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Column: Turning 50, Woodruff Arts Center remembers past, envisions future

Doug Shipman

Doug Shipman

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on May 18, 2018

The Woodruff Arts Center is turning 50 years old this year — an opportune time to look ahead to its next 50 years.

President and CEO Doug Shipman, at the Woodruff Arts Center board meeting on May 14, unveiled some of the 50th anniversary celebrations and events. He also invited interested board members to work on a strategic vision for the Center.

Robert W. Woodruff statue at the Woodruff Arts Center (Photo by Kelly Jordan)on a strategic vision for the center.

“We want all of the arts partners, members of our board, key supporters and other folks to help us think through how the complex fits in Midtown and the ecosystem of the city,” Shipman said.

Inevitably, one centerpiece of the strategic vision will be over plans for a new or completely redone Symphony Hall as well as the future for the center’s other divisions, the High Museum of Art and the Alliance Theatre.

The origins of the Woodruff Arts Center date back to 1962, when more than 100 arts leaders from Atlanta died in an airplane crash at the Paris Orly Airport.

The community — with the anonymous support of then Coca-Cola leader Robert W. Woodruff — then rallied around the vision of building a Memorial Arts Center in memory of those Atlanta arts lovers.

The Memorial Arts Center — a vibrant home for music, theater and the visual arts — opened on Oct. 5, 1968.

Doug Shipman

Doug Shipman

Shipman said the series of 50th anniversary events will give the center an opportunity to thank the community — past and present — for supporting its arts organizations over the past five decades.

“It’s astonishing to realize that our entire campus — from the original Memorial Arts Building to the new Alliance Theatre — was built almost entirely from private donations,” Shipman said. “That is an incredible tribute to Atlanta’s generosity and to its belief in the importance of the arts. It’s certainly fitting that we say ‘thank you’ to the community that has made it possible for us to thrive over the decades.”

The 50th anniversary celebrations will kick off Sept. 20, when the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra opens its season with Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto and end Dec. 10 with a special event for Woodruff Arts Center donors, board members and community leaders.

Atlanta Business League

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian had a special surprise for the Atlanta Business League at its annual CEO luncheon May 15 at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.

Bastian was being honored with ABL’s Herman J. Russell CEO of the Year Award for its contributions to its employees, the Atlanta community and minority business enterprises.

At the end of a conversation with ABL Chairman Milton Jones, Bastian said Delta wanted to help take the organization to the next level.

“We are going to commit $500,000 over the next five years,” Bastian said, adding that the donation would help fund the ABL’s “important program” to support minority entrepreneurs.

During the lunch, Bastian reaffirmed the airline’s commitment to Atlanta and its workforce. For example, the airline gives back 15 percent of its annual profits to its employees, and 1 percent of its profits to the community.

“Over the last four years, we have paid over $1 billion to our employees. It keeps us all in line,” Bastian said. “This past year, we put $5 million into our communities.”

The Atlanta Business League also honored:

  • Ernest M. Hodge, owner of a dozen automobile dealerships, with the Entrepreneur of the Year Award;
  • Vicki Palmer, formerly with Coca-Cola Enterprises and now co-chair of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ transition team, with the Distinguished Service Award;
  • Valerie Montgomery Rice, president of Morehouse School of Medicine, with the Visions of Excellence Award; and
  • Kofi Smith, CEO of Atlanta Airlines Terminal , with the Trailblazer Award.


Maria Saporta

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.


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