National exposure 

Whitney nod, Nexus name change, NBAF among year's highlights

This year, we've had to face some hard facts. Though post-Olympic Atlanta still wants to tout itself as an international city, we don't meet all the requirements yet. The Atlanta Arts Think Tank recently commissioned an arts economy survey of 20 cities to see where we stand on arts funding. The results were predictable; Atlanta comes in mega low on philanthropic support for the arts.

Nevertheless, our town managed to surge into the national spotlight in March, when four Atlanta artists were included in the Whitney Biennial 2000 at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Video artist Robin Bernat, painter Kojo Griffin, filmmaker Ruth Leitman and photographer Chris Verene all made it to the New York show. Since then, two of our Whitney artists have had continued visibility in the U.S. art mecca -- Verene had two shows in New York and Leitman's film Alma was screened there theatrically this fall.

The only other local artist that's made a noticeable splash outside Atlanta this year was Radcliffe Bailey, whose installation Spiritual Migration at the Atlanta College of Art Gallery has taken to the road. The show is part of Bailey's current Magic City exhibition at the Birmingham Art Museum. Spiritual Migration is headed to Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston and the Forum for Contemporary Art in St. Louis.

The year has been one of comings and goings. On the down side, two of Atlanta's art stars, Chris Scoates, director of the Atlanta College of Art Gallery, and Debra Wilbur, director of City Gallery @ Chastain, left for new jobs on the West Coast. Their departure, following that of former High Museum director, Ned Rifkin (now heading the Menil Collection in Houston), contributed to a sense of ebbing life in the arts community. But loss may bring opportunity. Independent curator Rebecca Dimling Cochran staged a couple of good interim shows at ACA (including Bailey's Spiritual Migration) before Lisa Fischman, ACA's new gallery director, arrived last month.

The High Museum of Art appointed a familiar face to lead the institution. Michael Shapiro, former deputy director, is now director. Phillip Verre, quietly named deputy director this summer, has been terribly inconspicuous. Not so, Veronica Njoku, new director of the Fulton Arts Council. Njoku and Betsy Baker, new director of the Georgia Council for the Arts, as well as Stacy Sevatsky, new public art coordinator for the Bureau of Cultural Affairs, promise to pump some positive energy into our public organizations. Sevatsky will have help from the Metropolitan Public Art Coalition, a fledgling collective of public art advocates organized this year by attorney activist Bill Gignilliat. With sculptor Gregor Turk as chair, MPAC is beginning to develop programming and an extensive network of community support for public art. That's an effort we've needed for a long time.

Atlanta galleries -- both commercial and alternative -- have exhibited the staying power we need for our art scene to develop credibility on the national level. Jane Jackson is currently celebrating Jackson Fine Art's 10th year with Ten Years Back, Ten Years Forward . Her success as a consultant to Elton John is evident in the quality and depth of his photography collection, much of which is currently on view at the High Museum in Chorus of Light. Bill Lowe entered the 11th year with his contemporary art showroom, Lowe Gallery. And after 20 years in the heart of Buckhead, Fay Gold Gallery moved to a great new show space on Miami Circle. The grand dame of the visual arts community has proved that she still has go power. She continues to promote her artists nationally; she took local artists Carolyn Carr and Michael Gibson to the San Fransisco Art Fair this fall.

Our alternative art spaces have grown to the point where we expect them to introduce the most interesting experimental visual art and performance in Atlanta. This year, Eyedrum, Ballroom Studios, Youngblood Gallery and Paradigm ArtSpace have drawn critical acclaim for a number of events and exhibitions. After more than 25 years, Nexus Contemporary Art Center, our biggest alternative non-profit arts venue, surprised us by renaming itself the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. Time will tell if the new branding will make the place any more successful. If the local response to The Contemporary's new name is any measure, the move was a success -- the art center's 18th annual ArtParty broke attendance records when 4,000 people showed up.

Another huge local commitment to improve the status of our art scene was announced a couple of months ago when Atlanta artist and arts consultant Annette Cone Skelton and David Golden, president of CGR Advisors, a Buckhead-based real estate investment advisory company, announced their plans to open the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, which will have a permanent collection of 240 works by Georgia artists.

But we still need strong community wide arts events. After the death of the Atlanta Arts Festival, all that remained of city-sponsored art festivals was the National Black Arts Festival. Though Spelman professor Dr. Akua McDaniel, longtime curator of the festival's visual arts programming, had to buck budget constraints, this year's festival was the summer highlight. Having already flooded galleries with a river of black art, the Festival took over Atlanta the first week of August. Notably, two of the summer shows -- To Conserve A Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges at Clark Atlanta University and the High, along with Narratives of African American Art & Identity: The David C. Drizzle Collection, also at the High -- showcased black art collectors. Serious collecting is another key to supporting and promoting the arts.



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