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 Inside, it houses some of Georgia’s most precious historical documents.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.
Here are a few of the events the Art Rocks Athens Foundation has planned, at which you’ll be able to see, hear and experience some of what helped put Athens in the international spotlight:
“ARTifacts Rock Athens: Relics From the Athens Music Scene, 1975-85”
One of the Richard B. Russell Jr. Special Collections Libraries Building’s exhibition halls has become an Athens music shrine, with artifacts, memorabilia, instruments, clothing and more. There are windows dedicated to the B-52s, Pylon, R.E.M. and the 40 Watt Club. R.E.M.’s Bill Berry has loaned a set of drums and there are guitars played by late Athens luminaries Randy Bewley (of Pylon) and Ricky Wilson (of the B-52s).
The exhibition also includes personal artifacts from band members, including Pylon singer Vanessa Briscoe Hay. The planner she kept for the band’s shows (along with other appointments and meetings) is a fascinating look into the day-to-day lives of the musicians at the time.
“Friday the 13th,” Hay noted during a tour of the exhibition in early May, pointing to the display case that holds the well-thumbed notebook, open to June 1980. “‘Worst day in the history of the band. The van got broken into, Randy hurt his knee and we almost got killed in a wreck.’ I can’t believe the stuff I wrote down,” she said, laughing at the melodrama of her youthful scribbling.
Through Dec. 31. UGA Special Collections Libraries: Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, 300 S. Hull St., Athens. 706-542-7123, www.libs.uga.edu/scl.
“Between Rock and an Art Place”
The main focus of the Art Rocks Athens Foundation is preserving and spotlighting the art of the 1975-85 era, and this exhibition will showcase that work. You’ll see work by names you know — the B-52s’ Cindy Wilson and her husband Keith Bennett, for example — and some you may not, including Robert Nielsen and Jake Pollard.
The show is curated by former University of Georgia art instructor Robert Croker, who in the mid-to-late 1970s taught many of the musicians who went on to form bands.
Opening reception 7-9 p.m. May 23. Runs through July 19. UGA’s Lamar Dodd School of Art, 270 River Road, Athens. art.uga.edu.
Concert at the 40 Watt Club
The B-53s will pay tribute to the music of the B-52s. Is/Ought Gap, which formed in 1980 and supplied members to other Athens bands, including Kilkenny Cats and Time Toy, provides a direct link to the era. Kevin Dunn of the Fans (co-producer of the B-52s’ debut single) will be there, too, along with Vanessa Hay and Michael Guthrie.
10 p.m.-2 a.m. May 23. 285 W. Washington St., Athens. 706-549-7871, www.40watt.com.
“Clear the Floor: A Retrospective Dance Concert Featuring Original Choreography Created in Athens, Georgia, 1975-85”
Directed by Peggy Thrasher Law, this dance concert will revisit choreography by independent Athens artists as well as former students and faculty members of the UGA Dance Department. There also will be an exhibition of dance photography by L. David Dwinnell.
Reception 6:30-7 p.m. May 24; performance 7-8:30 p.m. New Dance Theater, UGA Dance Department, 325 Sanford Drive, Athens. www.dance.uga.edu.
“Shapes That Talk to Me: The Athens Scene, 1975-85”
Installed within the Georgia Museum of Art’s permanent collection galleries and highlighted by distinctive labels, this show includes some of the best-known artists who helped shape the work that surrounded and inspired Athens’ vibrant music scene.
Among the works on view are pieces by Art Rosenbaum, Jack Kehoe, James Herbert, Richard Olsen, Judith McWillie and Robert Croker, all of whom taught at UGA’s Lamar Dodd School of Art. The show also includes works by Elaine de Kooning and Alice Neel, visitors to Athens who left their own distinctive marks on the city’s art scene.
May 24-Oct. 19. 90 Carlton St., Athens. 706-542-4662, georgiamuseum.org.
Concert at the Georgia Theatre
A gathering of some beloved and, in many cases, seldom-seen musicians and bands. Cindy Wilson’s Ola Moon (featuring Dana Downs) will headline the night, but the lineup also includes Army Wellford and friends (Wellford was Love Tractor’s bassist), Oh-OK, Squalls and David Barbe
10 p.m.-2 a.m. May 24. Georgia Theatre, 215 N. Lumpkin St., Athens. 706-850-7670, www.georgiatheatre.com.
“Paper Covers Rock: Graphic Arts in Athens, GA, 1975-85”
Posters and fliers were an important part of the music scene back in the early days. That was how bands got the word out about their gigs. Once they got signed to a record deal, they needed album art, too, and that often came from the band members and their artist friends. This show will gather the work that helped shape many bands’ visual identities.
There will be music, too. The organizers are encouraging folks to bring their instruments for an acoustic jam on the porch.
Opening reception 2-5 p.m. May 25. Runs through July 26. Lyndon House Arts Center, 293 Hoyt St., Athens. 706-613-3623, www.athensclarkecounty.com/lyndonhouse.
Rabbit Box Storytelling Collective Presents a Night of Stories Especially Curated by Art Rocks Athens
Rabbit Box is a group that offers a forum for people in the Athens community to tell their own stories.
Museum Mix Dance Party
The Georgia Museum of Art holds a free art party with refreshments and access to all the galleries. Pylon’s Michael Lachowski, who also happens to work for the museum, will DJ.
8 p.m. July 24. 90 Carlton St., Athens. 706-542-4662, georgiamuseum.org.