By Maria Saporta
Friday, August 19, 2011
City leaders are exploring a move of the aging Atlanta Cyclorama to a newer, higher profile venue to draw more visitors to the panoramic painting of the Civil War.
The effort is being led by the city of Atlanta and Mayor Kasim Reed, who has invited several stakeholders to a meeting Sept. 26 to tackle the future of the Cyclorama. The work also comes as the nation recognizes the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
The Cyclorama, adjacent to Zoo Atlanta in Grant Park, depicts one of that war’s most important campaigns, the Battle of Atlanta.
The task force includes Central Atlanta Progress, a downtown economic development group; the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead; Zoo Atlanta and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, among others.
It will consider two major questions: whether to move the Cyclorama and how to restore it. The Cyclorama needs a location that can draw more visitors, and the exhibit is buckling so much that its paint has begun to fall to the floor.
The preservation of a unique but deteriorating piece of art is not all that’s at stake. So too are tourism dollars.
The observance of the Civil War sesquicentennial starts this year and lasts through 2015, with the promise of attracting heritage tourists to states where most of the key battles were fought, including Georgia and Virginia.
Virginia, for example, has bankrolled a commission with $10 million to oversee commemorations that will attract tourists.
Georgia’s General Assembly, meanwhile, facing state budget constraints, gave the state’s Civil War Commission just $10,000.
Wonderful, but underappreciated
In the early going, at least three sites might be in consideration to relocate the Cyclorama.
One option is the former World of Coca-Cola, next to Underground Atlanta, a site considered as a Georgia history museum. Another possibility is the Atlanta History Center on West Paces Ferry Road, near the Governor’s Mansion, an option that could pair the painting with an extensive Civil War exhibit. A third option would be finding a site around Centennial Olympic Park, close to a cluster of attractions.
The Cyclorama could also stay where it is.
Our goal is to find a resolution,” said George Dusenbury, commissioner of the City of Atlanta Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. “Too few people even know the Cyclorama exists.”
Moving the exhibit would enable Zoo Atlanta to expand.
“We are landlocked, and anytime adjacent property becomes available, we would be interested in it,” said Raymond King, president and CEO of Zoo Atlanta.
Whether it relocates or not, the Cyclorama, housed in a historic 1920s building, is deteriorating. Without a major restoration that damage may become worse with time and more expensive to repair.
“The paint is popping off the canvas,” said Sal Cilella, president and CEO of the Atlanta History Center.
Funding is the greatest hurdle facing the Task Force.
A foundation, observers say, is the most likely candidate to step up and support the project.
A restoration and relocation of the Cyclorama, and the renovation of an existing building or construction of a new one to house it, are all components of the most ambitious option. That, observers say, might range from $25 million to $30 million.
The city could keep the Cyclorama where it is, but a restoration would still be needed, and it could cost up to $10 million.
“I hope we can come up with a good plan, and that the foundation community will buy in,” Dusenbury said. “Without their support, it wouldn’t be possible.”
A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, said, “This is a wonderful asset that many people need to see. I believe there’s a great deal of potential, not only to make it a first-class attraction for the city and state, but also a first-class educational and cultural experience.”
Relocating the Cyclorama would be a significant decision for Atlanta.
The painting has been shown in Grant Park since 1893 and was moved to its current location in 1921.
It was donated to the city of Atlanta in 1898 by George V. Gress.
Cycloramas were the IMAX theaters of their day, an artistic genre that sprung up in the years after the war, offering 360-degree views of key battles, an emotional connection to the war for those who lived through it and for others who only knew its stories.
The Atlanta Cyclorama is the largest of only three such paintings in the United States, covering about 15,000 square feet.
If the Cyclorama stays where it is, it will likely need much more marketing behind it.
“On an operational basis, it makes a little money,” Dusenbury said.
But, the aging painting needs help, even if it doesn’t move.
‘Sense of urgency’
David Olin, of Olin Conservation Inc., a firm that has studied the Atlanta Cyclorama since 2004, said if nothing is done to restore the painting it will continue to deteriorate and keep losing its inherent visual character.
“There is a sense of urgency,” Olin said. “The longer it hangs, the more the damage will compound itself.”
The Cyclorama is suffering from two problems. First, it’s not properly secured and hangs much like a shower curtain.Second, as it hangs, the painting buckles.
The restoration of the Cyclorama also goes beyond preserving art or creating a stronger tourist attraction.
“This is a matter of civic pride,” Cilella said. “If you care for your city, and for its history, you care about something like this.”