New Midtown arts festival wants to close off Peachtree Street to cars Sept. 25 and 26

By Maria Saporta

Closing Peachtree Street could become contagious — in a good way.

Plans are underway to launch the Midtown Festival of the Arts during the weekend of September 25 and September 26.

The festival is scheduled to take place on Peachtree Street between Fifth Street and Tenth Street, and it already has lined up a variety of offerings — about 100 visual artists, stages for the performing arts, literary events as well as culinary arts area that will feature chef demonstrations and local restaurants.

Sounds great, right?

All that stands in the way of the Midtown Festival of the Arts is the city approving its permit applications — including the closing down of Peachtree Street to cars during the weekend festival.

As I’ve said before, a festival on a street dedicated to pedestrians helps bring life to a city.

The Midtown Festival of the Arts plans to do just that. There will be a family-friendly kid zone, and Midtown Mile road race, street performers and film screenings during the free event.

The organization putting on the festival believes it will help foster a greater sense of community and identity, and it will help support Midtown advocacy groups and neighborhood safety initiatives.

Atlanta has been crying out for such an event for years. For decades, the city had the annual Atlanta Arts Festival in Piedmont Park. But the Piedmont Park Conservancy and the city discouraged the expansion of major events in the park for the fear that it was being overused and abused.

The Atlanta Arts Festival then moved to downtown — embarking on an ambitious effort to take over vacant buildings and turn them into temporary art galleries. But the festival ended up spending much more money that it raised, and the Atlanta Arts Festival simply died.

A couple of years ago, a much smaller group decided to resurrect an Atlanta Arts Festival at Piedmont Park, but it is intentionally limiting the size of its festival so it won’t be at odds with the conservancy’s policy against have new large events in the park (unless it’s a fundraiser for the conservancy, ie: the Paul McCartney concert).

That festival is scheduled to occur in Piedmont Park the weekend before the Midtown Festival of the Arts.

Locating a festival on Peachtree Street has its advantages. First of all, the area between Fifth and 10th streets is served by two MARTA stations — North Avenue and Midtown.

By closing down Peachtree Street, artists will have plenty of room to place their booths without having to worry about the potential damage to an existing green space. The street also provides ample space for thousands of people to stroll along the corridor.

In a statement Leslie Johnson, director of the Midtown Festival of the Arts, and the idea already has taken hold along the route.

“We’ve enjoyed overwhelming support of the businesses in the area immediately impacted by the Festival,” Johnson said in a statement. “We also are fortunate that almost 200 individuals have stepped forward with individual support through memberships.”

A 100 percent of the business owners between 5th Street and 10th Street have signed letters in support of the festival.

Now, all we need is for the city to approve the permits.

Click here for more information on the Midtown Festival of the Arts.

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.

10 replies
  1. Mike says:

    It’s a bit hypocritical that a large number of Midtown residents screamed bloody murder when the Dogwood Festival wanted to shut down 10th street during the festival, protesting that the festival shouldn’t spill outside the park. But, this festival, largely organized by neighborhood residents, seems fine with shutting down Peachtree for their own purposes. Do as I say and not as I do, I guess.Report

    Reply
  2. Anastasia says:

    Actually, Maria’s report sounds like a press release from the organizers. All of the ‘neighborhood’ is not yet supportive of this. The Midtown Neighbors Association delayed any vote in support until next month due to so many pieces of info that was missing in the application and the raising of significant concerns about the impact of closing Peachtree on both residents and businesses–it is often many that are not on the direct route that are not consulted at all and are negatively impacted by such an event. Big question–whAt is really unique about this event that makes it different from the many other arts festivLs we already have including Dogwood?Report

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  3. Maria Saporta says:

    Anastasia,
    Forgive me when I say lighten up. As a Midtown resident, it would be disheartening to see my neighborhood stand in the way of creating a new street festival for our city.
    We live in a city because we love the street life bustling with people and activities. If we want a community that puts the needs of cars above the needs of people, then we might as well live in the suburbs.
    So my story was no press release. This is how I feel, and it is my hope that the neighborhood will welcome our continuing transition into becoming a more livable city.
    Let’s not become a neighborhood of “NO.”
    MariaReport

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  4. Bryan says:

    Mike, when the Dogwood Festival wanted to close 10th Street it made the request without conferring with those who live and work on the street, including The Children’s School. There was no alternative for dropping off and picking up children.

