“Atlanta ’96: Shaping an Olympic and Paralympic City,” the newest exhibition at the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead, aims to examine not only the Summer Games themselves but also the event’s long-lasting effect on the city.
It opens to the public Sept. 18, the 30th anniversary of the announcement that underdog Atlanta won the bid to host the Centennial Games.
“I think about this in a couple of ways,” said Sarah Dylla, the center’s exhibition curator. “One, how sports history is thought about in the world and how it shows up in museums. There’s often that first thought of what a sports history museum is, that it’s going to be a hall of fame. We have pushed against that and go beyond just the medal count and the day-to-day (recollection) of the Games and those trophies and moments of the Olympics. … “(Two), we ask visitors to look at it in two contexts: first, how do these Games in Atlanta relate to the longer history and evolution of the Olympic Games in the 20th century and beyond.
“How did they grow to include more professionalism in sports? How did they grow to change the landscape of cities? How did they grow in financial need for cities? We put Atlanta’s history in context but we also looked at it in a local and global timeline. That really highlights how these Games are not a new endeavor for Atlanta. This was a major civic undertaking, a major project that changed the city’s landscape, brought in a bunch of resources and garnered a lot of attention. It’s garnered ways for the city’s leadership to get more and more attention for the city. Those are the two contexts we want to put these games in.”
Since 1997, the center has served as the repository for the Georgia Amateur Athletics Foundation, which started Atlanta’s bid for the Olympics.
“Atlanta ’96” is a permanent exhibition, essentially replacing prior exhibits on Olympic history. That includes the Centennial Olympic Games Museum (2006-2016), a partnership on a community oral history and collection projects. The museum was closed to make way for the center’s redevelopment as it prepared for the Atlanta Cyclorama exhibit to open in 2019.
“When we closed the original (museum), we always intended redoing the exhibition,” said Sheffield Hale, the museum’s president and CEO.
Dylla added the Olympics was “a major turning point in the city’s history.”
“There’s so much sense of nostalgia, whether it’s the bid announcement and the headline of ‘It’s Atlanta’ or the love-hate relationship with (‘96 Olympics mascot) Izzy or just the memories of the Games themselves,” she said of the new exhibition. “ … With this new exhibit, we’re pushing beyond that nostalgia bit to look at this event in a broader context and kind of dig into what it means for Atlanta but also what it means for the global community of cities that have this history.”
The exhibition is organized into four themes:
♦ Envisioning, which spotlights the 11 leaders who shaped the city’s future in the years before the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
♦ Campaigning, which recounts the story of Atlanta’s bid for the Games, including the process of raising funds and public support in the years prior.
♦ Realizing, which highlights the work behind the Games, including infrastructure, building and repurposing venues.
♦ Reflecting, which asks visitors to think critically about the benefits and costs of the Games, and similar events on Atlanta and cities in general.
Hale and Dylla said including the Paralympic Games with the exhibition was very important.
“The Olympic Games are now the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the Atlanta Games were one of the pivotal reasons for this to occur, thanks in large measure to the efforts of (Shepherd Center co-founder) Alana Shepherd and her advocacy and others,” Hale said, referring to the nationally renowned brain and spinal injury rehabilitation hospital. “Now they are officially linked. It also highlights one of the great philanthropic stories of Atlanta, which is the Shepherd Center.”
Said Dylla, “Looking forward and seeing after Atlanta, it was more of an international push to have the games tied together, and that’s an agreement that still lives today.”
The exhibition was supposed to open earlier this year but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The center will use timed ticketing, require all attendees and staff to wear masks and enact social distancing to host the exhibition in person safely.
For those who don’t want to view “Atlanta ’96” due to coronavirus fears, they can check it out on the center’s website.
Tickets are included with the center’s general admission, which is $23.41 for adults, $19.60 for senior citizens and students and $9.80 for youth. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.atlantahistorycenter.com.