A New Home for the Cyclorama
The Cyclorama is beginning to show its age. The 130 year old painting of The Battle of Atlanta is going to undergo a multi-million dollar facelift. The 42 foot tall, 371 feet in circumference painting has been at its current home in Grant Park since 1921 and the need for restoration is obvious. It was originally designed to hang in a hyperbolic or hourglass shape giving the viewer a 3D experience. Since 1921 it has hung straight like a shower curtain, causing it to buckle. Water damage is evident as well as damage along the bottom. The 2008 restoration of the other cyclorama in the US, The Battle of Gettysburg, prompted questions about how to restore this one. Since coming to Atlanta it had undergone several restorations, the latest in 1979-81, but it was obviously in need of another. To determine what Atlanta should do, the mayor formed an advisory board to study the problem.
In a September 2011 meeting with the commission, the mayor asked them to consider two questions: how best to restore the painting and whether to move it to a different location. There was no question that they needed a plan to preserve a unique cultural icon. How best to do that and how to pay for it was the hard part. The reason for the second question can be answered in two words, tourism dollars.
Despite its location next to the entrance to Zoo Atlanta; a popular tourist attraction that has an annual attendance of over 700,000, the Cyclorama attracts only about 54,000 annually. The option to restore the painting but leave it at Grant Park did not address the problem of attendance so the board started looking for a new venue. The short list the mayor got included: the former World of Coca-Cola next to the Underground, Centennial Olympic Park and The Atlanta History Center in Buckhead. On July 24th, 2014 Mayor Kasim Reed announced that the new home for the Cyclorama will be at the Atlanta History Center.
"I can't think of a better custodian for this historical work than the Atlanta History Center,"? said Reed. "I'm confident that the Atlanta History Center is the right place at the right time for preserving the Cyclorama for future generations."
The AHC is the logical choice. They have all the necessary infrastructure, operations, exhibition galleries, and security already in place. Founded in 1926 it has the most comprehensive collection of Civil War artifacts and of the Atlanta Campaign in particular, in one location in the country. Their signature exhibits, "Turning Point: The American Civil War" "Shaping Tradition: Folk Art in a changing South" "Centennial Olympic Games" and "Bobby Jones: Down the fairway" are currently on display in the 30,000 square foot Atlanta History Museum on the AHC 33 acres in Buckhead. In addition to having all these factors going for it, perhaps the one thing that prompted the mayor in his choice was funding. The AHC was the recipient of a 10 million dollar endowment in 2013 by Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker. They then used that very generous gift to jump start a fund raising program that raised an additional 22 million dollars. That money will be used for the relocating and restoration of not only the painting but also the Cyclorama's artifacts, including the locomotive Texas and a new building. Construction of the 23,000 square foot Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker Cyclorama Building will begin soon.
The building specifically designed and built for the Cyclorama and connected to the existing Museum, should be complete by late 2016. The painting will then be moved into its new home and restoration will continue through 2017 into early 2018. The building will be open so the public can observe the restoration process. By the end of 2018 the entire project should be complete and the Cyclorama will once again be displayed as it was originally intended to be. The Whitaker's original endowment will ensure that the Cyclorama painting and artifacts are properly maintained as long as the History Center is their custodian.
The information for this article was obtained from several sources. Two Fact Sheets published by The Atlanta History Center, Gordon Jones, Military Historian for the AHC and several past issues of the AJC.
A New Home for the Cyclorama