Arts and Culture in Georgia
Georgia’s art was shaped by the same things that formed the rest of the United States: the disappearance of the frontier, the growth of industry, the expansion of cities, the suffering of war and economic depression, and the turbulent events of the 20th century. But unique things to Georgia also made an impact. The fact that Georgia was the last of the original 13 colonies to be established (in 1733) and the persistence of the frontier well into the 19th century impacted all its traditions, notably its literary works with their proclivity for humor and violence and emphasis on regional themes and settings.
Georgia has hundreds of museums and galleries spread out across the state, from the Northwest "enchanted lands" of the Cherokee Indians to west central Georgia, with its antebellum traditions, to the 100 miles of its Atlantic Ocean coastline. The state's diverse and impressive art collections boast everything from Southern folk art to collections of American impressionism and Italian Renaissance. The state is home to works by, among others, Benny Andrews, George Bellows, Lamar Dodd, Winslow Homer, Jasper Johns, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Pablo Picasso. It has world-renowned architecture, a strong theatrical tradition, and many forms of contemporary and traditional music.
Dance instructor Dorothy Moses Alexander founded the Atlanta Ballet in 1929. It has continuously operated longer than any other ballet company in the United States and also spawned the first regional ballet company in this country, the Dorothy Alexander Dance Art Group. The Atlanta Ballet is the state's official ballet company.
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra premiered on October 7, 1923, and is the most widely recognized orchestra and largest arts organization in the Southeast. In addition to concerts and numerous outreach and educational programs, its recordings have won more than twenty-six Grammy awards. The ASO is housed in the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta.
Opera singer Jessye Norman was born in 1945 in Augusta, Georgia. She has performed at all the world's leading opera houses and is known for her strong voice, wide range, and her powerful stage presence.
The High Museum of Art in Atlanta is the only major museum in North America to have a full-time curator specifically devoted to the field of folk and self-taught art. The collection houses works by Reverend Howard Finster, Bill Traylor, Thornton Dial, Ulysses Davis, Sam Doyle, William Hawkins, and Mattie Lou O'Kelley.
Modern day art is sometimes mixed with commercialism (see Andy Warhol). The newly built "World of CocaCola" opened in Atlanta 2007 and features more than 1,200 artifacts from around the world that have never been displayed to the public before. Located at Pemberton Place, the 20-acre site in Atlanta, Georgia is home to the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium. The Georgia Aquarium opened on November 23, 2005, and is the world’s largest aquarium. It has more animals than any other aquarium in more than eight million gallons of water.
Georgia has produced every kind of music from folk music to rhythm and blues, rock and roll, country music, and hip-hop. The Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon chronicles the state’s myriad southern musical traditions including the Piedmont blues, shape note singing, African-American music, andSacred Harp singing as seen in the movie Cold Mountain.
In the mid-to-late 1980s, Athens (the home of the University of Georgia) enjoyed a cutting-edge music scene. Bands like R.E.M., the B-52’s, and the Indigo Girls exploded in popularity. Before Georgian bands like the Drive-By Truckers and Atlanta Rhythm Section became famous, Ray Charles(whose song "Georgia on My Mind" was written about a girl named Georgia but came to stand for Georgian state pride), Little Richard, and scores of other singers and bands got their start in Georgia.
Atlanta is a hot bed of hip-hop music and some claim it is its birthplace. It’s the home of musicians such as OutKast and Ludacris as well as music producers, Bubba Sparxxx, Jermaine Dupri, and Jazze Pha. The city is also the birthplace of many R&B artists, as well as country music stars such as Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, and Travis Tritt.
THEATER AND PERFORMING ARTS
Georgia enjoys several nationally renowned theaters. The Alliance Theatre is the largest regional theater in the Southeast and is located in the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. The company shows 11 productions annually and also holds a yearly playwriting competition and a teen summer workshop, called the Collision Project.
Today the home of the Atlanta Ballet, the Fox Theater was built in 1929. It is an architectural illusion, a mixture of architectural styles that make it look like a group of small buildings when in fact it is one cohesive building. Its very wide (135 feet) but very shallow (38 feet) stage has seen the performances by the Atlanta Opera, Mick Jagger, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Beverly Sills.
