Best of Atlanta 2018: Arts & Culture

Best of Atlanta 2018: Fahamu Pecou

Photograph by Raymond McCrea Jones

Best painter: Fahamu Pecou

Pecou says his art “addresses concerns around contemporary representations of black masculinity.” His painting But I’m Still Fly is on display at the Smithsonian, and his work Daedalus/Upliftment is at the Seattle Art Museum. Despite such success, Pecou has stayed true to his Atlanta roots. Just this year, he picked up his PhD from Emory University. A recent studio fire destroyed years of his work, but like the city he calls home, Pecou plans to rebuild from the ashes.

Childish Gambino tour Atlanta Duluth September 6
Donald Glover

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS

Best superstar: Donald Glover

With two Emmys, a Grammy, and a list of other nominations, Donald Glover (aka Childish Gambino) is a modern Renaissance man whose talents defy categorization. In television alone, he’s an actor, director, writer, and creator of the critically acclaimed Atlanta. At the 2018 Grammy Awards, he was up for both Record of the Year and Album of the Year, and he took home the win for Best Traditional R&B Performance.

Best new arts incubator: The Bakery

With the closure of several Broad Street venues, Atlanta artists needed a new home for DIY ventures. Willow Goldstein supplied one with the Bakery in Adair Park. It has facilities artists can rent and occasionally hosts higher-profile events like a recent festival with Art on the BeltLine—but usually, it’s home to smaller performances, such as a show from Tongues Out, a group of queer, trans, and women puppeteers.

Best of Atlanta 2018: Michi Meko
Detail of one of Meko’s works, on display from December 1 to January 26

Photograph courtesy of Michi Meko

Best museum for local artists: MOCA GA

MOCA GA is devoted to collecting and exhibiting work by Georgia artists. Over the past two decades, it has grown from a collection of 250 works by 110 Georgia artists to more than 1,000 works of art. And it has published two full-length books featuring the works of Herbert Creecy and collage artist Larry Walker. The museum opens an average of 15 exhibitions each year and has presented work by a diverse range of artists from painter Michi Meko and photographer Chip Simone to sculptor Ayokunle Odeleye and multimedia artist Elizabeth Lide. In addition, through the Working Artist Project, the museum supports three established visual artists who reside in the Atlanta area each year.

Best story time for adults: The Atlanta History Center’s Author Programs

Kate Whitman, AHC’s vice president of author and family programs, has a simple goal: Put Atlanta on the map as a place where writers can connect with their readers. AHC has hosted everyone from Tom Brokaw to Condoleezza Rice. Recently, Whitman brought in Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan and The Chew’s chef Carla Hall, but she’s nowhere near finished. She is addicted to getting “the ungettable.” Next on her wish list? Mindy Kaling, Toni Morrison, and Michelle Obama.

Best dance company for aspiring dancers: Dance Canvas

Dance Canvas is an education and performance hub for up-and-coming dancers and choreographers. Since 2008, they have presented nine professional performance series, premiered 78 new works by emerging professional choreographers, and employed more than 400 professional dancers. They partner with schools to provide dance education and teach classes for kids as young as five years old. They also partnered with Aurora Theatre to present a workshop for their production of Newsies.

Best of Atlanta 2018: Tara Lee

Photograph by Mike Colletta

Best choreographer to watch: Tara Lee

Known best for her 21 seasons as a principal dancer with the Atlanta Ballet, Lee also choreographed six works for that company, beginning with Sixteen String in 2003. Last year, she helped form Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre and became the group’s primary choreographer. Terminus has been selling out shows since its inception and has secured key partnerships with Westside Cultural Arts Center and Serenbe Playhouse.

Best budding arts district: East Point

East Point has long been home to a close-knit, working-class black community, and today, young artists and entrepreneurs are taking root in the historic city. The Windmill Arts Center is now home to Vanguard Rep, a contemporary theater producing local playwrights, and Fly on a Wall, which produces a mash-up of theatrical and dance performance. Right next door, artist Tiffany LaTrice has been operating TILA Studios, a visual arts studio and exhibition space for women, since 2016.,

Best concert curator: Samuel Dixon

Spivey Hall has 400 seats, so it’s a mathematical miracle that it routinely books internationally renowned artists like violinist Joshua Bell and vocal ensemble Chanticleer. An endowment is part of the equation, but it still wouldn’t compute without Spivey Hall Executive and Artistic Director Sam C. Dixon, who has a knack for wooing top talent and scouting out tomorrow’s stars.

Best classical meets contemporary: Orchestra Noir

Billed as Atlanta’s black orchestra and founded in 2016 by Jason Ikeem Rodgers, Orchestra Noir has quickly made a name for itself by bringing orchestral music to a new generation. They’ve collaborated with 2Chainz and Migos, entertained at rapper Cardi B’s baby shower, and opened the National Black Arts Festival.

Best of Atlanta 2018: Marquee Club

Photograph courtesy of Alive Coverage

Best intermission: The Marquee Club at the Fox Theatre

The Fox Theatre is known for ornate Moorish and Arabic architecture, and its new Marquee Club borrows from those motifs. It’s an opulent, 10,000-square-foot space for lingering over drinks after the curtain closes or during intermission. But admission is limited and expensive: Yearly memberships start at $3,000. Though individual tickets are sometimes available, the cost varies and is usually about as much as your performance ticket.

Best inclusive programming: Aurora Theatre

Aurora Theatre’s Teatro Aurora is the only professional Spanish-language theater company in the metro area. It stages at least one full Spanish production a year plus smaller performances like its popular Club Babalú series. Ambitious main-stage shows range from musicals to new works, and the city recently announced plans for a $26-million expansion of the arts center. In addition to dozens of Suzi Bass awards, Aurora has won a Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities.

