The Arts in Atlanta – A Northern City in the South
The arts in Atlanta is one of the true perks of living in this city. Most southern cities suffer from a lack of venues, opportunities, and good music and art. Atlanta is more like a northern city to me, and today, I’m going to explore that a bit.
What Makes Atlanta a Northern City?
There are three main factors that make Atlanta northern-type city; large population, mass transit, and a comprehensive cultural foundation.
People – So Many People
Let’s take these one at a time. Atlanta has lots of people. We’re approaching six million people, and I think they’re all on I-285 right now. As a result, traffic is downright ugly. While I enjoy many of the more northern perks of this city, good planning is not one of them. The city, along with the surrounding suburbs has completely outgrown its infrastructure. The existing infrastructure is completely insufficient for the amount of people using it.
I live in Douglasville, a small town about 30 minutes from downtown Atlanta. Many people from the northern suburbs consider Douglasville to be uber-country and really backwater. The only people who live in Douglas county are farmers and rednecks and when you visit you hear banjo music. Almost all of that is true actually, but I can be to the Fox Theatre in Midtown in under 40 minutes barring traffic. No one from Marietta or Roswell or Sandy Springs can say that.
Even out here in Douglasville, we have outgrown the existing infrastructure. There are a few intersections that are backed up all day every day. We have a lot of the normal comforts of a suburban town; a mall, lots of fast food, all the giant stores like Walmart and Target, most of the chain restaurants, and many of the other things that suburbia has to offer. The problem is, the congestion around these areas is insane.
Traffic and Mass Transit
While Atlanta has great big city perks, its traffic is well-known throughout the western world as being absolutely awful. I-75 as you approach the perimeter has 6+ lanes in each freaking direction and it’s still a parking lot every day on both sides. Oh, and someone thought it would be a good idea to build a new ballpark there for the Braves. Ugh.
Atlanta has a giant circle around it called the perimeter, otherwise known as I-285. When I tell people where stuff is around town, I tell them to think of the perimeter as a clock. The worst traffic is normally going south in the morning anywhere from the 10 to 2 o’clock areas toward the city. Obviously, that is turned around for the afternoon rush.
I live about 10 miles west of 9 o’clock, and I’ll sit in traffic on I-20 on the way to the city sometimes. Now, what would help curb awful traffic? Mass transportation. Atlanta does have both train and bus service, Marta. The train basically runs east-west, and north-south. For me, if I want to get to some of the main attractions in town; Coca-Cola, the aquarium, Centennial Park, The Georgia Dome, Phillips Arena, and anything nearby, I can drive to just inside the perimeter, park for free, and get on a clean train into the city. No paying for parking or aggravation of traffic.
The downside of Marta is, it only goes to, like, three places. OK, it’s more than that, but it’s not very comprehensive. The bus system covers a little more area, but it’s still lacking, and not quite as nice as taking the train. Seems like if they built a commuter train system from Kennesaw to Atlanta (11 o’clock), it would virtually eliminate the I-75 traffic. I wouldn’t care if it cost $50 per trip. It would totally be worth it. The city would make a fortune and would make lots of people really happy.d
Culture – The Arts in Atlanta
As for the arts in Atlanta, well they are right up there with the big cities up north. My requirements for a city to be considered, well, a city are the following:
- A symphony orchestra – Atlanta has a world class orchestra
- Ballet and Opera – Atlanta has both, and they’re really good
- Museums – Atlanta has good museums and a great aquarium
- A good club scene – that means jazz, comedy, and small venue which Atlanta has plenty of
- Good outdoor venues – Atlanta has a few terrific outdoor amphitheater type venues
Let’s start with the symphony. The Atlanta Symphony is one of the 6 or 7 best orchestras in the country. In the United States, there are the big five – Chicago, NY, Boston, Philadelphia, and Cleveland, in no particular order (except for Chicago). After that, you have Atlanta, St. Louis, L.A., and a few others. To have an orchestra of the caliber of the Atlanta Symphony in my town is a treat.
In addition, there are a handful of both professional and community orchestras around town like the Georgia Symphony (with yours truly), the Gwinnett Symphony, and the DeKalb Symphony to name a few. These groups are all very good and draw big crowds to their performances.
Opera and Ballet
The Atlanta Opera and the Atlanta Ballet are both excellent. I know a few of the players in the pit orchestra for both and they are elite players. I’ll be auditioning for both in the next year, and I can tell you the audition process is pretty strict. Because the standards are so high, you can expect an outstanding performance each time.
Furthermore, Atlanta boasts several fine spots that cover a wide variety of subjects. For art, you have the High Museum of Art. For culture and history, you have the Atlanta History Center and the Center for Civil and Human Rights. For kids, there is the Georgia Aquarium and the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. For adults (and probably kids too) you have the College Football Hall of Fame and the World of Coca-Cola. Heck, there’s even a Center for Puppetry Arts. There are lots more too; never a shortage of museums and attractions in Atlanta.
Clubs and Other Venues
The club scene in town is very exciting, and yes, clubs and bars are part of the arts in Atlanta. Two excellent bars/clubs are the Opera Nightclub and Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium. Yes, you read that right. Search for “best bars or clubs in Atlanta” online and these two are always on the list. For comedy, you have the Laughing Skull Lounge which gets some great comics, and for jazz you have Churchill Grounds and Blind Willie’s.
Atlanta has many great small and outdoor concert and theater venues. The Variety Playhouse and Centerstage Atlanta are both very intimate and get some A-list talent. I recently saw Kevin Smith at Centerstage and Colin Hay (of Men at Work fame) at the Variety. For the outdoors, you have Chastain Park which hosts some huge events. There are Atlanta Symphony concerts at Encore Park, and there are regular concerts in Piedmont Park (Dave Matthews Band filmed a great show there a few years back).
Since the Fox Theater isn’t really a small venue, I didn’t include it above, but it truly is a wonderful place to see a concert or show. Most of all, it is surrounded by restaurants and clubs which are always great places to get a bite before the concert.
In conclusion, Atlanta is a big city with lots of big city perks when it comes to the arts. The arts in Atlanta are in good shape despite recent events (The Atlanta Symphony lockout, Atlanta public schools dropping most music). I look forward to continuing to participate in the arts in Atlanta and vicinity. There are plenty of things to choose from so come on out!