Acclaimed artist Romare Bearden with Mayor Maynard Jackson (Photo courtesy AJC/Georgia State University Archives)

When Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms informed Atlanta and the country in May of last year that she would not seek reelection, the race to hold the City of Atlanta’s highest elected office began. In the following months, fourteen candidates would toss the proverbial hat into the ring. Ultimately, two candidates, Felicia Moore and Andre Dickens, faced each other in a run-off election in November. Andre Dickens prevailed.

From the beginning, Mayor-elect Dickens’ campaign signaled not only that he would support arts and culture as many mayors before him had done (to greater or lesser degrees), but that he would center arts and culture as critical tenets of his campaign’s platform. On the “Andre Dickens for Mayor” website, Mayor-elect Dickens outlined a bold plan that included the following points: 1. Codify an Atlanta Arts, Culture & Creative Economy Advisory Committee to the Mayor, 2. Establish an Arts District Exploratory Commission, 3. Provide greater support for artists, 4. Increase the annual grant-making capacity within the City’s budget, and 5. Provide additional dedicated revenue streams for the arts. 

The plan, while ambitious, aspires to realize these goals: 1. Make the arts accessible to everyone, 2. Support individual artists, 3. Ensure equity in arts funding and support, 4. Reinvigorate the creative economy after the impacts of COVID, 5. Further cultivate the Atlanta arts community for future generations. 

Together, the plan and its goals are reminiscent of Mayor Maynard Jackson. In his first term, Mayor Jackson created the Bureau of Cultural Affairs and tapped Michael Lomax to run it. The Bureau was given department status during his second term and former Mayor Shirley Franklin served as its director. 

In the early seventies, Atlanta was on the verge of becoming an international city. No less important than a world-class airport, Mayor Jackson believed that a vibrant arts and culture community was integral to secure Atlanta’s reputation as a forward-thinking city in which business could thrive.

The November 2021 election also changed Atlanta City Council leadership. Council President-elect Doug Shipman is the founding CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and, more recently, the former Woodruff Arts Center CEO. An Arkansas native, Shipman came to Atlanta thirty years ago to attend Emory University. In an interview with ARTS ATL last March, Shipman said, “Having led two arts and culture organizations, I deeply believe in the importance the arts have in a city’s economy and culture. It’s important that we support the arts.”

As Atlanta residents settle into the new year, we look forward to its promise. A year that will bring change to City Hall and a new vision for how its resources benefit those who call Atlanta communities home. We welcome two leaders as they assume their posts – committed, as they have said, to a city in which arts and culture are central. It is, indeed, a new day for arts and culture in Atlanta.

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