The 70-foot-wide "Spirit of Atlanta" mural greeted travelers for almost 15 years.
Photo: Jason Getz/ AJC
Photo: Jason Getz/ AJC

Airport ‘Spirit’ mural gives way to digital screen

Love it or hate it, the mural of children playing in the Centennial Olympic Park fountains is no longer greeting fliers riding up the main terminal escalator at the world’s busiest airport.

The “Spirit of Atlanta” mural has been covered by an ad for Porsche, touting Atlanta as the home of Porsche Cars North America.

The smiling girl with outstretched arms and the other kids are still underneath the ad for Porsche, which recently moved its offices to a site near Hartsfield-Jackson International. After the ad comes down next month, the airport plans to install a digital screen in the prominent space.

It will promote Atlanta attractions and events, offer airport information and could display other ads, said Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman Reese McCranie. The screen could also be used for emergency notifications.

As for the mural, “We want to preserve it … and find a permanent home for it,” McCranie said. “We’re in active discussions right now with several different groups.” He said mural will be stored “until we find a suitable and permanent home for it” at the airport or elsewhere.

Like many works of art, the multicultural mural has struck a chord with Atlantans and people from all over the world who have arrived at the airport. Some say they won’t miss the images that hearken the city’s halo of pride after hosting the 1996 Summer Olympics.

“Time for a change,” one person commented on Facebook.

Others are more sentimental. “I love that mural; seeing it always felt like a warm welcome home after a long trip,” wrote Facebook user Philip Watson. “It should have at least been replaced with another work of art. The airport already is covered with advertisements.”

An online poll at ajc.com on Friday ran about 60-40 in favor of keeping the mural.

Atlanta artist Deborah Whitehouse, who couldn’t be reached Friday, created the collage mural in part by using photos of kids at the fountains. Since the 70-foot wide work went up nearly 15 years ago, the children featured have become adults.

Lisa and Rick Cord of Woodstock instantly recognized their daughter Lori, whom they had taken to Centennial Olympic Park for her 11th birthday in May 2000. They met Whitehouse taking pictures there.

“[Lori] wanted to just run in the fountains,” her mother said. When the mural appeared months later it included Lori, the tall girl on the far left. “Lori said, ‘How come nobody’s coming up and asking me for my autograph?’” she recalled.

Lori is now 25, has served in the Air Force, survived a bout with a rare condition called Guillain Barre Syndrome and works in Colorado.

“We tell everybody” about the picture at the airport, Lisa Cord said, adding she always blew her daughter a little kiss when passing the mural. “It would be sad to see it gone forever. It’s been up there a while and it was bound to change, but it absolutely is very welcoming…. It would be nice if they memorialized it.”

The girl in the middle is Orisha Spence, whom Whitehouse said she chose for her grace and elegance.

Chris Hayes, then an Alpharetta teen who was depicted embracing his high-school sweetheart on the left wall, is now 32 and works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington D.C. He said he never expected to become part of such a lasting image.

“I thought I had a good idea for a cheap date, to go down and play in the fountains,” Hayes said. “Next thing you know, it’s a 15-year impression on people that come to Atlanta.”

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