Mark Gresham | 20 SEP 2019
I am a creative professional and Atlanta native. At 63 years of age, I have seen a lot of changes in both the city’s arts community and its business community over in the course of my lifetime. I’ve participated as a composer, a music journalist, a publisher and in a handful of other related professional activities. In all of these, my focus has been in the areas of classical and post-classical music – in other words, both the old and the new.
I feel that “classical music” – indeed, all of the “high classical arts” – are vital to not only the city’s increasingly diverse culture but to the flourishing of its civic and business concerns as well. For the business community, I believe it can be distilled down to three main points.
First, the local market. One might cynically ask: Why do we even need classical music in the hip-hop capital of the world? Common wisdom is that interest in classical “obviously” comes only from a relatively small demographic.
But let’s look at one telling current statistic from our internet-age world: Facebook’s advertising algorithms indicate that one out of every six of its users between the ages of 21 and 39 located within 50 miles of downtown Atlanta are interested in classical music. That’s actually higher than those ages 35 to 65-plus, by about one percentage point. Though a minority, it’s still a sizable chunk of the metro area’s population and it defies the notion that the audience for classical music is only an “aging population.” Businesses can and should tap into that fact.
However, there is much more to the picture for Atlanta’s vibrant creative arts industry than just the local community. That is hardly its sole market. Atlanta has long been a crossroads, a center of transportation and commerce by road, rail, and air, and these days logistics and communications. Over the last half century, the Southeastern US has experienced rapid economic and cultural changes, nowhere more so, perhaps, than metro-Atlanta.
What I have learned is that I cannot limit either my creative vision or market solely based on my hometown. Despite where people say a composer “has to go” to be successful, I find, even with frustrations, Atlanta has proven to be a better place from which to work and reach an audience that has an interested ear.
If New York City is to the US what London is to Europe, then modern Atlanta can find its own viable parallel in Milan, Italy. Atlanta is the commercial hub of the American southeast as Milan is for southern Europe. But as much as Milan is a commercial nexus, is also an important cultural destination. A city like Atlanta that is a vital center of commerce and transportation has with those advantages the ability to be a cultural destination in a way that feeds the local economy.
Why, then, should Atlanta not take on a similar mindset of being an “arts destination” where people come to Atlanta to hear the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, see the Atlanta Opera, or take in a high-class recital at Spivey Hall among its extensive offerings? Transportation and hospitality industries take note.
Likewise, Atlanta should be a strong hub of “creative origin” in the classical arts, marketing them globally by 21st century means. This is mostly a matter of entrepreneurship on the part of the creative professional, but the civic and business communities can boost the broader idea to the city’s overall economic benefit. Being a point of origin bolsters the idea of cultural destination, which in turn is supported by a firm support of creative excellence that strongly engages with the local community and economy.
This basic, balanced three-pronged approach to Atlanta’s creative-artistic industry, I believe, is key to the city’s continued cultural and economic well-being, now more than ever. ■
[The article above was originally published on August 26, 2019 in the “Art & Culture Seen” section of Saporta Report. Some minor edits have been incorporated into this version.]