ATLANTA, GA.- Sunday June 3rd will mark the 50th anniversary of the air crash at Pariss Orly Airport that took the lives of over 100 arts patrons from Atlanta. The tragedy stunned Atlantas citizens and then galvanized them to build a Memorial Arts Building that is now part of the Woodruff Arts Center. In the half a century since then, the Woodruff has become the largest visual and performing arts center in the Southeast and has had a transforming impact on the cultural and economic development of Atlanta. The Woodruff, which today is home to the Alliance Theatre, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the High Museum of Art, and Young Audiences, has established Midtown as the cultural center of Atlanta and serves over 1.4 million people a year.
One hundred and twenty-two patrons and friends of the Atlanta Art Association perished at Pariss Orly Airport on June 3, 1962, while returning from a three-week tour of the art capitals of Europe. This loss of many of the city's most dedicated arts supporters spurred Atlanta to create a memorial that would continue their passion for the cultural growth of the city. Between 1962 and 1968, the Atlanta Art Association led the city of Atlanta in mobilizing major gifts from organizations and individuals as well as small donations garnered through a grass-roots campaign. The most significant gift was made by Atlantas famously anonymous donor, Robert W. Woodruff, the retired head of The Coca-Cola Company. The Atlanta Memorial Arts Center (renamed Woodruff Arts Center in 1982) opened to the public on October 5, 1968, in a ceremony that included the French government donating August Rodin's Le Hombre (The Shade) to the city of Atlanta to commemorate those whose lives were lost at Orly.
"Today, the Woodruff has become one of the largest performing arts centers in the nation and our visual, dramatic, and musical organizations are internationally recognized," said Joe Bankoff, President and CEO of the Woodruff. "It is hard now to imagine the devastating impact of this tragedy to Atlanta. Yet the determined response of the city to build a memorial created a center that has nurtured amazing artistic and economic growth. Thus the 50th anniversary of the tragedy provides a moment to recall this loss but more importantly to recognize and celebrate Atlantas commitment to build and sustain a visual and performing arts center that has achieved national recognition and global stature.
"The fact that Atlanta's citizens mobilized to build a cultural center in honor of the Orly victims exemplifies why the phoenix is such a fitting symbol for our city," said Kasim Reed, Mayor of Atlanta. "With the support and dedication of our citizens, Atlanta's art scene literally rose from the ashes in the late 1960s. Since the opening of the Woodruff Arts Center, the citys arts organizations have grown tremendously. In the process Midtown Atlanta has been completely transformed, and the area has become the cultural center of the region attracting residents and tourists from across the world."
The development of the Woodruff spurred the transformation and revitalization of an entire section of the city. Today, Midtown is Atlantas cultural hub and one of the citys most vibrant areas, serving thousands of residents and visitors with hotels, residences, restaurants, and parks. Atlantas Midtown is home to many other arts and culture organizations, such as the Atlanta Ballet, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the Center for Puppetry Arts, the Fox Theatre, and the Museum of Design Atlanta. Midtown is easily accessible from the HartsfieldJackson Atlanta International Airport by MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority).