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Year in Review: 2012's Pop Hits (and Misses)

Contributions to pop culture that we're proud to point out are connected to Atlanta

1) Morgan Saylor
As Dana Brody, daughter of Damian Lewis’s terrorist/congressman Nick Brody on Homeland, the Decatur High student provides an emotional core—compared to the heartless adults—on Showtime’s runaway Emmy-winning Read more...


Q&A with Virginia Hepner

Banking on arts

Last July Virginia Hepner, a twenty-five year veteran of the corporate finance world, dove into the nonprofit sector as president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center. Awaiting her was a musicians’ strike that threatened to leave Atlanta, already maligned as a lukewarm arts town, without a symphony orchestra. With that crisis averted, Hepner is now banking on a more stable and accessible future for arts and culture in the city.

Are there similarities between banking and the arts world? Whether it’s a for-profit or nonprofit organization, you need to run things in a businesslike manner. To be successful, you have to be very clear on what your mission is. In this world, it’s fulfilling our artistic and cultural vision to impact this community.

What are the big differences? In the for-profit world, if you have a great idea, it will attract capital. In the nonprofit sector, you can have the greatest need and people can agree with you, you can have the greatest artistic product, but if you can’t generate enough passion for a contributed income, it won’t happen.

How do you combat that? You do all you can to make sure you make the case to different audiences in terms of what is most important to them. For example, if I’m talking to business leaders who really understand the need to invest in the community, to attract the right workers, the right tax-paying citizens, you have to make the case for why it matters.

Does it matter here? Does Atlanta appreciate the arts? I actually think it does. Here are the facts: The Woodruff Arts Center campus was built with no public money. Even in our current campaigns, we have a budget of roughly $100 million, only about $1 million is public money. What that tells you is, for whatever reason, the private funding is exceptional. What plays into the concept that Atlanta is not really an arts town is that it’s a relatively new town. If you look at older cities that have generations of family philanthropy, it makes a big difference.

You mention wealthy private and corporate funding, are the arts accessible to those who aren’t wealthy? It’s a huge personal mission of mine. If you have art and no one gets to see it, that’s elitist, and that’s the opposite of what art is to me. Art is about communication and emotionally connecting with each other. The reason I default to the funding issue and why I think public funding is so important is because only a certain percentage of people will be able to come to Woodruff because we have to charge a certain amount to support it. The High Museum would, I’m sure, love to have a lower price or love to be free.

You also have to keep the artists happy, an issue that got attention from the ASO musicians strike. It’s just one more example that we have to be financially stable to offer what we do. This time it was a musician’s contract, another time it could be supporting the technology platform or paying maintenance on a building. It’s a sensitive topic because these are the artists. We’re here through their art to impact our community. Everything has a cost. They have tremendous value. It’s an emotional situation when you have to ask people to contribute to a cost structure. It’s an industry-wide issue, not just an Atlanta issue. The symphony is very well-run. We want it to be a world-class orchestra. We want it to be accessible from a ticket price standpoint. All of that is extremely expensive. We’ve actually increased contributed income and ticket revenue. The staff on the nonmusician side Read more...

Inside/Out/Again

Nostalgia for the Athens music scene

Twenty-five years ago, there was nowhere cooler in the college-rock scene than Athens, Georgia. The Classic City famously spawned R.E.M. and the B-52s as well as a massive roster of indie acts, including Love Tractor, Pylon, Flat Duo Jets, Kilkenny Cats, and Bar-B-Q Killers. All that angsty creativity was celebrated in the 1987 documentary Athens, Ga.–Inside/Out, a valentine to the city as much as its music scene. The film features concert footage intercut with a cameo by folk artist and R.E.M. collaborator Howard Finster, gospel performances, and lingering shots of downtown dives and the University of Georgia campus. It screened in limited release, and the accompanying LP soundtrack is long out of print. Omnivore Recordings is reissuing the movie on DVD this month, along with a CD soundtrack with bonuses, the highlight of which is Love Tractor and Peter Buck covering “Shattered.” Read more...

Mourning the Loss of Theatre in the Square

It's curtains for Marietta's mainstay theater

In 1982 michael horne and Palmer Wells opened Theatre in the Square in the former banquet hall of the old Marietta Depot restaurant. IBM employees by day, they soon realized why the word "depot" was part of the name. The C&S locomotives would rumble down the tracks bordering downtown Marietta so often, they probably could have qualified for membership in the actors’ union. The train noise would sometimes distract from a comedic or tender moment, but I always remember the times when the thundering roars would embellish a scene of high tension, as if the elements were lending a soundtrack. This year Theatre in the Square finally ran out of steam. The 2008 economic slump dramatically reduced contributions to the company, leading to huge debts, unpaid rent, and difficulty even meeting staff payroll. On March 19 its board voted to shut down. Pearl Cleage’s "Flyin’ West" unexpectedly became the final production of the small suburban company that maintained impressive standards for three decades. In my years as a theater critic, I saw more than ninety productions at the Marietta playhouse, from Bill Murphey playing about forty roles in the one-man comedy "Fully Committed" to Jessica Phelps West burning Suzi Bass’s hands with a hot plate in the harrowing "Beauty Queen of Leenane." In fact, it was Theatre in the Square that sparked my interest in the stage. As a film buff in high school in 1983, I noticed that the mystery "Sleuth" was playing in Marietta, and I was curious to see a live version of such a smart, twisty movie. After years of being dragged to theaters, "Sleuth" was the first play I ever saw on my own. It was a revelation to see the action from the front row of an eighty-five-seat playhouse. And while big theaters like the Alliance or the Fox resembled museums or palaces, Theatre in the Square felt more like visiting somebody’s home. At the time, Wells and Horne were learning by doing. “We had no strategic plan,” says Wells. “We scheduled our first season so a show would close on Sunday and the next would open the following Thursday night, so we’d have to build the sets in the space in the meantime. Sometimes we’d work on a set all night, then get up and go to work at IBM in the morning.” In 1985 the pair moved the theater to a larger (but no less train-proof) space on nearby Whitlock Avenue. Theatre in the Square built a loyal audience, programming crowd-pleasers while also showcasing provocative but accessible new work. Unquestionably the company’s signature style belonged to sunny comedies with Southern twangs, and even its tamest and most commercial scripts drew energy from the Atlanta area’s funniest actors. Theatre in the Square’s audience couldn’t get enough of "Smoke on the Mountain," in which the hapless Sanders Family Singers perform an accident-prone show at a depression-era Baptist church. I saw it three times. "Smoke on the Mountain" may be the opposite of edgy, but Theatre in the Square’s renditions were so warm and well-acted, they gave "wholesome" a good name. The playhouse staged hundreds of productions of "Smoke" and its sequels, "Sanders Family Christmas" and "Mount Pleasant Homecoming," using the same actors so often they felt like a real family. Theatre in the Square might still be open if it had produced nothing but Sanders-style shows. But the company was never content to rely on the incessantly staged chestnuts that fill seats at the average community theater. Though never avant-garde by the standards of, say, 7 Stages in Little Five Points, at least once a season Theatre in the Square pushed the limits of what a Cobb County audience could Read more...

Amber Dermont

The author discusses her debut novel

Amber Dermont's debut novel, "The Starboard Sea," is set in a fictional world of beauty and privilege that she remembers clearly, but with a healthy dose of cynicism. The associate professor at Agnes Scott College grew up in a Victorian coastal village on Cape Cod. “When you grow up by the ocean, you have no idea how lucky you are,” she says. In her novel, teenager Jason Prosper is reeling from the suicide of his prep school sailing partner and first love, Cal, and trying to fit in at a new, lesser East Coast boarding school that is full of similarly rich, fallen kids. “We weren’t bad people,” Jason says, “but having failed that initial test of innocence and honor, we no longer felt burdened to be good.” He finds some comfort with a girl named Aidan and, alternately, with a smug band of annoying, perhaps dangerous classmates. It’s a coming-of-age story about learning to navigate by the right stars—or sometimes in the pitch black. The descriptive passages are lovely, whether Dermont is writing about the open sea or an ancient doorman: “In his navy wool uniform, all epaulets, gold tassels, and brass stars, his kind face glistening with sweat, Max looked like the commander of a sinking ship.” And the author is remarkably adept at writing in the voice of a teenage boy. “Not a challenge,” she says, laughing. “I have the mentality of a fourteen-year-old boy. No, I have a real love for teenagers. I really am fascinated by them, because they’re so much smarter than we are.” Read more...