The Morton Theatre is located in downtown Athens and was the first vaudeville theater in the United States that was built, owned, and operated by an African American. Before the Morton was renovated in 1993, the pop group the B-52's used part of the building as rehearsal space. The band R.E.M. filmed a music video there.
Playwright Alfred Uhry was born in Atlanta and is considered one of America’s leading contemporary dramatists. His plays—including Driving Miss Daisy, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, and Parade—were produced on Broadway. He won a Pulitzer Prize for drama, a Tony award, and an Academy Award for the film version of Driving Miss Daisy. The play Wit by Atlanta transplant Margaret Edson was produced on Broadway, made into an HBO film, and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1999.
FILM AND MEDIA
Since the early 1970s, Atlanta has served as a shooting location for countless films. Movies are filmed all over the state, including Deliverance, Smokey and the Bandit, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Forrest Gump, Driving Miss Daisy, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Former governor Jimmy Carter created the state’s film commission in 1973, which has generated more than $4 billion for Georgia. Burt Reynolds helped the local film industry tremendously with starring roles in Deliverance and the Smokey and the Bandit franchise. The hit television series The Dukes of Hazzardstarted out filming in Georgia but was later shot in California.
It’s surprising how many famous film actors hail from Georgia. Many of them managed to lose any trace of a regional accent on their way to stardom. Hollywood’s Georgia-born stars include Kim Basinger,Ossie Davis, Jane Fonda, Oliver Hardy, Holly Hunter, Burt Reynolds, Julia Roberts, andJoanne Woodward.
Other Georgia media luminaries include Ted Turner—who founded a television empire in the state that includes TBS, TNT, TCM, Cartoon Network, CNN and Headline News—and writer, director, and actorTyler Perry, who founded Atlanta's Tyler Perry studios in 2008, the first African-American owned and operated film studio.
Who can think of stories set in Georgia without thinking of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind? But there’s plenty more to read than just Scarlett O’Hara’s determined promise to "never go hungry again." Authors that use Georgia's multifaceted history as a mirror for their characters’ triumphs and travails include Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor, and Alice Walker. Some have been turned into films such as Walker’s The Color Purple.
Poets such as James Dickey and Sidney Lanier and nonfiction writers like humorist Lewis Grizzardare also vital to Georgia’s literary tradition. Conrad Aiken was born in Savannah and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1930 for Selected Poems and a National Book Award for Collected Poems.
African Americans in Georgia historically wrote in every genre, often about the issue of race. W.E.B. Du Bois' 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk, is still a vital treatise study of race and racism in America.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Margaret Edson (who won the prize in 1999 for Wit) teaches elementary school in her adopted town of Atlanta and does not intend to write another play.
From 1942 to 1970, Atlanta University sponsored an exhibition of works by African American artists. These works are now a unique collection housed at Clark Atlanta University. The pioneering collection promotes the work of black artists from all over the United States.
Prior to the 1960s, there was little understanding and appreciation of contemporary artists in Georgia. However, during the 1960s and 1970s, Georgia, particularly Atlanta, made significant strides in civil rights, governance, and economic growth. It was all part of the emerging "New South," and it impacted art as much as everything else. In the 1960s, Emory University in Atlanta funded a brand new art history department and David Heath opened a commercial gallery devoted to contemporary art in Atlanta.
In 1972 the High Museum of Art held an exhibition entitled The Modern Image, whose primary purpose was to educate Georgians about contemporary art. The exhibition included important artists like Carl Andre, Hans Haacke, Eva Hesse, Robert Morris, Claes Oldenburg, and Andy Warhol. The Nexus Gallery, which later evolved into the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, was formed in 1973 in order to promote works by the increasing amount of photographers in Georgia.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, galleries in Atlanta began featuring work by southern folk artists including Ned Cartledge, Carlton Garrett, Mattie Lou O'Kelley, and Nellie Mae Rowe. Art Papers(originally titled Atlanta Art Papers), which grew out of two earlier art publications, was established in 1980 and has since become a nationally important journal of art criticism.
