2020 ELEVATE Festival Promotes Activism, Highlights Unsung Heroines In Atlanta’s West End

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will be showcased during the ELEVATE festival.

Paul Kolnik / Paul Kolnik

ELEVATE: Equity, Activism, and Engagement” is an annual public art festival presented by the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. This year’s festival will be held virtually, with murals permanently decorating Atlanta’s historic West End neighborhood.

This year’s ELEVATE will focus on inspiring community building, activism and hope. Most of the festival’s events relate to current racial unrest, political tensions, and the coronavirus pandemic.

Camille Russell Love, the executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, and this year’s curator, Leatrice Ellzy, joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to talk about ELEVATE. Ellzy is also the executive director of the Hammonds House Museum, which will be opening a new exhibition, “Elements of A Revolution,” during the festival.

“This is an opportunity to go into a community, infuse it with art and culture, and then hopefully, the spirit of culture remains,” Love said about why ELEVATE was created.

The mural installations that will be painted throughout the West End will honor Civil Rights leader the Rev. James Orange and Black women activists from that community.

There are nine women featured in the murals:

  • Abiodun Henderson, a community activist and the founder of Gangstas to Growers
  • Hattie Guinn Watkins, the mother of Willie Watkins who helped him start Watkins Funeral Home
  • Pearl Cleage, the daughter of the founder of The Shrine of the Black Madonna; speechwriter for former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson; renowned playwright and author; and Spelman College alum
  • Lottie Watkins, the first African American woman to become a fully licensed real estate agent in Atlanta; and philanthropist for numerous Civil Rights and social justice causes
  • Irene Dobbs Jackson, a French professor at Spelman College; Maynard Jackson’s mother; and the first African American to integrate the Atlanta Public Library System
  • Arianna Dane Sykes, a community activist
  • Kiyomi Rollins, an entrepreneur; social and economic rights activist; and owner of The Good Hair Shop and The Ke’nekt
  • Ayanna Gabriel, the diversity and community director for the Arthur Blank Foundation; former diversity director for Teach for America; and former Westview Community president
  • Woody Neal Pearsons, the founder of Gate City School of Excellence; educator and social advocate in the West End community for over 30 years.

Dance performances by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and other Atlanta dancers will be presented on Oct. 6 and 8.

The festival will be held Oct. 4-10 virtually. A map of murals throughout the West End can be found here.