    The businesses along Peachtree are fully supportive of this limited street closing, which is a BIG difference.

    The APD already has a plan in place for re-routing traffic along a closed Peachtree. It’s been used many times before.

    Anastasia, it’s my understanding that the MFA Board has worked with many city leaders to address the concerns of neighborhood associations and I’m looking forward to the associations approving the permit.

    Letters of support can be sent here: http://www.midtownfestivalofthearts.org/SpeakUp.htmlReport

    Reply
  5. Midtowner says:

    Anastasia, I want to answer your big question: “What is really unique about this event that makes it different from the many other arts festivLs we already have including Dogwood?”

    Each year, Midtown welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors into our community for the Peachtree Road Race, Atlanta Pride Festival, Dogwood Festival, Atlanta Jazz Festival, and numerous other festivals held in Piedmont Park. While I do think these events add value and “spirit” to Midtown, none of them actually raise money for Midtown.

    Almost every Atlanta neighborhood has a festival. Most of us think of them as a fun way to showcase and celebrate a neighborhood–and they are–but they are also very important funding sources for neighborhood initiatives. Again, I’m thrilled that so many event producers choose Midtown to host their fun events, but Midtown Festival of the Arts has the potential to be more than just a fun weekend. It is Midtown’s festival, about Midtown, produced by Midtowners to give back to Midtown.

    That’s how it’s different.Report

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  6. J. Glover says:

    Mike, there are some significant differences between Peachtree and 10th, most particularly that 10th is the major east-west arterial in Midtown bridging to VaHi. In contrast, Peachtree, in the affected segment, is basically a local with more easily traveled north-south alternates in the one-way pairs flanking it on either side.

    That being said, yes Maria, your column does come across a bit boosterish and hopefully that’s because you like the idea so much and not from some undisclosed connection to the festival or organizers. For instance, you state the festival already has some 100 artists signed up, although the festival website just indicates it has room to accommodate 100 artists. You also seem to dismiss or minimize the existing Atlanta Arts Festival when in fact, the scheduling of this new MFOTA so close to AAF is one of the bigger concerns with this enterprise.

    Why did the MFOTA organizers choose that date? Were they somehow unaware of AAF? Did they not care about the impact on the neighborhood of festivals on consecutive weekends? The date also puts them within two weeks of Pride, also in Piedmont Park and also closing that stretch of Peachtree (for Sunday afternoon).

    Don’t get me wrong; I’m opposed to neither the concept of closing streets, nor the festival in abstract. Indeed, the location has several positive things going for it and street festivals can and have been successful in other cities. Rather, I’m simply concerned about the planning, scheduling, and execution of this particular ambitious and freshman instance.Report

    Reply
  7. Yr1215 says:

    Anastasia’s comments definitely belong in the NIMBY column. However, one comment she said rings true. There are so many arts festivals now, I hope the MFOTA go an extra mile to make it unique and different. Frankly, all the arts festivals over the years to me have gotten kind of old. All the folk artists kind of seem the same, and of generally low quality.

    It would be neat to see something new, unique and different. I hope that ends up the case.

    (Maria, I’m afraid Midtown is already the district of NO. Building height restrictions are so tight and detailed as to be ridiculous. Other neighborhoods of NOte include Ansley Park, Buckhead – which seems to hate PATH – and ironically some of the poorer neighborhoods which seem to like saying NO to gentrification, which seems to me to be a good thing. Atlanta seems to luckily succeed in spite of itself. One hopes that continues, but there aren’t any guarantees when so many bad policies get layered on. Eventually the machine may stop.)Report

    Reply

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