The Neighborhood Arts Center (NAC) was conceived in 1974 by a planning committee for the arts convened by Atlanta, Georgia mayor Maynard Jackson. The NAC was a multidisciplinary arts center for the visual and performing arts, established to enhance the level of general appreciation in the Atlanta community for the visual and performing arts, and to the particular artistic contributions of African, Black American, and Third World artists specifically. Initially organized as a non-profit charitable educational and cultural organization, its mission was to serve the community by stimulating artistic interest, instruction and participation in visual and performing arts-related events, by providing access to visiting and local artists, and developing future audiences with youth and outreach programs.
In May 1975, the Neighborhood Arts Center opened in a facility leased from the Atlanta Board of Education, the old Peter James Bryant Elementary School building located at 252 Georgia Avenue, S.W. Staff was provided by hiring local artists selected through the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) program. The Center was housed in the school building for nine years until it moved to the Oddfellows Building on "Sweet Auburn" Avenue in Northeast Atlanta. In 1990, when the organization folded, the offices had moved to Broad Street in downtown Atlanta.
Over the years, the NAC housed and nurtured many of Atlanta's most dynamic artists and arts organizations: Just Us Theater Company, Jomandi Productions, the Theatrical Outfit, the African Dance Ensemble, and the Southern Collective of African American Writers to name a few. It brought to Atlanta nationally-recognized guest artists such as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Maya Angelou, the National Dance Company of Senegal, the art of Ronald Freeman, the puppetry of Akbar Imhotep, and the storytelling of Cynthia Watts. Funding for the Neighborhood Arts Center came from a variety of sources, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Georgia Council for the Arts and Humanities, the city of Atlanta through the Bureau of Cultural Affairs, the Fulton County Arts Council, the Fund for Southern Communities, and private donations. The NAC was run by a board of directors and an executive director. Through the years, members and supporters of the Board included Michael Lomax, Shirley Franklin, Andrew and Jean Young, and Dr. Wendell Whalum. Among some of the original staff and artists in residence were veteran actors Samuel L. Jackson and Bill Nunn, writer Toni Cade Bambara, musician Ojeda Penn, and actress Georgia Allen.