Fifty years ago today, 122 members of the group set off for a month-long tour of Europe to visit the continent’s museums and spread the news Atlanta was looking to join the world stage.
When returning home June 3, all 122 and seven others died when their plane crashed shortly after takeoff at Orly Field outside of Paris.
The event had ramifications worldwide. The government of France sent a Rodin statue and a Whistler painting to Atlanta’s fledgling museum as an expression of unity; Andy Warhol kicked off a Death and Disaster series with a work titled “129 Die in Jet” and closer to home, money and support flowed into the city to continue the work the association started.
“The whole city was just in shock. It was such a stunning loss of leading citizens,” said Joe Bankoff, president of Midtown’s Woodruff Arts Center, which was developed as a direct result of this effort. “This was the community’s response to that loss.”
The center, which now boasts more than one million visitors per year, will host several events to pay homage to the loss of the art association members and the way their mission has flourished.
“[The events] are less of a funeral remembrance and more of a celebration of the community’s steadfast support of arts and culture,” Bankoff said. “Now, five generations of Atlantans have believed in that [mission].”
June 3, the center will host a community day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. featuring performances and activities provided by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Alliance Theatre and the High Museum of Art, which all call the facility home.
After, at 6 p.m., the center will host a commemoration dinner in the Galleria of the Memorial Arts Building which will feature video, performances and speakers.
The Buckhead Heritage Society also will host several events to mark the significant loss the Buckhead community suffered due to the crash.
“A lot of the victims were from Buckhead,” said society president Wright Mitchell. “A lot of Buckhead residents remember the crash and knew people or know the children of the victims of the crash.”
The organization will host a lecture by Ann Uhry Abrams, author of “Explosion at Orly: The Disaster that Transformed Atlanta,” and Chris Moser, producer of the 2001 Georgia Public Broadcasting documentary film, “The Day Atlanta Stood Still,” as well as a screening of the film Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Buckhead. Tickets range from $5 to $15.
Saturday, the group will open an exhibit and auction of work artists created to observe the crash and the art society members’ lives. The event will take place at the Millennium Gate, 395 17th St. next to Atlantic Station, and entrance will be free from noon to 5 p.m. and $25 to $35 for the art auction from 7 to 10 p.m.
“There were a lot of artists on the plane. When we started to think of ways to commemorate what those people stood for, we thought, ‘What better way than an art exhibit?’” Mitchell said. “I hope [attendees] gain a better understanding of what the Orly crash meant to Atlanta.”
Also, June 2 through Sept. 30, the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead will exhibit “The Egg and I,” by artist Helen Seydel — who lost her life in the crash — in the exhibition hallway with text placing the painting in context of the tragedy, along with a panel of recognition of the 50th anniversary.
Information: www.buckheadheritage.com, www.woodruffcenter.org or www.atlantahistorycenter.com