CAIRO, Ga. — A delegation that briefed the Cairo City Council said city officials should do more to support local artistic endeavors.

Michelle Dean, Pope Store Museum executive director, and Dana Willis, studio director for FIRM Dance Company, briefed the council members recently on why they believe art is important to the community’s economic development.

“If you look at the rural communities that are thriving, you will see they have a thriving support of the arts — both the visual arts and the performing arts,” Dean said. 

Grady County has the type of art scene other communities could only dream of, Dean said, but she believes it goes largely unnoticed by elected officials.

While more than 100 of the 159 counties in the state have government-supported arts programs, Dean said Grady County is not among them.

“Right now, without any government support, we have both visual arts and performance arts of the highest caliber,” Dean said, “but the city and the county leadership has been absent, and this absence is noticed.” 

In particular, Dean noted that FIRM recently competed against more than 600 teams, bringing home three of the five golden tickets to compete at a national event in New Jersey.

With FIRM’s annual production coming up in just two weeks on June 14 and 15 at the Cairo High School auditorium, Dean suggested it was time for the council members to show some greater support.

“Your attendance at this year’s production will make you a believer in the arts,” she told the council. “It will make you an advocate for an industry that stands to impact our community and inspire our youth.”

To prevent the city council from scheduling events the same days as performances, Dean suggested appointing one member of the council to act as an arts representative to keep track of upcoming productions.

Dean also suggested the council members each make appointments to tour Pope’s Museum, which was recently added as a feature destination by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Dean said there is a direct correlation between the presence of art and the cultural and economic health of a community.

Creative industries represent $62.5 billion in total economic impact statewide and more than 200,000 individuals in Georgia employed in the arts, according to the Georgia Council for the Arts.

In Dean’s view, the arts play an essential role in growing the community by cultivating the next generation of leaders.

“In a time period when our youth are traveling as far away as they can, arts have a unique way of building a sense of place and identity,” Dean said. “The result is stopping the exodus of our leaders.”

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