Atlanta Artists: How Has the Recession Affected You?

22 05 2009

On the eve of the Decatur Arts Festival, and in the time-honored tradition of copping ideas from the New York Times, I thought it would be interesting to pose a question directly to our city’s artists.

The recent response to a question posed by the New York Times about how artists were responding to the recession peaked my locavore-ish interest.  While many artists relayed the expected stories of less work and funding, many also mentioned in the same virtual-breath that the slowdown was also in some ways “liberating.”   Singer/songwriters have found more time to write and play their own work – instead of an endless cycle of covers, while visual artists talked about time to focus on refining their skill set.

Obviously the economic slowdown is going to hit some people harder than they can take it.  What may seem liberating to one artist who brings in less work but can still pay the bills, can feel like the end of the world for one with no work or income.   However, the Times article talked a lot about how these “dispatches from the arts world were infused with fortitude and resolve, as well as a sense of release” and I was curious to see if Decatur/Atlanta/Georgia artists have had a similar reaction.

Art and economics have always been intricately connected, so there’s no doubt that this newly termed “Great” Recession will have a very real impact on the world’s art forms.  The physical results are yet unknown, but thanks to a little more time on our hands, it may just be an age of rediscovery.

I look forward to your responses.

Residents Go Crazy For Decatur 2009-2010 Budget

20 05 2009

As popular as a new Harry Potter installment, city of Decatur residents have been gearing up for weeks to get their hands on a copy of Decatur’s latest and greatest 2009-2010 budget (pdf).

Residents from around the city lined up at midnight Tuesday in front of city hall to be the first to get their hands on a copy.  Many were dressed as their favorite city employee, with many men donning wigs.  “I had planned to sport a pair of “Hugh Saxon glasses” said a man in a purple cardigan who refused to give his name, “but when I heard that my neighbor was doing something similar, I went the Linda Harris route.”

When the real Linda Harris appeared on the city hall steps a couple minutes after midnight, carrying around 20 copies of the 200+ page document, cheers from the anxious throng echoed throughout the town like recorded birds-of-prey atop 1 West Courthouse Square.

After getting over the intial shock of seeing so many grown men in wigs, Harris regained her composure and spoke to the crowd.  “With much anticipation, I present to you the 2009-10 budget!  If you pre-ordered a copy online, please stand in a line to the right.  After you receive your copy, please proceed in an orderly fashion to the commission meeting room where Andrea Arnold will be giving out autographs  For those who didn’t pre-order, I’m sorry to say that we’re completely sold out.”

And with that residents got into their respective lines and upon receiving their copy thumbed immediately to page one.  Some proceeded inside, while others made a beeline to their cars.  “I’m going to be up all night reading this!” shouted a man in a light brown wig as he jumped into his Toyota Prius and sped off down North McDonough.

Just another day in the life.

30 Million Up, 4 Million Down

18 05 2009

After seeing the AJC article about Decatur being one of three cities with increased tax values, I was curious about specifics.  At tonight’s City Commission meeting, City Manager Peggy Merriss laid those details out on the table, literally and figuratively.

The city lost 4 million in property values in the past fiscal (?) year, but gained 30 million from new construction.

Even so, the city will use 1.3 million over the next two years to cover the gap between revenues and expenditures, without cutting programs or raising the millage.

I believe I heard someone say that the full budget will be available online this coming Wednesday.

New Construction Helps Decatur Tax Base

17 05 2009

The AJC reports that of the 10 cities in DeKalb County, only Decatur, Avondale and Chamblee saw a cumulative increase in property assessments thanks to new construction.

Without new construction, all three cities would have seen a decline, according to the article.

HOST Fever Spreads To Atlanta

1 04 2009

Apparently, when its city coffers were flush with loot, the city of Atlanta had no problem with DeKalb County’s odd distribution practices of HOST funds to its cities.

But now that times are tough, they want their freakin’ money.

This morning’s AJC reports that Atlanta has also now jumped on the HOST “give-me”bandwagon, asking DeKalb for the millions of dollars its owed (since 33,000 city of Atlanta residents live in DeKalb.)  Atlanta believes its owed around $10 million a year (under the current formula I assume) and attributes the non-payment to not filling out some paperwork in the late 1990s.

