Best of Atlanta 2021: See

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Charmaine Minniefield’s Praise House Project
Charmaine Minniefield’s Praise House Project

Courtesy of Flux Projects/JULIE YARBROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY

Public Art: Charmaine Minniefield’s Praise House Project

At Oakland Cemetery, Flux Projects presented artist Charmaine Minniefield’s re-creation of a traditional praise house and ring shout (where congregants gathered in a circle to stomp and praise) for Juneteenth. Now, with support from Flux Projects, these worship spaces, thought to be the precursors to the West’s first Black churches, are set to be reconstituted at Emory, the South-View Cemetery, and Decatur Square. Decatur’s edition will permanently replace the Confederate monument at the DeKalb History Center as part of the county’s 2022 centennial celebration.

Adaptive Reuse: The Works

Just when warehouses-turned–culinary wonderlands were beginning to feel overdone, this 80-acre Selig venture enlisted celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern to help curate an eclectic food hall and incorporated a one-acre, tree-canopied play zone. Even the parking garage is artful.

Place to See Top Comics: Atlanta Comedy Theater

See standup comedy superstars such as Tommy Davidson, D.L. Hughley, and Bill Bellamy at Atlanta Comedy Theater in Norcross. Ms. Pat even taped her live Netflix special here earlier this year. Located in a busy shopping center, the space straddles the line between grungy and upscale. Local comedian Josh Harris also teaches classes at the theater for aspiring comics and those bold enough to try.

New OTP Visual Arts Center: Reeves House

Years in the making, the Reeves House visual arts center opened in May as a stylish—if spartan—gallery and coffee shop, replicating a historic but dilapidated 1800s house. It adds a fresh artistic dimension to Woodstock’s ever-blossoming downtown.

New Attraction at the Zoo: Grant Park Gateway

Where else can you watch giraffes, zebras, and elephants mosey about while cruising on roller skates? Topped with a 2.5-acre greenspace, this LEED-certified, 1,000 space parking deck located next to Zoo Atlanta enhances and beautifies Atlanta’s oldest park (free for people, not for cars).

New Performing Arts Center: Lawrenceville Arts Center

Movie palace nostalgia meets sleek and modern design at Lawrenceville Arts Center—the new home of Aurora Theatre. With plush gold and royal blue carpets, industrial railings, and modern light fixtures, the $35 million facility features a 500-seat proscenium stage, a 125-seat cabaret theater, and a spacious courtyard theater. The spaces are also meant to be educational laboratories for technical theater, deepening Aurora’s partnership with Georgia Gwinnett College and Gwinnett County Schools. The first show in the space is Aurora’s long-running Christmas Canteen revue, through December 23.

New Park: Westside Park

Fifteen years of planning and construction have culminated in the $44 million first phase of what’s set to become Atlanta’s largest park and a magnet for job-producing Westside investment. Skyline views across the centerpiece, 2.4-billion-gallon reservoir are already (Insta) famous.

Rodney Cook Sr. Peace Park
Photograph courtesy of HDR © 2021 Dan Schwalm

New Neighborhood Park: Rodney Cook Sr. Peace Park

On sunny afternoons, a few blocks from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Rodney Cook Sr. Peace Park—a stunning new 16-acre greenspace in Vine City—is bursting with community life. Children scramble up the playground equipment, babies gurgle on picnic blankets, and Falcons tailgaters stage serious games of flag football.

Dance Fest: (MC)2: Moving Culture | Moving Community

This new annual multicultural dance festival, curated by Emory faculty member George Staib, united 12 local dance organizations last summer in East Point for five days of conversations, performances, and free classes, where community members learned the basics of capoeira, flamenco, hip-hop, and Mexican zapateo.

New Holiday Tradition: Out Front Theatre

In a season stuffed with chestnuts like A Christmas Carol and Rudolph, the city’s LGBTQ+ theater is committed to camping up Christmas with new yearly productions, including this year’s Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes—Holiday Edition (set for December 10-19) and last year’s Ethel Merman Disco Christmas Spectacular, which fans could download virtually.

