusiasts
Are you an artist or creative type wondering how to really capitalize on your talent? How about an organization really hoping to learn more about your patrons? Well, C4 Atlanta is offering those in the Atlanta arts community the tools they need to really grow. From entrepreneurship classes, to data collection and sharing, to subsidized insurance, Jessyca and Joe of C4 are busy helping arts groups reach their potential. We sat down with them in a busy East Atlanta coffee shop to find out what drives them to work in Atlanta.
Tell us about your project:
Jessyca: I work for C4 Atlanta a nonprofit arts service organization that has been around for 2 years. We started C4 as an answer to a need we saw in the arts community. Especially sustainability. Insurance, income, technology. For me personally, I am an Atlanta metro native. I have a degree in theater and was a professional actor. I auditioned for a living and then I fell in love with arts service. Joe and I have worked together for 7 years
Joe: That is right, since 2005. I had recently graduated from Georgia State. I finished up a policy degree studying urban planning. Before I had been involved in the smart growth community looking at transportation and affordable housing. I also had some interest in the arts. Enough that when I graduated from GSU and was told about a position at another arts service organization, it peaked my interest. I took a look at what was happening in smart growth in the arts, and there wasn’t anyone talking about it, whether the arts can help in sustainable planning or the economy.
Like Jessyca I am an Atlanta native. We both grew up here in a real boom time for Atlanta. It was seeing its greatest periods of growth. Watching that gives a sense of pride in where I grew up. I think Atlanta has a lot more growing up to do.
What inspires you to do this work?
Joe: For me part of it is about seeing a niche and knowing that I would like to see Atlanta grow up more, but I would like to participate in making that happen. For me these past few years have been a journey of finding what my place is in making my hometown a better place to live.
Jessyca: I agree. I have been in the arts since I was little. My parents introduced me. My mom was a writer. I came from a large family and you have to figure out what kid you are. There is the smart kid, the sports kid, and I was the liberal arts kid. In the end it isn’t just about working in the arts, but about working for community. I don’t see it as something separate, I don’t see the arts as something to do away with when the budget gets tight. I see it as the next big economic agenda in this region. I have also fallen in love with the arts community.
What challenges do you face with C4? What challenges do other artists face?
Jessyca: The biggest obstacle is funding. That is easy to go to. The funding issue is a little more systemic. You ask folks if they support the arts and they say yes, but how much are people willing to support it? There is only half a million dollars in arts funding in Atlanta. It is about what we value as a society, what will our legacy be. The next challenge is really resources. But there are a lot of young organizations out there looking at this. When I say young, it is not just about the age of their participants, younger in their development phase which makes them very agile. Lack of space for artists. Lack of material resources. But where there is a huge problem, I also see big opportunity.
Joe: Over the past several years working in the arts service industry, we have met many colleagues in other cities. Watching them and where they have innovated has been inspirational and also frustrating. Just like all the other cities, Atlanta’s art scene is ‘different’. We have our own challenges. We have to figure out how we can adopt best practices as an arts community. That seems vague but it is a big challenge for us. C4 are not here to simply copy solutions we see elsewhere and paste them here, but to learn from other examples and make sure the services available to artists in other cities are available in Atlanta. When we got started with C4 that was the biggest gap we saw.
What are some of the things you hope will be replicated here?
Jessyca: One of our favorite communities is Chattanooga. Their answer to Walter Cronkite’s ‘dirtiest city in America’ announcement brought the community together. And it wasn’t just about the arts community, it was “how can we make this city a great city”. Artists worked with the civic community to implement CreateHere, a multi year initiative to strengthen the arts community. They did it through several programs including an entrepreneurship class for artists. If you walk through their main street area for a tour it is amazing to see the difference from a decade ago. Many sectors are coming together to tackle homelessness and crime through community based solutions. I have heard people say that Chattanooga is not Atlanta, but we have so many neighborhoods that I think could each do something similar. Pockets of creatives can tackle problems to make a difference.
Joe: We like to cite Philadelphia. Philadelphia Cultural Alliance has been a big force in that city, having community level services for artists.
Jessyca: They are always at the table, whether it is city planning or transportation.
Joe: They changed the commuter rail times. They were able to prove that there were arts patrons that did not attend events because of the rail schedule. The arts community had a history of collecting data from arts organizations and were able to demonstrate to the transit authorities how many patrons they were talking about – who lived close to stations, who showed interest in taking the train. The bonus was that the metro system got enough additional ridership to pay for the additional expenses the system incurred. It was a win, win. I don’t know if that will ever happen here in Atlanta, but it does go to show that by providing community level services to arts organizations you can bring benefits beyond just the arts.
What are some key issues here in Atlanta?
Joe: One of the students in our recent seminar just moved to Atlanta. She is a poet and teaches creative writing to younger girls. She is focused on social justice issues.
Jessyca: She looks at teenage girls and how they can use wring to express themselves. Her story was very compelling. We were speaking to her after the class one day and she admitted she was ready to leave the city. She is here from Boston where transportation was not a problem. Transit is a source of strain here. If you only have one car in a family, it can be hard to get around. It was a sad moment for me. I really thought ‘wow, we will lose another great artist because of transit’. Not just local artists, but people who move here and then can’t make it because of the constraints. Luckily she got an unrelated full time job that will allow her to stay here.
Joe: I don’t think many of our policy makers understand the cost burden affiliated with the system they have built, or haven’t built in this case. When the only option to get from one place to another- home to work to retail to the park- is the car. In the political realm we have an interesting libertarian streak that tells us cars mean less taxes on the public. When the only option is to get somewhere by car, that is also a tax. The cost of the car, of the gas of the insurance. Because of the high costs of transportation we have fewer people able to locate here. It drives people away. No pun intended.
Jessyca: For the arts community it is not convenient. You can’t hop on a train and see a show. For tourists, they think they can take a train to major and minor theaters, and they just end up wandering around.
What are some positive thing happening in Atlanta?
Jessyca: There is a lot of good community support here. Small organizations that are providing networks for artist. I don’t want to see us become a springboard city for people to build up a career and move on, but we do have a relatively low cost of living compared to other cities. That tends to attract people in the early phase of their career. We do have a certain spirit, I have felt in in the past few year, people paying attention to the value of the arts. This area is prime for people to relocate to. It is a very supportive community with great access to resources from organizations like us, Wonderroot, and the many galleries. It is a networked community. Everyone knows everyone but in a good way.
Joe: I think there is a lot to be said for the tax incentives that have been given to the film industry here. It has spurred a lot of related industries. Even outside of that, we are home to Turner. Thanks to them Atlanta is home to more cartoonists than any other city. There is certainly quite a lot of creativity here. There are certain tech startups that have come about and I don’t know that they would have come about without the creative industries here. Things like Mailchimp. I only speculate, but they are creatively driven.
Where can interested readers find you?
What FEEDs your soul?
Joe: I FEED my soul with food and music.
Jessyca: I FEED my soul with boiled peanuts.