By Beth Malone, Co-Founder Dashboard Co-Op
Milton Bevington Sr. had flown to Paris to surprise his wife, Betsy, who had been on a monthlong European art expedition with 106 of Atlanta's most prominent artists, cultural activists, and political and civic leaders.
On June 3, 1962, Milton stood in the terminal at Orly Air Field watching as Betsys plane sped down the runway the couple never flew together, something she insisted upon after they had children. At takeoff, the planes trim motor failed. As the nose rotated to the sky, the body of the plane remained on the tarmac. Within seconds, jet fuel sprayed forth and the fuselage erupted into flames, killing 130 passengers, including Betsy.
Everyone in Atlanta was impacted, says the Bevingtons granddaughter Rickey, a radio host for Georgia Public Broadcasting. In seconds, people who volunteered their energy, passion and spirit to Atlantas art community were lost."
To honor those who died, Coca-Cola magnate Robert W. Woodruff donated millions to fund construction of the Woodruff Arts Center, now one of Atlantas most highly regarded art spaces.
My dad said that the greatest thing to come out of the Orly crash was the Woodruff Arts Center, says Rickey. Immediately following the accident, money and support flooded the city, but as time passed [there was] nothing.
While the tragedy gave rise to institutions such as the Woodruff, the loss of 106 of Atlantas most powerful art patrons has had a lasting impact on the citys cultural development. Forty-eight years after the crash at Orly, a prominent, consistent voice for the arts has failed to emerge at a legislative level in Atlanta, and Georgia, for that matter.
To effectively advocate for the arts, Georgias cultural leaders must talk about art as an economic stimulant. At the time [of the plane crash], if you were a successful business leader in Atlanta, it was taken for granted that you were also a leader in its cultural life, news reporter Aubrey Morris explains in the film The Day Atlanta Stood Still, a Georgia Public Broadcasting project documenting the advocacy and influence of passengers who died at Orly, such as Delbert Page, the former head of the Atlanta Arts Association and an accountant at Ernst and Ernst.
Today, cash, not culture, will have a heftier impact on legislators who care more for trout fishin and blue laws than substantive art programming. Were learning to speak in numbers, says Brenda Durant, the Georgia representative for the State Action Art Network, a branch of Americans for the Arts, the nations largest art advocacy organization. I never used to do this, but [legislators] need to hear that the arts are a good financial investment rather than something that raises SAT scores.
Georgia currently ranks 43 in the nation in per capita funding for the arts, yet every dollar thats invested generates a $13 return. Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition (MAACC), a nonprofit tasked with lobbying lawmakers for the arts, estimated nonprofit cultural groups contributed about $386 million to Georgia's economy in 2009, a number that would seem to warrant further investment in art programming. When a budget's on the chopping block in Georgia, however, the arts are always one of the first things to go.
To combat funding cuts to the arts, some local organizations are developing proactive state legislation. For example, this year MAACC proposed House Bill 335, a fraction-of-a-penny sales tax increase to fund cultural initiatives. A similar bill passed in Minnesota in 2008 and provides the arts community with $30 million more dollars a year. HB 335 has yet to be reviewed in committee.
In 1962, the people on that plane were us, Rickey says. They were young people excited about creating an arts community; talking about it and actually doing it.
On a grassroots level, burgeoning collectives and DIY gallery spaces are engaged with artists and patrons alike to perpetuate momentum in Atlanta arts, but a formal, statewide voice is lacking. The anniversary of the Orly crash should serve as a reminder to cultural leadership that our history impacts and informs the current state of the arts. Individual voices are fleeting, but collectively we can negotiate with state lawmakers and build a statewide art network that is sustainable and thriving.
Editor's Note: On Thurs., May 20, Milton Bevington Sr. passed away in Atlanta.
State of the Arts offers passionate, informed and timely discussions about the Atlanta arts community by the Atlanta arts community. If you'd like to contribute, please e-mail A&E Editor Debbie Michaud at email@example.com.
(Photo by Caleb Cliff)
What is it with all the little-dick people with so many guns?
Moving on, it would be good to hear the board's opinions: Dep COO suspended for…
no dry cleaning bill?
"matt" & "mrmateo" seem like the kind of assholes who give responsible gun owners a…
It's not just happening in Atlanta. An October, 2013 Atlantic Magazine article, "How the NFL…
Then why don't you venture out and abolish them yourself, Mark? I'm sure that all…