ATLANTA, GA – Everyone has a story to tell. History belongs to everyone.
These are the guiding principles behind Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta, the Atlanta History Center’s new cornerstone exhibition.
Opening July 2, 2016, the 7,700-square-foot exhibition explores the city’s history through stories of individuals who created the Atlanta we know today. They are Atlantans of different backgrounds and perspectives, from unsung citizens who contributed to the city’s progress in modest ways to high-profile leaders who played vital roles in landmark events.
The interactive exhibition is rooted in the past, but is of-the-moment with contemporary relevance. The information shared and questions raised encourage visitors to consider the metro area’s path to the future through a variety of historical milestones and cultural flashpoints. Gatheround is intended to be a provocative conversation starter – inside the gallery and across the metro area.
A Signature (or permanent) Atlanta History Museum exhibition, Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta was designed with flexibility in mind. As a permanently changing exhibition, Gatheround provides a setting for the Atlanta History Center to use its historical lens to grapple with current issues. It features both newly discovered and rarely discussed stories that display the breadth of our experiences as Atlantans. Atlanta history buffs as well as visitors unfamiliar with our city can all learn something new.
Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta is arranged by broad themes relevant to every city dweller’s life: Family & Community, Politics & Justice, Urban Growth, and Cultural Life. Within these thematic zones are interactive spaces, including re-creations of a barbershop and a diner – places where neighbors, friends, and others traditionally gather to share stories and build community.
The exhibition is multi-disciplinary -- rich in artifacts, documents, and multimedia. In addition to expected objects and papers, visitors find music, oral histories, hands-on activities, and computer-based games. There is something for every age, learning style, and level of knowledge.
A highlight is the set-like interactive spaces containing Meet the Past museum theatre performances that help visitors understand and appreciate the people, institutions, and events that shape the stories of Atlanta. Addae Moon, the Atlanta History Center’s Director of Museum Theatre, wrote narratives for actors portraying notable Atlantans, such as Rosalyn Walton of the Atlanta Nine, the students who desegregated Atlanta Public Schools; John M. Slaton, the Georgia governor who commuted Leo Frank’s death sentence; a newsboy who recounts the Atlanta Race Riot; and Eli Sotto, a Greek Holocaust survivor who ran a barbershop for six decades in Midtown.
Visitors to Gatheround are greeted by a vibrant seven-minute introductory video, with appearances by notable current and former Atlantans, including Mayor Kasim Reed, Martin Luther King Jr., the Indigo Girls, and Victoria Huynh of the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, all sharing perspectives on what makes Atlanta unique.
Guests are also met with an artifact-focused timeline highlighting events in Atlanta history from a Native American artifact to time-capsule predictions (written in 1948, and opened a half- century later), of the city’s future. Visitors also are encouraged to explore maps that show the city’s changing geography and infographics that answer questions about population growth, community concerns, and more.
Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta boasts nearly 750 artifacts, documents, photographs, and books. The artifacts are diverse and sometimes surprising, including a 1930s chair from a barbershop of Alonzo Herndon, Atlanta’s first African American millionaire; a dress, go-go boots, and bouffant wig worn by Cindy Wilson of the B-52s; an early 1900s Atlanta trolley seat for two; a homemade racer from Atlanta’s 1948 All-American Soap Box Derby; a 1918 “Votes for Women” sash representing the women’s suffrage struggle; and the first-baseman’s mitt of Negro Leagues star James “Red” Moore of the Atlanta Black Crackers.
“We do talk about transformational political leaders, but in talking about them we also have to think about the people who voted them in,” said Calinda Lee, Atlanta History Center Historian and curator of Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta. “That consideration is crucial in completing the conventional ‘great man’ history. You can’t learn the meaning of wars just by looking at the biographies of the generals. All Atlanta should be able to find themselves in this exhibition. We want everyone to leave with the sense that their experience was in some way represented.”
Some of the stories the exhibition explores are unblinkingly challenging, representing what organizers term “flashpoints” in the city’s history. They include the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906, the trial and 1915 lynching of Leo Frank by an anti-Semitic mob; and the bombing of the Temple synagogue in 1958.
“There are hard stories in our past, and we need to recognize those, and we must talk openly about those,” said Michael Rose, Atlanta History Center’s Executive Vice President. “Some are hard stories that the city still struggles to overcome. We cannot understand one another unless we understand one another’s past and how we remember history differently.”
The exhibition also spotlights lesser-known but important chapters in Atlanta’s story. These include the Washerwomen’s Strike of 1881, when more than 3,000 African American laundresses staged a work stoppage in a united fight for higher wages, a key early development in the American labor movement.
Additionally, the exhibition provides special focus on a varied trio of Atlanta communities: Plaza Fiesta, Inman Park, and Oakland City-Bush Mountain. Believing strongly that neighborhoods are the building blocks of Atlanta, exhibition organizers will explore the stories of other neighborhoods and communities over time in these changing neighborhood sections.
From inception to installation, community involvement has been a key part of the development of the exhibition, with residents sharing their own stories, lending their own interpretations, and conveying their own priorities.
Guests also have the opportunity to photo-bomb themselves directly into historical events, including an 1890s Georgia Tech football game, a 1960s anti-establishment protest in Piedmont Park, or, more recently, the Dragon Con pop culture gathering. They can email the image of themselves as a keepsake.
Importantly, as a clear demonstration of the institution’s strong belief in the twin concepts of “Everyone has a story to tell” and that “History belongs to everyone,” the Atlanta History Center urges guests to “gatheround” and share their own Atlanta stories in two recording booths located within the exhibition.
Some of these three-minute recordings and photographs may find their way into Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta.
“We want guests to become engaged in history and to share their viewpoints,” Executive Vice President Michael Rose said. “Everyone creates memories – when you photograph friends with your phone, you are documenting your history and the history of your friends. We want everyone to share their memories to create a better reflection of our shared past.
“Everyone has a story to tell,” Rose concludes. “Who is telling yours? It should be you.”
Led by Atlanta History Center Historian Calinda Lee, the exhibition team includes Director of Exhibitions Donald R. Rooney, community focus groups, and exhibition designers Riggs Ward Design of Richmond.
In celebration of the opening of Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta, admission will be free to the entire Atlanta History Center campus from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM Saturday, July 2, 2016. In addition to Meet the Past museum theatre performances, there will be interactive activities, crafts, and live music, making this a fun day for visitors of all ages.
Founded in 1926, the Atlanta History Center is an all-inclusive, 33-acre destination featuring the Atlanta History Museum, one of the nation’s largest history museums; historic houses including the 1928 Swan House and the 1860 Smith Family Farm; the Centennial Olympic Games Museum; the Kenan Research Center; the Grand Overlook event space; Goizuetta Gardens, featuring 22 acres of gardens, walkways, paths and trails; and the newly opened museum, bookstore and Souper Jenny café. In addition, the History Center operates the Margaret Mitchell House located in Midtown Atlanta. For information on Atlanta History Center offerings, hours of operation and admission call 404.814.4000 or visit AtlantaHistoryCenter.com.