In early 2017, ArtsATL set out to profile 12 arts leaders in the city. We wanted to find out where they began, what set them on their paths, what keeps them going and what inspires them most. We titled the profiles The Legacy Series, and after a year and a half, we’re proud to say our series of 12 portraits is complete. It’s been a pleasure to get to know some of the incredible people who have helped Atlanta’s arts scene to flourish. As ArtsATL contributor Gail O’Neill puts it in the video introduction to each profile, “We thank them, and we couldn’t imagine a world without them.”
“It’s great to be from Georgia because everybody wants to sound like they’re from Georgia; but I actually am from Georgia,” says guitarist Tinsley Ellis, one of the most prominent blues musicians ever to emerge from Atlanta. He tells ArtsATL about getting his start in the music business and learning the tricks of the trade, including how to give and take “the hairy eyeball” from the great blues masters.
When someone tried to tell Azira G. Hill that there was low participation by students of color in the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra because “blacks don’t know how to audition,” she followed up with a logical question: Why don’t we teach them? The Talent Development Program she initiated has been helping young musicians of color realize their dreams in classical music for more than 20 years.
“Anybody who wants to listen to a story is already headed in the right direction,” says acclaimed director Kenny Leon, cofounder and artistic director of True Colors Theatre Company. No one is more willing to listen, or to tell great stories, than Leon.
Dancer, choreographer and educator Lee Harper has dedicated her professional life to advocating for the arts in Atlanta. “If you want to dance, you will find a way to do it,” she tells us. Finding a way to dance, and helping others do the same, have always been part of her path.
Andrea Barnwell Brownlee
Spelman Museum Director Andrea Barnwell Brownlee doesn’t shy away from disagreement about the arts. In fact, she tells ArtsATL that’s exactly what she loves. “My responsibility as an arts advocate is never to tell anybody what to like or why to like it, but to provide a space for open dialogue,” she says.
“I am so grateful for every moment,” says Lois Reitzes, the host of WABE’s City Lights. And so are we. The Atlanta icon tells ArtsATL about the path that led her to becoming one of the most prominent and beloved voices for the arts in Atlanta.
When Theatrical Outfit Artistic Director Tom Key says theater will save us as a species, it’s easy to believe him. “Theater is the one place where the only agenda is ‘once upon a time,‘” he tells ArtsATL. “The story can confirm what we already know, and affirm what is true. But it can also challenge us, provoke questions and allow us to explore the possibilities of other truths.” Key tells us all about how he first came to realize his love for the power of theater as a young man growing up in Alabama.
As the dean of the Atlanta Ballet’s Centre for Dance Education since its founding in 1996, Sharon Story has helped generations of young dancers grow and develop. “There are no words to describe the feeling of having struggled and then, all of a sudden, the planets align and it just works in performance,” she tells ArtsATL.
President, CEO, director and founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia Annette Cone-Skelton has created a home for over a thousand works of art by Georgia artists. “All artists need encouragement,” she tells ArtsATL, “but it’s especially crucial in non-arts capital cities like Atlanta for us to support our own, believe in ourselves and create opportunities for one another.”
Camille Russell Love
As executive director of Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs since 1998, Camille Russell Love‘s enduring desire to help others blossom has made a lasting mark on the city. “Early on, artists taught me that they leave a piece of themselves in their artwork,” she says. “Their creations are living, breathing organisms that can inspire us.”
Composer, musician, educator and minister Reverend Dwight Andrews joined the faculty at Emory in 1987. Through his words and music, he continues to inspire students and parishioners alike. “I think of my music as being my gift for my larger purpose, to increase our understanding of one another,” he tells ArtsATL.
In an industry predicated on hype and drama, sound mixer Phil Tan (pictured here with legendary producer Jermaine Dupri) has a reputation for being the calm at the eye of the storm. “The stars have to align for any project to become successful,” he tells ArtsATL about his Grammy-winning work with some of the music industry’s biggest names.