Since the 1980s there has been an astonishing growth of art museums and galleries in Georgia. In Atlanta, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, emphasizes work from Georgian artists and keeps the visual arts in Georgia vibrantly alive. The museum includes the work of Benny Andrews, Beverly Buchanan, Amy Landesberg, Ed Moulthrop, and many others.
There continues to be a vibrant interest in art all over Georgia, not just in Atlanta. Many significant exhibitions are mounted every year including work displayed at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, which focuses on art by southerners. The Cultural Center in Thomasville shows important art exhibitions in southeast Georgia.
The Colonial period can still be seen in Georgia. High-style Greek revival and other classically detailed buildings and gardens from this period remain in many Georgia towns. While most Antebellum plantation homes in Georgia were destroyed in the Civil War, a few classic examples remain.
Modern architects in Georgia have been increasingly innovative and have begun to be recognized worldwide. Richard Meier's High Museum in Atlanta was remodeled by architect Renzo Piano. TheCarlos Museum at Emory was remodeled and renovated by Michael Graves two times since its original construction.
John Portman designed many buildings in Atlanta and his work was praised for revitalizing the downtown area and creating a model for multipurpose developments around the world. Built in 1976, his Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel is a 73-story glass cylinder of 1,100 guest rooms and has a 90-foot-high, skylit lobby.
The pioneering work of John Portman in Atlanta has been joined by new work from award-winning architecture firms such as Mack Scogin Merrill Elam and Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback, and Associates.
HANDICRAFT AND FOLK ART
Craftsmanship was a means of survival in Georgia’s early days, and local artists supplied the necessary goods. During the Civil War, factories concentrated on the war effort and Union soldiers and ships stopped the flow of goods. Handmade products once again became vital and stayed that way even after the war.
All rural Georgian women before the 20th century were skilled in textiles. It was so difficult to get manufactured clothes that even some of the wealthier families wore homemade dresses and uniforms during the Civil War. At first flax and wool were used, but later cotton became the material of choice.
Georgia is known for its quilting traditions. Quilting has always been an important social activity for women in the state. Well-known quilters of the 19th century were Harriet Powers of Athens and Fayette County's Talula Gilbert Bottoms. The Georgia Quilt Project held a major exhibition at the Atlanta History Center in 1999. Other traditional women’s arts practiced in Georgia include knitting,crocheting, tatting, and rug making.
Clay was used in Georgia to make utilitarian pottery and later sold as art to tourists and wealthy buyers. Bricks were also made from clay. At first, slaves made bricks in wooden molds, but towards the end of the 19th century, companies like the Chattahoochee Brick Company and Cherokee Brick and Tile Company churned out bricks by the thousands.
Georgian men learned carpentry skills from their elders and they took up woodworking as boys. Yellow pine was used for cabinetry and was often painted a single color (usually black, brown, blue, or green). Additionally, blacksmithing was practiced on most farms. In addition to using iron, men built moonshine and turpentine stills out of copper and made household objects out of tin.
Native Americans from Georgia made baskets of split river-cane. Later slaves on coastal rice plantations practiced coiled-grass basketry. White oak became Georgia's most common basket material and was used both for curved-bottom "rib" baskets and flat-bottomed workbaskets.
The Archives Department at Valdosta State University won the 2007 Brenda McCallum Prize from the American Folklore Society for building the South Georgia FolkLife Collection. They joined the ranks of former winners from the University of California Los Angeles, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Smithsonian Institution.
One controversial example of Georgian handicraft is the Confederate carvings on the face of Stone Mountain, located in DeKalb County 10 miles northeast of Atlanta. Stone Mountain is known for the founding of the second Ku Klux Klan in 1915 and for a Confederate memorial conceived as a symbol of the white South. In 1916 sculptor Gutzon Borglum began carving a scene of Robert E. Lee leading his Confederate troops across the mountain's summit. Construction was delayed by World War I, artistic fall-outs, and the Great Depression.
In 1958 Stone Mountain became a state park and the images of Confederate icons Robert E. Lee, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and Jefferson Davis were carved on the mountain. Today, Stone Mountain is a popular a tourist attraction, but many groups denounce the memorial as racist.
-World Trade Press