New Theater Incubator for Black Voices: Hush Harbor Lab Theatre

Named for the secret signals, passwords, and codes invented by enslaved Americans that called them to safe refuge, Hush Harbor Lab Theatre is a “brave space” for new works by Black Atlanta artists. Works unveiled this year include playwright Carolyn Cook’s Code Noir and a riveting workshop performance of Amina McIntyre’s Nina Simone one-woman show, Eunice in Paris, starring Atlanta actress Parris Sarter, which was broadcast on Zoom.

ZuCot Gallery
ZuCot Gallery

Courtesy of ZuCot Gallery

Contemporary Black Art Gallery: ZuCot Gallery

Contemporary Black artists have a home at ZuCot Gallery in Castleberry Hill. The gallery—the largest African American fine arts gallery in the Southeast—was launched in 2008 by Troy Taylor, an engineer who developed a passion for collecting art, and named after his grandmother. The collection includes a wide range of aesthetics from the diaspora—from Charly Palmer’s vivid figurative paintings to Kimmy Cantrell’s Picasso-esque sculptures. Exhibitions are open to view by appointment only.

Reason to Laugh: Mark Kendall’s Atlanta-centric YouTube sketches

After the Dad’s Garage veteran’s “If MARTA Came to Cobb County” sketch went viral, he quickly wrote and filmed a sequel featuring his mass transit robbery crew plotting a Gwinnett County house heist: “Remember, a lot of work and school is virtual these days so, to lure them outside, Ronnie will perform a one-person adaptation of season four of Friends.”

Spin on a Classic: Terminus Ballet’s Christmas film/show

Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre debuted its spin on the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol as a film in 2020. This year, Marley Was Dead, to Begin With: A Christmas Carol Told Again will be performed live at the Kennesaw State University Dance Theatre, then released in film form from December 17 to January 10.

Living Room Cabaret: Libby Whittemore

Throughout the pandemic, Atlanta cabaret queen Libby Whittemore and her longtime musical director Robert Strickland have performed more than 70 weekly concerts, all streamed live on Facebook from her Buckhead living room. Fans tuning in from as far away as Brazil and the U.K. include Hallmark Channel movie queen Barbara Niven.

Black Girl Magic Tours
Tarika Sullivan and Charlie Jackson of Black Girl Magic Tours

Mural Crawl: Black Girl Magic Tours

Tarika Sullivan was in a PhD program studying how Black women’s hair impacts the way they move through the world when she realized there was a need for more than she could capture in her dissertation. She started Black Girl Magic Tours to provide a space for Black women to fearlessly celebrate themselves. On the Sprinter tours, get ready to sip on “Black-girl-linis” and nibble on scrumptious cupcakes while taking a “mural crawl” around Atlanta to see art depicting Black women, painted by Black women.

Art Flex: The African Diaspora Art Museum of Atlanta

Who launches a museum without walls in the middle of the pandemic? Fahamu Pecou. The African Diaspora Art Museum of Atlanta highlights contemporary Black art and culture through exhibitions, programs (Arts Salon, Midnight Oil), and artist residencies—all virtually, for now. A brick-and-mortar location for ADAMA is in the works, but Pecou considers highlighting the global Black experience a boundary-less endeavor.

Film Festival Pivots

When festivalgoers couldn’t get to movie theaters, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival, BronzeLens Film Festival, and Out on Film all figured out how to bring their annual festivals to fans virtually. AJFF beamed actors Jonathan Silverman, Robby Benson, and Ron Rifkin into living rooms while BronzeLens brought creators of color together online with directors including Ramazan Nanayev and Gloria Ui Young Ki. The Atlanta Film Festival, meanwhile, offered a virtual screenwriting workshop with Steve Yockey, the former Atlanta playwright who developed the hit HBO Max series The Flight Attendant. And this fall’s Out on Film offered both an in-person festival at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema and a simultaneous virtual festival for LGBTQ+ film fans, including the Atlanta premiere of Jump, Darling, Oscar-winner Cloris Leachman’s final starring role as the sardonic but supportive grandmother of a drag performer. —Richard L. Eldredge

This article appears in our December 2021 issue.

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