Beacon Dance performed at Cook Park as part of ELEVATE. (Photo by Emily Fisher)

ELEVATE Atlanta closed on Halloween weekend. Appropriately, the eight-week long arts festival ended in Southwest Atlanta at Fort Mac with a drive-in screening of Tyler Perry’s cult classic, Boo2! A Madea Halloween. To the chagrin of many, Tyler Perry was not in attendance (although his movie studio is close by); however, this introduced movie goers and loyal ELEVATE patrons to a largely unfamiliar area of the city, yet one that is enjoying a tremendous renaissance.

This year’s decision to expand ELEVATE beyond its traditional weeklong programming in one community to citywide celebrations across eight weekends proved to be a good one, even if the proverbial road to El Dorado had detours and landmines along the way. Helping Atlanta residents emerge from their COVID-induced isolations to engage in the arts and arts-related activities not only helped individuals and families, but also the multi-community programming added some much-needed energy and excitement to the city’s cultural grid.

The Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA) first launched ELEVATE in October 2011. For the past decade, the curated, temporary public art program focused attention on and showcased specific Atlanta communities – using as its creative fuel local artists and neighborhood resources. The festival employed free public art activities and events as driving forces for good – art appreciation, civic responsibility, and social justice among them. This year’s expanded programming replicated that model and significantly benefitted the entire city.

ELEVATE planning had been underway since early in the year and the decision to make it an eight-week festival was made in the spring. The curator was confirmed in June and OCA staff learned that funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) gave the office an opportunity to provide additional support to local artists and arts organizations. And while this was a great benefit to our local arts community, the funding process presented some logistical challenges to some of the artists and projects that were supported.

Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” from Synchronicity Theatre.

Confirmation of funding came in early August, and artists had to submit proposals by the end of that same month for programs that would begin in mid-September. And while we recognized early on the potentially aggressive nature of this schedule, our office saw the opportunity as an important one for the Atlanta arts community. In the end, we received over 90 proposals of which 60 were eligible to receive funding.

For those familiar with the complexities of government bureaucracies, the Federal Government’s is challenging. To everyone’s credit, we all endured the hoop jumping, i-dotting, and t-crossing calisthenics involved in completing the paperwork to secure the grants – and the city was richer for it. The breadth of work executed in record-breaking time speaks volumes about the caliber and determination of artists who call Atlanta home. From Sept. 10 through Oct. 31, ELEVATE Atlanta hosted 175 events – roughly 22 events each week. And while this space is not sufficient to list each one, among them were exhibitions, performances, public art displays, murals, concerts, film screenings, installations, and numerous partnerships. True to its original mission, ELEVATE Atlanta elevated arts and culture in the City of Atlanta to unprecedented heights.

Now, with ELEVATE Atlanta 2021 squarely behind us, we want to hear from you. If you attended an ELEVATE event, program, and/or activity, we want to know your thoughts. Please complete our survey and offer your suggestions: The information you provide will assist us as we begin to plan next year’s ELEVATE.

To be sure, ELEVATE will most likely not revert to the weeklong event of previous years. And while ELEVATE 2022 may not occur over eight weeks, it will be a city-wide celebration of arts and culture. Atlanta artists and creatives are PHENOMENAL. We have seen that with the right resources they can create miracles. This year’s ELEVATE Atlanta was a testament to that fact. 

Camille Russell Love

Camille Russell Love has been executive director of the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs for more than two decades.