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Center History

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The Woodruff Arts Center is the heartbeat of Atlanta's arts community. Located in Midtown, the Center offers Atlantans a bold variety of performing and visual arts - both traditional and avant-garde.

For 45 years, The Woodruff Arts Center has set the arts standard for Atlanta and the Southeast. But there was a time it seemed the arts would die in Georgia's capitol city. In 1962, a chartered plane, full of Atlanta's arts community leaders, crashed near Orly Field outside of Paris, France.

Of the 132 people on board, all but two crew members perished. Never had a city suffered such a terrible loss. Stunned, Atlanta went into mourning.

When the shock finally began to wear off, the tragedy galvanized the city into action. Plans that had existed, or were in the works, prior to the crash were dusted off and re-thought. The concept of a memorial for the Orly victims—something involving the arts—floated through the city. The idea that developed was a bold never-before-tried one. Why not combine the cream of Atlanta's performing and visual arts venues into a center for the arts?

Committees were formed, citizens sent checks, the business community became involved for the first time, and an anonymous donor hinted at an astounding gift of $4 million. The Atlanta Arts Alliance was formed. The then-anonymous donor, the Woodruff Foundation, established by Atlanta-based Coca-Cola magnate Robert W. Woodruff, came through and the grand idea went forward.

Since its inception, The Woodruff Arts Center has grown into the most dynamic center for the visual and performing arts in the South and is among the top such centers in the nation. Today The Woodruff Arts Center includes the Alliance Theatre, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and High Museum of Art.

"Business as usual was never your style.
You can’t build a city from ashes, doing business as usual.
You can’t rescue a dream from despair, doing business as usual.
You can’t make that dream live and breathe and grow doing business as usual.
You taught us that."

To read Pearl Cleage’s entire poem about the Orly tragedy titled “Wish You Were Here,” click here.