Atlanta: Let’s support the Dogwood Festival

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.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

5 replies
  1. Shirley Franklin says:

    Maria,
    I am glad for the festivals and for the rain. Both add to the city and the region’s quality of life. I engaged Stacy Abrams to chair of an internal festivals taskforce to review the city’s policies against the nation’s best practices. The resulting ordinance tracked best practices and protects the festivals and the city budget. That wasn’t the practice in Atlanta in prior years. In 2000 and 2001 the public was clamoring for candid analysis of city operations. So there isn’t any hostility just common sense and best practice. Hopefully that hasn’t changed.
    Shirley Franklin
    MayorReport

    Reply
  2. Ronnie V says:

    The Dogwood Festival was a delight this year. The music was great, as was other entertainment, the art was first class and the Park was in its Spring glory.

    There is no place but Piedmont for the Festivals!Report

    Reply
  3. Brian Hill says:

    As the Executive Director for the Atlanta Dogwood festival I can say that we do need to be assured of being allowed to continue in Piedmont Park. I think this year showed once again that the Dogwood Festival is a good steward of the park and will do all we can to protect it. This year for instance, at an increased cost to us we converted all of our power over to bio-diesel generators, our set up was almost entirely on hard surface, we had a large recycling program and also stretched out our layout to eliminate the crowding. We worked with the City officials and the Conservancy to minimize any impact the festival may have had on the park. I believe we used the park the way it was intended to be used in a way that enhances the quality of life for the local residents and the citizens of Atlanta in general.

    May we request a declaration now from our city government that we are going to be allowed to return in 2010, or better yet through our 75th year in 2011? We need to reassure our sponsors, artists and vendors that they can plan ahead with us now towards next year’s festival.Report

    Reply
  4. Charles H. Green says:

    The Dogwood tradition is important to Atlanta, as evidenced by the tens of thousands of people who met up in Piedmont Park to celebrate the arts in the park during the 2009 festival.

    Some well-meaning, but shortsighted public policies and park management decisions nearly killed the festival, and almost eroded its financial reserves over the past 24 months. Both the next city administration and the Piedmont Park Conservancy (PPC)need to recognize that the PEOPLE spoke again this year with their feet and their wallets in support of Piedmont Park as the rightful home of the festival.

    No one can contest that this festival has been a good park steward for the past five years, and certainly after an exhaustive search, all parties must agree that there is no alternative site for this special gathering.

    I call on the city’s Park and Recreation Department to abandon their visions of shutting Piedmont Park to future festivals and sending Atlantans to Fort McPherson (yes, sadly that is a real idea among our Park Administrators!). And, I appeal to the PPC to temper their tendancy to put grass over people. The park is useless if not enjoyed by our citizens who own it.

    Ask the neighbors, merchants, children, and festival fans – Piedmont Park is the only site suited for this festival.Report

    Reply

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