What a joy it is to have the Atlanta Dogwood Festival back in its rightful home — Piedmont Park.
And we need the city of Atlanta to do everything it can to protect and nurture the festival for years and years to come.
The Atlanta Dogwood Festival helps mark the coming of spring — an annual ritual that breathes life back in the city and kicks off our festival season — Inman Park Festival, the Atlanta Jazz Festival, the Virginia-Highlands Festival, the National Black Arts Festival, and of course, the Peachtree Road Race.
The dean of all our city’s festivals is the Atlanta’s Dogwood Festival, now in its 73rd year of existence.
But events of the last couple of years threatened its extinction. Two years ago, bad weather and rain plagued the entire weekend — causing the festival to have to dip into its reserves.
And last year, because of the drought, the city of Atlanta refused to allow the festival to be in Piedmont Park. So it had to move at the last minute to the Lenox Square parking lot, a far cry from the natural surroundings of Piedmont Park. Again, the festival lost significant dollars and had to further dip into its reserves.
This year, the economy has been a struggle, and the festival has had to be creative to make up a loss in sponsorship dollars with other revenue.
For example, on Friday night, there was a ticketed event at the dock of Lake Clara Meer — a comedy show that included stand-up comedians and improv performers from Dad’s Garage Theater.
I went my with my children and their friends, and it was a delightful addition to the Dogwood Festival’s offerings.
The other ticketed event was a “Friends of the Festival” pavillion with food and beverages for those willing to spend $25. The pavillion sold out on Saturday, according to Brian Hill, executive director of the festival. If the weather could stay relatively clear through Sunday, Hill told me the festival would be able to have a better-than-break-even year.
While I was unable to visit the pavillion Saturday, I totally enjoyed checking out the artists, running into friends and catching some of the acts on the international stage, including Salsa dancers and flamenco guitar.
It’s events like this that makes Atlanta come alive during its prettiest season.
Today, the forecast calls for rain, but for now, it’s only overcast. Let’s hope the weather cooperates long enough for the crowds to return and support the festival and its artists.
While we can’t control the weather, we as a city do control how friendly and supportive we are of our festivals.
For whatever reason that I simply don’t understand, the Atlanta city government has been almost hostile to our festivals. Unlike cities across the country, where municipal governments actually play a major role in sponsoring and hosting festivals, our track-record has been to make it as difficult as possible for festival organizers to put on successful events.
It’s a very short-sighted policy. Festivals bring life, visitors and dollars to a community. They enhance the quality of life of residents, and they help support artists of all kinds.
We need a total change of heart at the city of Atlanta — we need government officials who reach out a helping hand asking what they can do to make our festivals prosper.
The challenges of putting on a free, outdoor festival are complex enough without having an unfriendly city government or a passive, money-driven Piedmont Park Conservancy.
For starters, stop playing games about whether the Atlanta Dogwood Festival and other annual festivals can return to Piedmont Park. To be successful, these festivals need to provide sponsors reassurance that they have a stable home.
And Piedmont Park is without a doubt the best urban space for these events.
While Piedmont Park is a wonderful green amenity for our city, it is not supposed to be a natural environment that we just admire from afar.
Piedmont Park is an urban park — a place for people to enjoy.
And let’s hope the Atlanta Dogwood Festival will be able to continue in its rightful home and provide us joy for at least another 73 years.