Community Art in Atlanta, 1977-1987: Jim Alexander's Photographs of the Neighborhood Arts Center from the Auburn Avenue Research Library

Neighborhood Arts Center Chronology

Community Art in Atlanta, 1977-1978

Neighborhood Arts Center Chronology

This chronology is based on records from the Neighborhood Arts Center collection and the Jim Alexander Photograph collection at the Auburn Avenue Research Library. It was compiled by Digital Library of Georgia staff in 2004. Most dates in the following chronology have been specifically mentioned in the Neighborhood Arts Center's records, although some have been derived by consulting newspaper articles and reference texts. Other sources (e.g., the Atlanta Journal Constitution) have been consulted to clarify and/or corroborate some entries. All links point to photographs of the Neighborhood Arts Center from the Jim Alexander collection.

January 1974

Maynard Jackson becomes Atlanta's first African American mayor. Jackson's administration focuses on improving Atlanta's neighborhoods and supporting the arts.

18 September 1974

Jackson's Ad Hoc Advisory Committee for the Arts, composed of a multi-racial panel of academics and community arts workers, envisions a neighborhood-based community art center that will bolster participation in and appreciation for the arts, especially among African Americans. Over the next six months, the committee wins approval for the project.

The city arranges to lease a space for the Neighborhood Arts Center from the Board of Education for $1.00 a year. The center's original board of directors was appointed by Maynard Jackson and the Arts Festival of Atlanta. Later, the board becomes a self-perpetuating group of artists and art supporters.

February 1975

The Neighborhood Arts Center hires its first staff: ten artists-in-residence, a director, a secretary, and a janitor are hired through the Comprehensive Employment and Training ACT (CETA) program. The first director is Sandra L. Swans (educational and curriculum director). The first artists-in-residence include: Toni Cade Bambara (well-known writer), Tina Dunkely (Atlanta-area artist and art program director), Lucious Hightower (graphic artist) Samuel L. Jackson (stage and film actor), Ojeda Penn (jazz musician, radio personality, and professor); LaTonya Richardson (actress), and Frederick Taylor (dancer).

The staff discovers that the space intended for the center is uninhabitable and scrambles to locate a new building. Staff members try to convince a variety of Atlanta neighborhoods to host the center, and finally in support in Mechanicsville. Residents of that neighborhood convince the Southside Daycare Association to allow the Neighborhood Arts Center to use the second floor of its building, the old Peter James Bryant Elementary School at 252 Georgia Ave., S.W.

  • "The Neighborhood Arts Center." [janac44]
  • "The Neighborhood Arts Center challenge." [janac31]
  • "Neighborhood Arts Center staff photograph." [janac03]

May 1975

After renovating the second floor with donated supplies, the Neighborhood Arts Center opens its doors with a series of free workshops.

August 1975

Artist-in-residence Ojeda Penn leaves the center to become an associate professor of English at the Atlanta Junior College.

Phillip Griffin becomes artist-in-residence in dance.


Painter, sculptor, and multimedia artist John Riddle becomes director of the Neighborhood Arts Center.

  • "Ribbon cutting." [janac46]
  • "Romare and Nanette at the Neighborhood Arts Center." [janac23]
  • "The unveiling." [janac37]

February 1976

Saxophonist Joe Jennings becomes an artist-in-residence in music. Jennings and partner Howard Nicholson perform as Life Force, a jazz band. During Jennings' tenure at the Neighborhood Arts Center, Life Force plays at many of the center's events.

July 1976

Sandra Franks becomes artist-in-residence in drama.

September 1976

Zachariah Anderson becomes artist-in-residence in graphics.


By 1977, the Neighborhood Arts Center staff reaches more than thirty artists and support staff.

2 May 1977

Rod Rogers conducts a series of beginner and advanced dance workshops. Throughout 1977 and 1978, he conducts beginner, advanced, and master workshops. Between fifteen and thirty people typically attend the advanced workshops.

16-19 May 1977

The Neighborhood Arts Center participated in the Piedmont Arts Festival. Artist-in-residence Susan Thomas taught a mask-making workshop and artist-in-residence Sandra Franks performed "Hats," her portrayal of Harriet Tubman.

18 May 1977

"Women's Work," one of the center's major art exhibitions, opens to a crowd of 300. "Women's Work" was timed to celebrate the center's second birthday.

1 June 1977

The Neighborhood Arts Center's house theater company, Walter Dallas' Proposition Theatre, presents a portion of "Olio" at the Downtown Mini Festival.

