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AJC Announces ATL Ranked Top for Artists

From AJC writer Howard Pousner

It’s a ranking that not even those with creative imaginations could have dreamed up: Atlanta recently was selected the No. 1 city in the U.S. for artists to live and work.

The rating as the top artist-friendly city among the 50 most populous places in the country was an unexpected result for the editors at the website mylife.com, which compiled the rankings.

Atlanta artist Tracy Murrell will have works included in a Fine Arts Workshop group exhibit opening Friday at Bill Lowe Gallery … read more

“Where one might expect to see San Francisco or New York City at the top of this list, Atlanta was a little surprising,” one wrote, “but when considering it ranked in the top 15 in all five of our categories, it was certainly deserved.”

While Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Texas, and Denver fill out the top five, New York finished way down at 26th. Other artsy cities that didn’t crack the top 10 include Los Angeles (12th), Chicago (15th) and Miami (18th).

A California-based company that helps members manage their Web presence, mylife.com arrived at the findings by crunching numbers in five categories: cost of living, number of people ages 20 to 34, number of people working in the arts industry, numbers of museums or galleries in the city, and households with incomes topping $200,000.

Atlanta artist Tracy Murrell. CONTRIBUTED BY SHIELA TURNER

The criteria leave room for debate, including that the rankings only took into account residents inside the 50 cities, ignoring surrounding metropolitan areas that, in many cases including Atlanta, dwarf the urban core. Also, no sources for the data were listed.

Still, members of Atlanta’s arts community don’t seem inclined to quibble with the results. Instead, they said that, by any measure, Atlanta rates favorably for artists.

“I’m not surprised to hear that Atlanta is perceived as a top city for artists to live,” said Chris Appleton, the executive director of WonderRoot, a decade-old community arts nonprofit that provides programs supporting creative pursuits. “As the cultural capital of the South, people look to Atlanta as a place for artists to build and sustain careers.”

Atlanta’s Museum of Contemporary Art launched the Working Artist Project fellowships in 2007 to stem a talent drain to bigger cities, and it is an example of how the tide may be turning here. All 18 fellows — three are selected annually — get a $1,000 monthly stipend and other assistance for a year while creating a major exhibition. All 18 continue to work in Atlanta.

“I really enjoy the community and support here,” Fahamu Pecou said when he was announced as one of the 2013-14 fellows. “There’s so much potential to do a lot of different things here, as opposed to being in a city that’s oversaturated like a New York or L.A., where there’s an artist every two sidewalk squares.”

Appleton did note that Atlanta and Georgia lag nationally and “have room to grow” in the areas of arts education and funding. Georgia ranks dead last among the 50 states in terms of per capita state arts funding at 6 cents per resident in fiscal year 2014. And last month, the state’s largest governmental arts supporter, Fulton County, cut the appropriation for its Arts & Culture Office from $5 million in fiscal 2013 to $3.6 million for fiscal 2014.

“Atlanta has been supportive and nurturing as I build a body of work and support myself within the arts,” said Atlanta artist Tracy Murrell, who will have pieces included in a Fine Arts Workshop group exhibit opening Friday at Bill Lowe Gallery in Midtown and who also curates for Hammonds House Museum. “… But the aggressive trend in cutting arts funding is disheartening and a sobering reality for any artist living in Atlanta.”