Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens recently announced that a select few of the city’s independent artists, 125 in all, will receive a combined sum of $700,000 in taxpayer funding, all in the name of economic development.
As a formality, Atlanta officials prefer to label these artists as creative entrepreneurs or creative accelerators. People who don’t speak government jargon, however, would generally call them independent filmmakers, photographers, illustrators, graphic design artists and people who work for record and management labels.
Unlike the tax credits that big-name Hollywood productions accept to film in Georgia, these artists instead take direct public appropriations. Otherwise, they would have to rely on either their own money or other private investors. For private investors, deciding whether to subsidize a project is a risk, as they are putting their personal funds on the line for a project that may or may not turn a profit.
Maya Jackson, manager of Invest Atlanta’s Business Retention and Expansion Program, explained the program in an online application tutorial video.
“This is a grant. It is not a loan. You do not have to pay it back. It is not reimbursable. We are not asking you to provide receipts,” Jackson said.
“We are not asking for you to have expended the money already. This is an up-front grant for you to tell us how much you need, and we say yes or no. You can tell us how much you need and for what, including money for production, or money to market or distribute a project. As long as it ranges from $5,000 to $20,000, that is a suitable amount for us.”
City of Atlanta officials award the money through their Creative Industries Grant Fund, which is a joint program of Invest Atlanta and the Mayor’s Office of Film and Entertainment. The Creative Industries Grant Fund started in 2017 as a loan program. Atlanta officials later converted it to a grant initiative to help artists recover from the economic effects of COVID-19, which in 2023 is far less of a threat than it was in 2020 or 2021.
Invest Atlanta is a government authority that, according to its website, can award tax credits and determine Tax Increment Financing (TIF) status. The Office of Film and Entertainment, among other things, grants permits to productions filming on Atlanta’s public properties and also acts as an intermediary between movie producers and city agencies.
City of Atlanta officials spend taxpayer money when they award these grants, thus having less incentive than private investors to fund something that generates a profit.
Nevertheless, Atlanta officials say the recipients are worthy. Invest Atlanta spokeswoman Katrice Mines, in an email, called Atlanta “a top creative destination in the country.”
“Artists, creative entrepreneurs and entertainment professionals generate an estimated $62.5 billion in economic impact each year in the State of Georgia and represent 5% of all employment and 4% of all business revenue in the state,” Mines said.
“The arts and culture sector is a $730 billion industry, which represents 4.2% of the nation’s GDP—a larger share of the economy than transportation, tourism and agriculture.”
Atlanta officials don’t just hand out government grants to anybody. Recipients must abide by certain conditions. For instance, they must create their projects inside Atlanta.
Jackson, in her tutorial, said applicants must outline their project, prove they live in the city of Atlanta and register with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.
Mines said 851 people applied for the grant. Veteran-owned businesses qualify. She also said applicants must meet minority, female business, small business or disadvantaged business certifications and present a viable marketing and distribution plan.
Additionally, per the Invest Atlanta website, applicants must disclose whether they accept other government funding.
Three members of a Creative Industries Grant Fund Scoring Committee review and approve the applications. Volunteers from the public, private, and non-profit sectors also decide.
A press release that Mayor Dickens’ office published last month identified Kiah Clingman, a producer for the Atlanta-based KiahCan Productions, as one grant recipient. Her past successes, though, should prompt taxpayers to ask whether she needs their money to work and to contribute to Georgia’s economy.
Clingman, according to her LinkedIn profile, has produced short films about racism and male and female relationships. Her profile on KiahCan’s website says she guest starred on various FOX, NBC, CBS and Netflix programs.
On the other hand, some grant recipients did not necessarily replicate Clingman’s high-profile achievements, and they had not yet demonstrated that taxpayers would get a return on their investment.
Invest Atlanta provided a list of the other 124 grant recipients. They include the Emef Griffin Studio Gallery, ComfiArt, the Voice News Network, Inc., the Guts & Style Films production company and Shaw Management Enterprises.
Invest Atlanta, according to its website, is not a nonprofit but accepts charitable donations. Did any grant funding come from private sources in addition to taxpayer funding? When asked, Invest Atlanta staff did not respond.
Despite having to meet certain standards, time will tell whether these artists will take these public funds and generate many happy returns for Atlanta’s economy.
As famed free market economist Milton Friedman once said of government bureaucrats, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”