August 1977

September 1977

Susan Loftin becomes artist-in-residence in ceramics.

Jim Alexander becomes artist-in-residence in photography.

  • "Field trip." [janac41]
  • "Neighborhood Arts Center photography workshop at Nexus." [janac45]
  • "Self-portrait." [janac24]
  • "Shooting Klansmen." [janac26]

October 1977

Jim Lee becomes artist-in-residence in creative writing.

  • "Romare and Nanette at the Neighborhood Arts Center." [janac23]

29-30 October 1977

The center holds a "Hall of Horror" for Halloween where staff members act as monsters. The event drew around 150 guests each night.

17-19 November 1977

Walter Dallas' Proposition Theatre Company performs "Seagull" with Iris Little. The play also runs December 1-3 and January 15, 1978.

25 January 1978

"Spirits Return" opens at the Neighborhood Arts Center. The major art exhibit features the work of the artists-in-residence brothers, Truman and Ashante Johnson, and former artist-in-residence Nathan Hoskins.

10 February 1978

Kanita Poet performs with artist-in-residence Jim Lee for a group of sixty children from the E. Rivers School.

3 March 1978

Mrs. Joan Mondale, wife of Vice President Walter Mondale, and thirty others visit the center.

22 March 1978

Romare Bearden and his wife, Nanette, visit the center to attend the preview opening of an exhibit of Bearden's art.

  • "Romare and Nanette at the Neighborhood Arts Center." [janac23]
  • "Romare Bearden Gallery I." [janac32]

23 March 1978

The National Conference of Artists holds its twentieth-anniversary conference at the Neighborhood Arts Center. Activities include workshops on silkscreen, "Afro-Raku," sculpture, portfolio, and audio-visual art.

13-15 April 1978

Walter Dallas' Proposition Theatre Company, performs "Olio" at the center.

13-21 May 1978

The Neighborhood Arts Center participates in the Piedmont Arts Festival by installing an exhibit, holding workshops, and giving performances.

15, 22-24 June 1978

Walter Dallas' Proposition Theatre Company performs "Asafohene" to a sold-out audience at the center as part of "Atlanta New Plays Project 1978."

August 1978

A large ensemble jazz band made up of many Neighborhood Arts Center musicians plays at the first Atlanta Free Jazz Festival.

  • "Neighborhood Arts Center Big Band II." [janac16]

September 1978

Artist-in-residence Joe Jennings leaves the center to become a professor of music at Morehouse College. Jennings' jazz band, Life Force, continues to perform at the Neighborhood Arts Center.

January 1979

January 1979 Artist-in-residence Jim Lee leaves the center to become a freelance writer in New York City.

February 1979

Atlanta artist Attiya Melton becomes artist-in-residence in ceramics.

March 1979

Artist-in-residence Susan Loftin leaves the center to become an associate professor at the Atlanta Junior College. Alice Lovelace (later Alice Lovelace Riley) becomes artist-in-residence in creative writing.

April 1979

Artist-in-residence Phillip Griffin leaves the center to pursue a dance career in Washington, D.C.

May 1979

Sharrone Mitchell becomes artist-in-residence in dance.

The center once again participates in the Piedmont Arts Festival.

September 1979

Artist-in-residence Sandra Franks leaves the center to tour with Cicely Tyson in a production of "Jane Pittman and Harriet Tubman."

1 April 1980

The National Dance Company of Senegal performs a benefit for the Neighborhood Arts Center at the Atlanta Civic Center.

May 1980

The center participates in the Atlanta Arts Festival at Piedmont Park by offering exhibits and performances

July 1980

Artist-in-residence Alice Lovelace leaves the center to become arts skills coordinator for the DCA DOL Project.

October 1980

Two artists-in-residence leave the center: Sharonne Mitchell begins a production at the Alliance Theatre, and Attiya Melton begins teaching in private schools.


Director John Riddle leaves the center. In 1984, he becomes assistant director of the Atlanta Civic Center.


The Neighborhood Arts Center moves to the Oddfellows Building on Auburn Avenue in northeast Atlanta.

25 June 1986

The old Peter James Bryant Elementary school burns down during a summer arson spree directed at abandoned school buildings.

January 1987

Michael Simanga, Atlanta-area writer, becomes director of the Neighborhood Arts Center.


Sometime between 1987 and 1990, the Neighborhood Arts Center moves to its last offices on Broad Street in downtown Atlanta.


After fifteen years, the Neighborhood Arts Center permanently closes its doors.