What Does World Class Mean?
By Kevin Gillese
World Class: If there is one phrase that gets bandied around quite often in Atlanta, particularly in the arts and culture community, it’s this one. Sometimes it feels like Atlantans are so obsessed with becoming “world class” that they don’t see how much of our city is already there.
At its most basic, “world class” simply means of or among the best in the world. But how do you even measure or judge such a grand and abstract concept? For this column, I’d first like to propose two distinct ways of determining what institutions are world class. Second, I will show which arts and cultural organizations in Atlanta are already at this level.
The first and most basic way to determine if something is world class is to ask if there is nothing else like it in the world. In this measure, the canals of Venice, the street food of Mexico City, and the Cowboy Poetry Gathering of Elko, Nevada are all “world class”—you can’t find anything else like these anywhere in the world.
So, what about Atlanta? Do we have anything that you can’t find anywhere else in the world? YES! First, The Center for Puppetry Arts is bigger and more comprehensive that any puppetry museum in the world. This is an example of a specifically world class institution. More generally, Atlanta’s history of incubating civil rights has created a legacy of world class institutions. These include The National Center for Civil and Human Rights and the King Center. These institutions speak to a world class history you’ll only find in Atlanta.
The second way to define world-class, and one that is often overlooked, are institutions that foster international dialogue and exchange with their programs. When our arts and cultural organizations bring in leaders from around the world, or send their own creative professionals abroad…that is distinctly world class. Why is this measure so important? International exchange is how you build a world class city. We have to make Atlanta a place for world leaders to convene if we want to make our city “world class.”
This type of international dialogue doesn’t have to be big, complicated, or expensive. For our part at
Dad’s Garage (a leading improv and comedy theatre in Atlanta), we foster world class dialogue in both directions. Over the past year we’ve brought in performers from Canada, Norway, and Greece to perform, share their craft, and help us create new and exciting work. We send our performers to these same countries to share our improv formats, which are now performed all over the world. We are sought after in the international improv festival circuit, examples from the past year include appearances in Toronto, Edmonton, Athens (Greece not Georgia), and Amsterdam. When we travel, folks around the world know about Dad’s Garage and are excited to see us perform. That’s world class.
So many other organizations in Atlanta are doing this same kind of world class work. 7 Stages recently fostered artistic exchange between Atlanta and Israel, brought in Dutch artists to train their youth program, and sent their company abroad to perform. Marcia Wood Gallery partnered with Midtown Alliance to bring in German artists Venske and Spanle to create “Autoeater.” Of course, The Woodruff, especially the High Museum and Symphony, regularly bring in international artists. We are a world class city.
As Atlanta continues to grow and become even more awesome, I hope we can see and embrace all the great work we are already doing. Even if we have chip on our shoulder about this subject, I hope more arts and culture institutions in Atlanta will foster international dialogue because this will build our presence as a world class city.
Featured photo: Venske and Spanle, with thanks to Marcia Wood Gallery. The photo was featured on this Midtown Alliance article.