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ESSAY Southern Culture at the Crossroads Presenting the South at the Centennial Olympic Games by George Holt TheAmerican South was well represented . . . /at/ the Southern Crossroads celebration offolk, gospelandpopularmusic anddance by njgroups andsoloistsfrom 12 states at Centenennial Olympic Park, the spiritualheart ofOlympicAtlanta. Mardi Gras and American Indian dancers wound through thepark. Shows spannedthe early days ofcountry music to today's urban recording artists. Hot-footeddouble-dutch ropejumpers andAfrican drummersperformedalong with big names like Percy Sledge andIsaac Hayes andsmaller ones like the SquirrelNutZippers, aja^ bandfrom ChapelHill, N.C. Here it waspossible to slip awayfrom the crowds that surgedalong like a huge, encompassingfamily andsitfor afew moments listening toprayerful,jubilant,protesting voices raisedin song andto the softersounds ofconversations among strangers. Somewhere ehe in the city, men and women were competingfor the highest honors in sports. But here, too, it seemed, there was a quintessential Olympics experience to be had. —JenniferDunning, The New York Times, 3 August 1996 68 danta has been a city on the move throughout its history, restless , seeking distinction and grandeur, and ever reinventing itself in the process. Far from destroying the railhead community of 10,000 during the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman unleashed a relendess spirit of enterprise and civic boosterism that continues today. It is hard to imagine a pursuit better suited to the city's ambitions than die capture of the Centennial Olympic Games. Who could argue that Adanta was anything but a world-class city with such a glorious prize in hand? Billy Payne, the chief executive officer of the Adanta Committee for the Olympic Games (acog) and a prominent Adanta attorney, civic leader, and former football star, had vowed to make the 100th anniversary ofthe modern Games bigger and better than any in history. Payne declared tiiat Atlanta would out perform its predecessors in every arena, including the arts and cultural aspect, and he committed many millions of dollars to Olympic arts projects and special events. It is not generally known that the Olympic Games have always included arts and cultural exhibitions. In the modern era, which began in 1 886, these activities were formalized under the banner of "The Cultural Olympiad." Adanta's Olympic Arts Festival would boast a dazzling schedule ofart exhibitions, theater, and music and dance performances—from the blockbuster exhibition of world masterpiece paintings and sculpture curated byJ. Carter Brown to the premiere of a new play by Sam Shepherd to concerts by Jessye Norman, Itzhak Perlman, and Willie Nelson. In October of 1994, 1 joined the staffofacog as program director for a festival of southern music, dance, and craft called Southern Crossroads. The event was staged from 18 July through 4 August 1996 at the gleaming new Centennial Olympic Park, the center ofAtlanta's "Olympic Ring," where hundreds of thousands ofvisitors and local folk gathered to celebrate the moment. The park was also infamously known as the site ofa bombing that killed one person and injured many more. The mayhem caused by the still-unsolved act ofterrorism—the planners ' worst nightmare—dominated the media's coverage of the venue, but the spirit and behavior of the crowds were never less than cheery and considerate. Much to his credit, Payne did not seek to elevate the city at the expense ofthe state and region. Proud to proclaim his southern heritage and identity, he often noted that the spirit and personality of the southern people would more than compensate for the lack of architectural splendor and historical pageantry that infuse old-world cities, and former Olympic venues, such as Barcelona and Paris. opposite: The dancingfountains ofCentennial Olympic Park were apopularattraction in the heat ofthe afternoon. Photo by Barry Bergey, 1996. An Olympic CulturalFestival 69 I am sure that he viewed the Southern Crossroads event as Southernone of the experiences that would help substantiate his ^ j claim. Certainly the setting for the festival—Centennial an OpportunityOlympic Park—was right for making the introduction. , · ? .?Central to the Olympics environment, the park was conJ -J sidered the crown jewel of Payne's panoply of Olympic millions aroundbuilding projects, a legacy of the Games diat would en- , , J1,./ rich the city's life for decades to come. A crumbling disthe worldperceived . cc \ · , , · „, , . f , -?trict...


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