Best spoken word venue: Java Monkey Cafe

This downtown Decatur coffee shop comes alive on Sunday nights with the rhythm and rhyme of the metro area’s most talented poets. From college students who are just getting started to established spoken word artists, Java Monkey is a rite of passage in the Atlanta poetry community. The Java Monkey Slam Team competes in the National Poetry Slam each year and has spawned two other teams: Art Amok and SlamATL. Get there early because by 8 p.m., it’s standing room only.

Best outreach: High Museum of Art

The High Museum has not been content to rest in its ivory (and very white) tower. In 2015, its leaders launched an intentional effort to feature more artists of color, like Magdalene Odundo, a Kenyan-British potter, and Yuri Suzuki, who designed the High’s outdoor sonic playground. They’ve recruited more diverse docents, fellows, and board members, recently adding Killer Mike to the panel. Now, the High’s nonwhite audience has tripled, and demographics inside the museum better reflect those of the city around it.

Best place to earn your comedy stripes: Village Theatre

From Improv A-Hole to Sh*t Faced Shakespeare, the Village Theatre has been a breeding ground for up-and-coming comedians for the past decade. Producing more than 20 improv shows per week, it also offers sketch comedy and improv classes for aspiring performers. Its Atlanta Improv Festival brings critically acclaimed groups to the city, with celebrity guests getting in on the mayhem. Plus, with the rise of Georgia’s film and television industry, the theater is now training actors to prepare for auditions.

Best of Atlanta 2018: Out On Film
My Big Gay Italian Wedding

Photograph by Laura Bianca

Best support for LGBTQ artists: Out on Film and Out Front Theatre Company

The mission of Out Front Theatre Company is “to tell stories of the LGBTQIA+ experience and community through theatre and the performing arts,” which they have been doing in West Midtown for the past two years. From big musicals like Priscilla Queen of the Desert to new plays about sexual identity, Out Front is presenting diverse stories with LBGTQIA+ actors, directors, and playwrights. For The Ethel Merman Disco Christmas Spectacular (December 6-22), they’ve turned the storefront theatre into Studio 54 for an imagining of what Merman’s unaired 1979 Christmas television special would’ve been like. This fall, Out Front also partnered with Out on Film, one of the country’s longest-running LGBTQIA+ film festivals, now in its 31st year.,

Best community support for the arts: Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center

This young city didn’t take long to establish itself as a home for the arts. Its new performing arts center opened this summer as the crown jewel of the $180 million City Springs development. With two stages and an outdoor green space, the center is destined to become one of metro Atlanta’s premiere venues.

Best curator of the year: Andrea Barnwell Brownlee

As director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Andrea Barnwell Brownlee brings remarkable female artists from the African diaspora to Atlanta. Under her leadership, the museum has shown world-renowned artists such as Deborah Roberts, Firelei Báez, and Renee Stout and was one of the first to exhibit the work of Amy Sherald, who painted Michelle Obama for the National Portrait Gallery. Their current exhibition features more than 70 photos by South African photographer Zanele Muholi.

Best of Atlanta 2018: A3C

Photograph by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Best bet for hip-hop heads: A3C

What started as a regional showcase for local talent has become one of the music industry’s most prestigious events: hip-hop’s version of South by Southwest. A3C is an annual conference and festival that focuses on the business side of the music industry, showcases the hottest underground talent, and wows with panels and performances by hip-hop’s movers & shakers. This year, the event honored music producer Jermaine Dupri, rapper Wyclef Jean, and hip-hop journalist Rodney Carmichael.

Best of Atlanta 2018: Ruby Velle

Photograph by Jason Hales

Best new album that’s not hip-hop: State of All Things by Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics

This band’s soulful, Stax-style sound is a reminder that Atlanta’s musical greatness transcends genre. In 2012, their first album, It’s About Time, earned critical acclaim, with single “My Dear”picked as an iTunes Single of the Week. Their sophomore release, State of All Things, exhibits their strength as an ensemble. The instrumentalists weave a complex texture of flawless musicianship, while supporting Velle’s captivating voice.

Best new play incubator: Essential Theatre

Celebrating 20 seasons of developing new plays by Georgia playwrights, Essential Theatre has launched the careers of some of the nation’s most important contemporary writers. They receive almost 100 submissions annually for their playwriting competition; the prize is a full production of their work. Essential was the first to produce Karla Jennings’s Ravens & Seagulls, Topher Payne’s Evelyn in Purgatory, and works by Lauren Gunderson, who has been the most produced playwright in the country for the past two years. This year’s festival featured Built To Float by Rachel Graf Evans and Woke by Avery Sharpe, whose comedy Black Nerd at Dad’s Garage was the talk of the town.

Greatest hits

Best showcase for new filmmakers
BronzeLens Film Festival

Best arts festival
Atlanta Celebrates Photography

Best outdoor performances
Serenbe Playhouse

Best public art event
WonderRoot’s Off the Wall: Atlanta’s Civil Rights & Social Justice Journey

Best playwright
Pearl Cleage

Best retro rock
Yacht Rock Revue

Best museum for all ages
Center for Puppetry Arts

Best dancing in the streets

Best new plays
Alliance Theatre

Best comedy club
Atlanta Comedy Theater

Best small concert venue
City Winery Atlanta

Best major concert venue
Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

Best musicals
Broadway in Atlanta

Best book festival
Decatur Book Festival

Best book festival not in Decatur
Book Festival of the MJCCA

Check out our other Best of Atlanta 2018 winners:
Food & Drink
Style & Design
Beauty & Fitness
City Life