Abby normal 

Atlanta Chamber honors arts community

The 2000 Abby Awards show, presented by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce Monday night, more closely resembled the irreverent MTV Movie Awards than the formal civic ceremony you might expect.For instance, the event began with the audience chanting "Ooga-booga-booga" until host-gorilla Willie B. (actually a handsome puppet operated by Lucky Yates) dropped from the rafters of the Conant Center at Oglethorpe University as the familiar music from 2001: A Space Odyssey played. Back from heaven, Willie B. proved an eloquent and beloved master of ceremonies for the seventh annual tribute to the Atlanta arts community.

The evening offered a mixture of inspirational speeches about the cooperation of the arts and business communities, heartfelt words of thanks from the winners and moments of absurdist shtick. "This has been an exceptional time in my life: the first time I've been kissed by a gorilla," commented Cherry L. Emerson, benefactor for the arts at Emory, M.I.T., Georgia Tech and Georgia State University and recipient of the Georgia-Pacific Lifetime Achievement Award for Business Leadership.

"This is blowing the roof off here at Oglethorpe", quipped Chamber of Commerce President Sam A. Williams after stepping across the lunar-themed set of the Georgia Shakespeare Festival's A Midsummer Night's Dream. "I think this goes to show that this isn't your father's Chamber of Commerce."

Sean Daniels, artistic director of Dad's Garage Theatre Company, directed the show and, wearing a 1960s swinger-type wig, presented the Arts Professional Award to the Georgia Shakespeare Festival's Richard Garner. Garner's remark, "Thanks to everyone in this room who believes that arts and business can go together in this community," was representative of the spirit of the evening.

Joseph Meeks of Kennesaw State University, where he is dean of the arts school and chair of music department, won the Coca-Cola Lifetime Achievement Award for Arts Leadership Award, and Hammonds House Galleries and Resource Center for African-American Art walked away with the Arts Organization Award. Companies honored included Wachovia Bank of Georgia for the Corporate Partner Award and Headhunter.net for the Special Judges Award.

Other recipients include Robyn Cole for the Volunteer Award, playwright Janece Shaeffer for the Wachovia News Arts Organization Award, painter Radcliffe Bailey for the Artist Award, ART Station theater for the Target Arts Education Award and Theatrical Outfit and James Kegley of Equifax for the Business Volunteer for the Arts Award.

Raising about $60,000 for the chamber's Arts & Business Council and unfolding in a brisk 90 minutes (about half the length of earlier Abby Award shows), the program included tongue-in-cheek video segments extolling the Metro Atlanta Arts Fund and the Business Volunteers for the Arts, as well as banter between Willie B. and his sidekick Nanner (Scott Warren), the banana from heaven. After plugging Dad's Garage Theatre, Willie B. remarked, "If there's one thing I learned in the zoo, it's to shill for the man."

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