The annual Dogwood Festival in April is a highlight of the arts calendar in the capital of Georgia, but there are plenty of cultural picks all year round
Artists' stands at the Atlanta Dogwood Festival
As the bream and catfish succumb to the rods of the fishermen in Piedmont Park's lake and the dogwood trees begin to bloom, Atlanta plays host to the Dogwood Festival (7 to 9 April), as it has done since 1936. Attracting more than 85,000 visitors, it's one of the biggest arts festivals in the country, and to attend is like a rite of passage, signalling that springtime has arrived in the state of Georgia.
Artwork by Armando Pedroso, exhibiting at the Dogwood Festival
More than 250 artists from across the USA exhibit their work in a dozen different categories, including painting, glass, clay, wood and mixed media. And if you're not too busy trying to spot the next Koons or de Kooning, enjoy the rock and pop acts, the rock-climbing wall, or the wealth of stands offering Southern guilty-food pleasures such as crab cakes, kettle corn and funnel cakes.
Even if you're not in Atlanta during this time, for such a huge conurbation, with the world's busiest airport as its arrival point, it's hardly a surprise to find that the art scene is, like the city itself, far from bashful about size.
Enter, stage right, one of the biggest oil paintings on the planet. The Battle of Atlanta, painted by a team of artists from the American Panorama Company, is a staggering 109 metres long and 13 metres high. Housed in Grant Park for decades, this epic depiction of one of the key battles of the American Civil War will, in 2017, be available to view again after a lengthy absence and years of restoration work. In a new building at the Atlanta History Center in the Buckhead district, the cyclorama painting will be presented as it was originally intended when first shown to the public in 1886.
The High Museum of Art
Atlanta's artistic highpoints are far from being solely concerned with the bloody battles of the past: the High Museum of Art, with its wings designed by Renzo Piano, has gone from having a somewhat aloof reputation to hosting a rolling series of exhibitions that have been hugely successful at encouraging more locals and visitors through the doors without dumbing down on the intellectual zeal. The highlight this spring is 'Cross Country: the Power of Place in American Art, 1915-1950'; on until 7 May, it features 20th-century works by Ansel Adams, Georgia O'Keeffe and Grant Wood, among others, all of which showcase how the artists were reacting to the changes in a country rapidly urbanising and evolving.
Heading west of the Midtown area, you'll find yourself among the uncompromisingly urban landscape of the logically named Westside neighbourhood. Pastoral, it isn't, but this is the hottest 'hood in town for seeing contemporary art at its most dynamic. Atlanta Contemporary is the major art hub, where you can catch Lonnie Holley's solo show (until 2 April). The seventh of 27 children born in Jim Crow-era Alabama, Holley uses scrap metal, sandstone, plastic flowers and old machines to create towering, totemic structures.
The SFJAZZ Collective, on at the Ferst Center for the Arts
In the same part of town, the Ferst Center for the Arts on Georgia Tech campus is integral to Atlanta's artistic side. And on a warm Georgia morning, their Engineered Art series of huge outdoor sculptures, made from steel, copper, concrete and wood, seem to almost contort and bend as the sunlight hits. In the evening, the theatre plays host to plays, concerts and poetry readings. April's highlight is a concert by the SFJAZZ Collective, an all-star ensemble of some of the great modern names in contemporary live jazz, including Miguel Zenón, Avishai Cohen and Obed Calvaire. Alternatively, look out for jazz nights at Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta’s Taipan Lounge. Order a Georgia Peach cocktail and, on a warm evening, enjoy the garden terrace.
The reputation of Atlanta as a place of untrammelled optimism and enthusiasm for good times and long nights may be long established. But, increasingly, it feels as if this city is dancing to an altogether more artistic beat.