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Turning up the volume on Athens art

The University of Georgia’s Richard B. Russell Jr. Special Collections Libraries Building sits on a hill, surrounded by flowers and an immaculate green lawn. Inside, it houses some of Georgia’s most precious historical documents. At the moment, though, the imposing two-year-old building really rocks.

Through the end of the year, the library is playing host to a collection of memorabilia and artifacts from the golden age of the Athens music scene that gave birth to such bands as the B-52s and R.E.M. “ARTifacts Rock Athens: Relics from the Athens Music Scene, 1975-85” is the first of many exhibitions and events planned by the Art Rocks Athens Foundation.

Music gets the spotlight first, because it was music that put Athens on the international map. But the journey started with art. Art Rocks Athens’ mission statement reads: “This is about art. And music. In that order. …”

The organization will launch more exhibitions this weekend featuring visual arts; posters and graphics; dance; film; and live music performances.

That art — and the artists who created it — has languished in the shadows for decades. While the music created in Athens 1975-1985 has been well-documented and celebrated around the world, there’s never been a full-scale attempt to preserve and spotlight the contributions of the city’s artists and filmmakers of the period.

The Art Rocks Athens Foundation aims to change that.

The impetus for the project was the retirement of R.E.M., which inspired a desire to celebrate the era that spawned the band.

“We started talking about how important art was,” said executive board member Maureen McLaughlin, who was also the B-52s’ original manager. “We realized there had never been a retrospective exhibition of Athens art from that time period. It is really interesting to look at how the art school became an incubator for such an amazing amount of creative energy that it just overflowed into music. People were looking for all kinds of new outlets, and music was the magical one.”

It shouldn’t be viewed as nostalgia, though, said Blair Dorminey, an Athens lawyer and also a member of the Art Rocks Athens board.

“It’s about bringing the art history together and telling a story about the art. [It’s about] bringing to light art and artists that have not really been given due recognition,” Dorminey said.

The goal is to take the show on the road, as so many Athens bands did back in the day.

“That’s really our big ambition,” Dorminey said. “If we can put together the artifacts and the art and create a proper narrative for it, I think we’ll be able to interest a lot of other venues.”

It’s a way to keep the flame alive and make sure the world never forgets what the folks who created the scene knew all along: Athens rocks.

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