Members of the Marietta City Council heard pitches last week from groups in the arts and history sectors who want to use city funds to boost the city’s tourism.
This year, about 20 groups asked for a combined $1.4 million in grants. Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly, who chairs the city’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Committee, said the goal is to invest in groups that bring tourists and outside cash into Marietta.
“It seems like when I first took this over, maybe five years ago, we probably had maybe 10 or 12 organizations, and now we’re up to 20,” she said. “And they’re viable organizations that are doing some powerful things in our city, so I’m excited. … At the end of the day, it’s all about driving tourism, bringing people in the city.”
The grants are funded by a 3% tax on vehicle rentals and an 8% tax on hotel and motel rooms. The former is projected to collect $645,250 in fiscal 2020, and the latter is expected to bring in $431,844; the total of $1,077,094 can be divided up among the requests for the fiscal 2020 budget, communications director Lindsey Wiles said.
The biggest ask came from the Africa Heritage Foundation, run by Ambassador Tunde Adetunji. He said he wants to make Marietta a hub for African studies, starting with art exhibits and lectures at Kennesaw State University’s Marietta campus, and he requested $250,000 to get started.
“I would like the city to look at this as a priority for the city of Marietta to prove to the world that it embraces diversity and globalization by supporting the Africa Heritage project,” he said. “Our outfit is going to comprise of a museum of cultural anthropology, it’s going to contain the research for universities, it’s going to contain television and radio, tourism and exhibitions and projects and business that will promote the state.”
Though the council members did not vote on the grants at Wednesday night’s meeting, Cooper Kelly did not mince words about the foundation’s chances.
“To request money from us, you need to be able to show and demonstrate that you’ve got a facility that’s operational, you have some events that are drawing in tourism, meaning the grant funds are not to fund a business,” she said. “So it’s not an opportunity to come to us for small business money so you can get up and going. We need you to demonstrate that you’re up and going and sustainable in order for the city to invest in you. … I don’t think you’re there yet, from what I’m hearing.”
Cooper Kelly encouraged Adetunji to come back next year once the foundation was on solid ground.
Other potential grantees from the field of the arts included the Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre, the Georgia Symphony Orchestra and the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art, where director Sally McCauley is requesting $120,000.
Much of that money would go toward funding one of the city’s largest annual events, Chalktoberfest, where artists from around the world create chalk art on the streets of Marietta Square.
McCauley said Chalktoberfest alone has an economic impact of about $6.2 million, and she said the festival has put Marietta on the map for a certain segment of art lovers.
“You couldn’t even get through the crowd last year, it was really an incredible crowd, and the weather could not have been any more perfect, and it has grown over the last several years. … I’m getting calls at least once a month from people wanting to start chalk festivals in other cities,” she said.
Organizations that promote Marietta’s history were also at the table, including the Old Zion Baptist Church Heritage Museum, the Marietta Gone with the Wind Museum and the Marietta Museum of History.
For the latter, director Jan Galt requested $162,419. Among other things, the funds would go toward expanding and improving the museum’s collection, creating new opportunities for schoolchildren to learn about history and fund the annual Marietta StreetFest, the museum’s largest fundraiser which features antique dealers, classic cars and live music.
“Studying history allows humanity to look at its own reflection,” Galt said. “We can embrace that reflection, good and bad, and be stronger for it. History is not always pretty, but we are a safe place to have a hard conversation, and we offer a comfortable, compassionate environment to teach history.”
The Recreation and Tourism Committee will send recommended amounts for each grant request to the full City Council, which is scheduled to discuss the spending levels at its June 10 work session and vote on the final numbers at its June 12 meeting.