ARTlanta is a new column dedicated to celebrating the artists, creatives, and designers who give Atlanta its flavor. Our city has long had a reputation for nurturing the courageous and the bold. From performers to musicians, painters to animators, Atlanta is enriched and enlivened by their presence. In this space, I’ll highlight artists, discuss trends, and list can’t-miss events. Let’s paint the town peach.
Atlanta is in the midst of a cultural renaissance. The city’s scene has long commanded respect, but within the last few years, Atlanta has arrived. Our hip-hop scene sets the standard for the industry. Our theaters are premiering some of the most-produced plays across the nation. Our dancers can be seen from Broadway to the Kennedy Center—and that’s before we even get into our film and television industry. The Covid-19 pandemic presented innumerable challenges for working artists, but they still gave us their all and solidified Atlanta’s position as a cultural destination.
From immersive, virtual reality experiences to Zoom poetry slams, artists entertained us and articulated our experiences during a harrowing global pandemic and heart-wrenching racial reckoning. Some artists found it impossible to create in the midst of unrest, but others experienced a fury of inspiration. Either way, everything that bubbled up in them—and in us—is coming forth now. Our city will benefit from the art emerging from this moment in time for decades to come, yet many of our city’s artists and artistic institutions have struggled to re-engage longtime patrons, much less cultivate new ones. Organizations such as SMU DataArts and the DeVos Institute for Arts Management estimate that in Atlanta—and across the country—arts nonprofits will permanently lose 25 to 50 percent of their pre-pandemic audiences.
Why is it that people are more comfortable sitting in a stadium with more than 50,000 people for a football game than they are in a small theater to see a play, indie film, or concert? I have asked a wide variety of Atlantans this question for years, and the most common answer has nothing to do with money or time.
The number one reason people tell me they don’t engage with the arts is that they don’t know how to gauge whether something will be exceptional—and they want a guaranteed good time. They’re overwhelmed by the options and don’t trust their artistic instincts, so they abstain.
Here’s what I say: Trust your gut. Move toward what resonates with you, what interests you, and anything weird. Try going to different places and see whether you like them. All art, no matter the medium, is an experiment, and so is developing your artistic taste. Over the last decade, I have interviewed hundreds of Southern artists, some of whom are now selling paintings for tens of thousands of dollars or have been nominated for major acting awards. Even with commercial success, they’re still experimenting.
So, let’s experiment together. The arts aren’t back—in fact, they never left us, and so we must stand by them. It’s Black History Month, so the city is teeming with cultural events that range from historical to liturgical. Below are a few arts events across the metro that I’m looking forward to over the next month.
- Millennials may be transported back in time when they hear the title Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. The beloved children’s book, written by John Steptoe, has been adapted into a musical at Synchronicity Theatre. In this Cinderella story set in Zimbabwe, sisters vie for the affection of the king, but must realize that their love for each other is their strongest asset. This is a great show for the whole family and runs through February 19.
- Kim’s Convenience is the hilarious and heart-warming story of a Korean immigrant family that runs a convenience store in Toronto. Generational differences, cultural misunderstandings, and lots of laughs play out in this family comedy. See the play that inspired the hit Canadian television series, presented by Aurora Theatre, at the Lawrenceville Arts Center through February 19.
- Hip-hop is Atlanta’s calling card. This month, there’s a unique chance to see some of the city’s pioneers and up-and-comers. Arrested Development will be at the Buckhead Theatre on February At the Coca-Cola Roxy, see J.I.D. and Smino on February 18 and 19.
- Anyone who’s driven through Cabbagetown or seen the first Black Panther movie has seen Brandon Sadler’s work. Sadler grew up in Clarkston and became obsessed with anime at an early age. In his solo exhibit at Free Market Gallery, on view until February 28, he’s combining traditional Chinese calligraphy with the language of the South to see how the two mix.
- True Colors Theatre is opening its 20th anniversary season with the world premiere of Good Bad People by Rachel Lynett from February 14 through March 12 at Southwest Arts Center. The play looks inside the lives of a well-to-do Black family dealing with the aftermath of their son’s death at the hands of police.
- New Worlds: Georgia Women to Watch may be one of the most exciting mixed media exhibitions of the year. Local artists—Anila Quayyum Agha, Namwon Choi, Victoria Dugger, Shanequa Gay, and Marianna Dixon Williams—all work in different media and tell uniquely southern stories in their work. It runs at Atlanta Contemporary through June 4.
What’s on your list? Tell us what you’re creating or seeing using #ARTlanta on Twitter and Instagram.
About Kelundra Smith
I grew up in Stone Mountain and Loganville, where my parents and teachers got me into the arts early because that’s where energetic girls who talk a lot go. I am a theater critic, journalist, playwright, and lifelong arts lover. My articles about Southern art and artists have been published in the New York Times, ESPN, American Theatre, Garden & Gun, Oxford American, Bitter Southerner, ArtsATL, and elsewhere. As a playwright, my scripts focus on lesser-known historical events in Georgia’s history.