The city’s new “Create Dunwoody” Arts and Culture Plan lays out several reasons that city government should be involved in supporting arts and culture organizations, including providing a better quality of life for residents while also boosting the local economy and attracting businesses.

But some city leaders are hesitant to spend significant money implementing an arts master plan because of the city’s already limited resources. Some also argue numerous other nearby cities, including Atlanta, already offer many events and cultural spaces and question why a small city like Dunwoody should do the same.

An arts master plan recommends Dunwoody update how it measures success. Rather than highlighting paving and stormwater repairs, the plan notes how other cities measure success by their art galleries, restaurants and civic spaces. (City of Dunwoody)

The 65-page master plan is the first of its kind for Dunwoody and proposes specific ideas ranging from creating an arts advisory council, forming a public arts committee and suggested plans how to utilize existing facilities ensure nonprofit groups like the Spruill Center for the Arts and Stage Door Players continue to thrive.

The idea for an Arts and Culture Master Plan for Dunwoody goes back to 2015 when officials and residents were discussing ways to use public art to help the young city stand out.

The “Everything Will Be OK” mural on the side of an old smokehouse is perhaps the most iconic image for the city and is often used in tourism and other advertisements by the Dunwoody Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Last year, the city hosted several breakfast meetings to discuss “placemaking” and other ways to highlight the city. From those meetings the idea for an arts master plan to guide the city for the next 20 years was borne.

Assistant City Manager Jessica Guinn said last year that developing arts and culture master plans is newer to municipalities that are used to coming up with transportation and parks plans. But as cities continue to find ways to attract people and businesses, incorporating art and culture into the planning process is becoming more and more important, she said then.

The master plan includes a section noting that Dunwoody’s 2017 annual report has a “Progress: By the Numbers” section boasting the number of lane miles paved, number of stormwater repairs, number of traffic signal repairs and even the number of faded stop and yield signs replaced.

Other cities, like Decatur, Roswell and Sandy Springs, however, are measuring their successes on factors like being bicycle friendly, creating civic spaces, art galleries, restaurants and shops, Susan Silberbert of CivicMoxie told the council at its Oct. 8 meeting.

“They’re really touting something different and looking beyond paving,” she said.

The master plan recommends creating a nonprofit “Create Dunwoody Partnership” with government collaboration including up to $180,000 in funding. The partnership would work to create fair representation for local arts organizations. The plan also recommends public art along park trails and in neighborhoods.

Bob Kinsey, executive director of the Spruill Center for the Arts, said he hopes the master plan serves as a wake-up call to elected officials that arts and culture play a role in any city’s success.

For example, he said, he was appointed last month to the first Brookhaven Arts Advisory Council tasked to identify and evaluate potential public, performing, visual and cultural art projects for the city. And the new $229 million City Springs Performing Arts Center in neighboring Sandy Springs is hard to miss, he said.

“Dunwoody is being left behind because other cities are supporting arts and culture to improve the quality of life for their cities,” he said. “Their eagerness to embrace arts is pretty inspiring.”

Councilmember Terry Nall said the ideas presented are nice, but “when dollars are in short supply, you have to decide how investments are allocated.”
Kinsey said he understands Dunwoody is fiscally conservative. But he argued that if the city wants to continue to attract major corporations to the city and to Perimeter Center, the arts must play a role.

“It is important to them to have access to the arts,” he said.

City Councilmember Lynn Deutsch said the master plan is the first step in trying to achieve the goal Kinsey and others seek.

“I think we are making strides, particularly by commissioning this study to develop a plan to enhance the cultural and artistic environment of our city,” she said.

“I think in the next few years we will see lots of progress made with our nonprofit partners and perhaps new ones,” Deutsch added.

The arts and culture master plan stressed the economic benefits to a city with a vibrant arts and culture scene where investments are made in areas like public art, festivals, live music and trails and parks.

In 2016, spending by residents and tourists on dining, parking and shopping at 683 events in metro Atlanta generated $285 million, according to CivicMoxie.

But Dunwoody is part of metro Atlanta where there are already numerous thriving arts scenes, including intown Atlanta. Dunwoody does not necessarily have to provide every kind of arts events and cultural programming to residents, Deutsch said.

Kinsey agreed people living outside the Perimeter might venture intown a few times a year to catch shows at the Fox Theatre or attend a class or exhibit at the High Museum of Art.

But, he said, he and many others he knows want the opportunity to participate in the same kind of professional quality events closer to home, if for no other reason than they do not want to sit in hours of traffic.

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Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.