Yeah Atlanta, I bet you wish it was that simple.  Just an oversight by the Atlanta and the county.  Now that things are out in the open, I’m sure the County will be happy to pay up.  Its not like they’ve been playing dumb about distribution of HOST funds in court for the past 8 years or anything.

Free Redbud Seedlings Available at Decatur First Bank Tomorrow

19 03 2009


Jack Regan at Decatur First Bank writes in…

In celebration of the arrival of Spring this weekend, Decatur First Bank on Friday March 20 will be giving away redbud seedlings, one to a customer, on a first come, first served basis at its main office located at 1120 Commerce Drive . Supplies are limited, so drop by early. Decatur First Bank, which has been serving this community since 1997, is the only bank with its home base in Decatur.

Is Cleveland Our “Bellweather”?

9 03 2009

A great indepth piece in this Sunday’s New York Times surveys the Cleveland neighborhood of “Slavic Village”, which has been an epicenter of foreclosures in a county that has lost over 100,000 people in the last decade.

Today, the area can hardly be described as a neighborhood.  A well-kept house in this part of town has plywood over broken windows and doors.  Inside, the shameless removal of utilities like copper piping, electrical wire and boiler heaters have destroyed interior walls and floors.  To call these houses “raped and pillaged” wouldn’t be an understatement.  Squatters use the buildings as temporary dwellings, while speculators treat them as playing cards – with many homes selling for a couple hundred or thousand dollars.

Its a bleak picture.  And because Cleveland has suffered longer than most cities – thanks to a out-dated industrial economy – many other cities look to it now with bloody fingernails wondering if that’s their future too.   As Wheatley pointed out last week, with the third highest foreclosure rate in the country, Atlanta is one of a long list of cities mentioned as looking hesitantly toward Cleveland.  The article even quotes Dan Immergluck, an associate prof at Georgia Tech in urban planning, who states bluntly, “Cleveland is a bellwether…It’s where other cities are heading because of the economic downturn.”

Yikes.  So, could parts of Atlanta really become as bleak as neighborhoods like Slavic Village?

It certainly isn’t beyond the realm of comprehension.  Foreclosure rates are highest in areas of Atlanta already plagued with high unemployment – just take a look at the news coming out of South DeKalb.  Our overbuilt metro area has already provided plenty of vistas of lonely and vacant subdivisions.   If this trend continues and these homes aren’t bought up and maintained, they will quickly become – wait for it – toxic.  No one will want them for fear of the expense of taxes and upkeep.  And demolition ain’t free.   In Slavic Village it costs $8,000 a pop.

But is this really Atlanta’s future?  Well to start, Atlanta’s obvious advantage over Cleveland is its more diverse and vibrant economy.   The city has spent the last 20 years reviving its economy, building an economic base that is still attracting new people to the city.  That can’t be a bad thing, especially with so many empty homes and condos available.  However, in our attempts to make a quick buck, developers have overestimated demand both intown and out in the ‘burbs.   The future of these developments is unknown.  If nobody wants them, who’s going to pay to have them torn down?  And if they’re not torn down, what becomes of them?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Factoid Thursday

26 02 2009

Today’s interesting fact comes straight from an AJC article predicting nothing resembling sunshine for GA’s economy over the next two years.

“Georgia has about 3.9 million jobs, nearly 60 percent in metro Atlanta.”

Hopefully our state legislature can keep this “60%” number in mind when its doling out federal stimulus money.  This ain’t time to overdo the favors to other, redder areas the state.  You need to keep Atlanta healthy and vibrant, otherwise GA can just go back to being Alabama.

Ritz Camera Files For Bankruptcy

23 02 2009

The parent company of Wolf Camera has filed for bankruptcy, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.  Ritz Camera plans to continue normal operations as it reorganizes.

As we all know, Decatur’s Wolf occupies a prime location in the CVS plaza.

Decatur First Bank Requests Bailout Assistance; Worries About Future

11 02 2009

The AJC has a great article this morning about a huge overlooked segment of the financial industry in these tough economic times; community banks.

The article prominently features Decatur First CEO Judy Turner and her thoughts regarding the recent crisis and lack of assistance thus far by the feds to smaller banks.  According to Turner, Decatur First will continue to make loans for now “thanks in large part to money raised by its board of directors”, but has also requested $5.2 million from the fed.

So far, no response.