“Celebrating the Arts, Even in a Recession”

To date, there are over 700 tax-exempt or non-profit organizations in Athens-Clarke County with the sum income from these tax exempt or non-profit organizations totaling over 1 billion dollars. Although this number may seem alarmingly great, understand this figure factors fraternity, sororities, and other local chapters of national organizations.

Even so, with government and private sector budget cuts making headlines every day, how can our thriving local population of philanthropists survive this recession?

Laura Nehf is the woman with that answer. As president of the Athens Area Art Council (http://www.athensarts.org/), she and her fellow board members strive to integrate the artistic resources of the Athens area into our educational system, local economy, and the culture of our community. Athens Area Art Council is a quintessential example of the plethora of non-profit organizations that abound in the tight-knit Athens, GA community. Begun in 1996, AAAC serves as an advocate for public art and sponsors unique performances and events that broaden the community exposure to the arts-visual art, film, music, dance and literature.

“AAAC creates a kind of umbrella network of projects that work to develop a presence of art in the Athens community,” says Nehf. “We are not just a group of artists, every board member is a civic leader in our own right fighting for and supporting the arts in Athens.”

AAAC is a low-budget operation. They rely on the generosity of Athens community members who donate their time and money to AAAC’s endeavors. They also rely on state grants and public funding. With the abundance of non-profit organizations located in Athens in the current economic state, they must struggle to compete for the grants that keep their organizations alive. AAAC, just like any other non-profit, is getting creative to stir up publicity and attract crowds to join their cause.

 In Chicago MorningStar Mission Ministries, a charity organization devoted to helping urban homeless people, is trying a new fundraising approach. They are auctioning off spending the night like a homeless person for $100 a person.

“We’re asking folks to give up one night of comfort and find out how you can make a difference to those who experience homelessness,” said Marilyn Farmer, executive director of MorningStar Mission Ministries, Inc., which will host the event at a YMCA. “You bring your own dwelling.”

This year’s AAAC fundraiser event was no exception to creativity and innovation. AAAC promoted the event with an art themed martini contest among downtown Athens restaurants. A few of the restaurants that participated in the “Artini” contest were DePalma’s, Five & Ten, The National, and Mama’s Boy. The 2009 annual fundraiser for Athens Area Art Council was held on February 27-March 1. The weekend was filled with live music, performances by Canopy Studio trapeze artists, and artist gallery tours. The weekend was capped off with a Jewish Film Festival at Cine on Sunday.

“Seeing all our hard work come together gave me such a sense of fulfillment,” said Laura Nehf, AAAC President. “Despite the rain, we had the most terrific turn out.”

One of the highlights of the weekend’s events was the unveiling of the winners of second round of “You, Me and the Bus” artist-designed bus shelters. The “Art Rocks” themed bus shelters are inspired by the thriving music scene found here in the Athens community. Over 80 designs from across the country were submitted. Of the eight designs chosen, one was by a team of University of Georgia Interior Design students: Hannah Goldberg, Kate Hardman, Kim Hicks, Meghan Just, and Lucy Marshall.

“I’m so excited to dive into this process,” said Hannah Goldberg. “For an interior design student to the chance to actually build something outside of the classroom is a huge addition to a portfolio. I am so thankful and grateful for the opportunity. I know everyone in my group feels that this will be a huge under taking but well worth the learning experience.”

As the majority of Art Rocks events as well as other events put on by AAAC are free, they have increased appeal to Athenians on a tighter budget. According to a survey conducted by The Conference Board, fifty-five percent of survey respondents said they would give less to arts charities in 2009 because of the recession.

 So why should people contribute to the arts?

Here are three excellent reasons:

1. non-profit arts industry generates $134 billion annually in economic activity

2. non-profit arts industry supports 4.85 million full-time equivalent jobs

3. non-profit arts industry returns $10.5 billion to the federal government in income taxes.

 On a local level, art events and programs, such as “Art Rocks,” attract new tourism dollars, and in turn, boosts Athens local economy. Events, like those put on by AAAC, also attract interest of University students and faculty. According to a study done by the Selig Center for Economic Growth in the UGA Terry College of Business, in 2007 alone the University of Georgia pumped over $2.1 billion into the Athens-area economy. Through revenue sources such as tourism, UGA and others local non profits can hope to weather this economic storm.

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