Even Covid Can’t Stop Translating Plan Into Action

If readers have been paying close attention, you probably know I currently run an historic theater in Macon, GA. Last week, the Macon Arts Alliance released the cultural master plan the community had been working on for the previous year or so. It won’t surprise you to learn that it had originally been slated to be released at the start of March, but concerns over coronavirus delayed that. There is likely some argument to be made that the plan should have been released at a later time when things were more stable, especially since it calls for the creation of a cultural liaison staff position by a county government facing a financially problematic environment.

However, the plan was developed in parallel with the next iteration of the county master plan and the current election cycle will see a change of mayor and council members so it was important to get the cultural master plan into circulation.

I participated in about 90% of the public meetings that were held for the plan, plus served on a subcommittee so I have some investment in it. Macon is fortunate in that it is one of the communities in which the Knight Foundation is highly active. They, alongside a number of other local foundations, provided the funding needed to bring a team from Lord Cultural Resources to conduct all the meetings and data crunching.

One thing I feel the cultural plan does well is acknowledge the connection between race, household income and access to cultural assets:

The majority of assets are located in or around downtown Macon. Average income in the downtown area is in a lower tier ($14,700-60,600); this is because, despite higher rents in new downtown developments, many students live in the downtown area. Beyond downtown, most cultural assets are located west of the Ocmulgee River, where income is higher on average. Macon’s large African-American community can be better served, as currently most assets are clustered in areas with whiter populations. The east side, where incomes are generally lower, has relatively few cultural assets beyond key attractions such the Ocmulgee Mounds, Fort Hawkins, and the recently renovated Mill Hill Community Arts Center.

The video that accompanies the plan almost immediately acknowledges the perception of crime and blight associated with the community. These same issues came up repeatedly in the community conversations that informed the plan. In fact, one of the biggest lingering image problems that exists is that the downtown isn’t safe. So while a lot of the cultural assets may be downtown, they may not be accessed as much as they could be. (I obviously have a vested interest being the leader of one of those assets.)

While I think the plan is still oriented too much on a conventional concept of arts and culture, (I grumble at the Bach underscoring a video for a community that boasts significant rock and soul roots), even before the protests surrounding George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, there was an acknowledgement of the work that needed to be done to create a more equitable environment in the community.

Keeping in mind my frequent refrain not to engaged in whole cloth adoption of bylaws, policies, etc of other organizations as your own, I link to the plan for communities that might be considering similar efforts so you can get a sense of the things you need to be considering and addressing.


About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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