During their budget retreat workshop, this letter was shared with the City Council on November 17, 2023. to address shortages in cultural arts funding.
Re: FY 2024 Budget and Hotel/Motel Tax Use
On behalf of the Arts and Culture Alliance of Chatham County, I ask that you address funding concerns related to cultural contributions at a record low, tourism at a record high, and questionable spending using hotel/motel tax revenue during your budget retreat.
To that end, it is hoped you will find a solution to address the current funding concerns and, starting with FY 2024, invest more, including, but not limited to, increased cultural contributions, capital funding, City property development to establish an arts and culture hub of public activities and operational support, additional funding for the public art ordinance and funding for implementation, and subsidizing contracted services requiring police presence during free community events. In addition, start the budget process for the Johnny Mercer Theatre replacement or renovations for the City to maintain a world-class venue sizable enough to accommodate today’s and tomorrow’s needs.
As an elected member of the City Council serving Savannah, the context for the concerns are:
- Savannah promotes the value of the arts community as a vital characteristic of the fabric of our community.
- Record-breaking tourism is recorded paralleled by hotel/motel tax revenue.
- Studies show the arts community greatly contributed to the City of Savannah’s economy, which coincidentally will soon be shared in detail when the Arts and Economic Prosperity report is presented.
- Record low support for tourism-magnet arts and culture is recorded through the last two years of cultural contributions funding and a third year as budgeted for FY 2024.
- The hotel/motel tax is restricted; funds are not openly segmented or reported through published budgets, and funds are transferred to the general fund. It is, however, acknowledged that legislators passed provisions broadening the use of funds for 2023.
- With said hotel/motel tax, additional funds should have or could have been dedicated to supporting and recognizing Savannah as Southeast’s arts and cultural capital.
- Local taxpayers support cultural contributions because of changes to application guidelines and criteria. Said contributions are for contracted services limited exclusively to free, non-ticketed, and community-based activities. Cultural contributions are not, however, funded through hotel/motel tax because of the restricted use of funds to promote tourism, which is not a funding priority or a measurable criterion for evaluating applications.
- Furthermore, tourism funds would not support the Cultural Arts Center because it was designated a community and education asset and was not intended to promote tourism.
The not-for-profit arts community is a partnership between the private, public, and government interests. Each contributes to this industry’s impact on our community and economy. Perpetual industry support is a misnomer; it is not about endless support or overreliance on one partner. Instead, it is an ongoing partnership to ensure a vibrant community where we all benefit.
To that end, the concerns are how the City Council can reconcile the diverging correlation between the impact of arts and culture and the City’s support and recognition of its impact.
In addition, what actions can you incorporate starting with the FY 2024 budget to invest more and, therefore, have a greater impact on this vital patch to the fabric of our community? Gratitude.
Patrick A. Kelsey
Executive Director | Arts and Culture Alliance of Chatham County