Supporting Augusta arts programs gave five mayoral candidates different material to talk about at a forum Monday.
Retired educator Patricia Cummings, who is involved with Augusta Mini Theater and the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, raised the issue by asking what each candidate would do to support the Mini Theater, a south Augusta youth program left off the $194 million special purpose local option sales tax package going before voters May 20.
“Because of the historical legacies that exist in Augusta, there are some things we need to make sure we actually need to take care of, and one of them is the arts,” said candidate Lori Myles, a language arts teacher at T.W. Josey High School.
Myles cited the Imperial Theatre and the Augusta Mini Theater as examples, then questioned why certain entities had to obtain matching funds to get sales tax dollars and others did not.
The city is requiring several outside agencies seeking sales tax dollars for cultural facilities to raise 25 percent in matching funds, including the Imperial, Symphony Orchestra Augusta and Paine College, but isn’t seeking a match from other outside agencies, including Georgia Regents University and the Augusta Regional Collaboration Project.
“When it comes to GRU, if they don’t have to (do) matching funds, why do any of the other institutions have to do matching funds?” Myles asked.
Myles and state Sen. Hardie Davis are the only two mayoral candidates who have said they support the sales tax package.
Candidate Charles Cummings, who has said he opposes it, said Paine’s $1.2 million match requirement to obtain $6 million for a cultural center might not be such a good deal for Paine. Plus, his daughter attended Mini Theater programs.
“I’m going to be all about Augusta Mini Theater,” he said.
Candidate Helen Blocker-Adams said as mayor she would push a city grants coordinator to search for resources to help agencies such as the Mini Theater, and attempt to strengthen them, but community support is vital.
“That’s the problem, we’re not supporting as a community Augusta Mini Theater,” she said.
Commissioner Alvin Mason, a vocal opponent of the tax package for a variety of reasons, warned against using sales tax funds for the smaller arts programs.
“I would be very cautious about what you ask the government for, because when you get the government into your business, the government begins to take over your business,” he said.
Mason cited roads, streets, bridges, sidewalks, bicycle paths, courthouses, civic centers, jails and cultural centers as appropriate uses for sales tax funds and said he’d seek other sources to help the arts agencies.
“I can only deal with what’s legal and what the legal statutes, the state laws tell me I can do,” Mason said.
Davis, noting that his son attends Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School, said he’d first pull out his checkbook to help the arts groups.
Next, as mayor he’ll create an “office of cultural affairs” to not only “leverage the government’s role” but also “bring the business community together on those things that are important on cultural arts, entertainment and welfare of all our citizens.”