Hartsfield-Jackson’s Olympic mural taking final bow

The famed mural of children in Centennial Olympic Park that greets travelers arriving at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is taking its final bow, after a year of flickering in and out of view.

The photographic collage, called “Spirit of Atlanta” by artist Deborah Whitehouse, is being taken down this week, to be replaced by a giant digital screen promoting Atlanta attractions and displaying airport information. The mural is at the top of the escalators most arriving passengers use to get to the domestic terminal.

To memorialize the mural, the airport says it will likely include a digital image as one of the rotating views on the new screen or elsewhere in the airport.

As with many public art pieces, views on the mural have been varied. Many Atlantans saw “Spirit” as a reassuring reminder they were home as it gradually came into view during the escalator ride. Others felt the mural was dated and aren’t sad to see it go.

The airport last year covered the mural with a Porsche advertisement and other ads, though it reappeared between ad campaigns. The mural has been on display recently, but it will now be removed to make way for the digital screen. The screen will cover the center wall and will require scaffolding for the installation.

When the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last May on the airport’s plans to replace the mural, Whitehouse said in an interview that she felt “those children were so magnificent. I felt like they were my children too.”

“I’m sad to see it go,” Whitehouse said. “I get so emotional when I talk about it.”

Whitehouse, who previously lived in Atlanta but had moved to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, was diagnosed with lung cancer in March 2015 and died last fall. She had been working on an idea for another project for the Atlanta airport featuring images of the North Georgia mountains, but passed away before completing it.

“There were several things [Deborah Whitehouse] did in her career, but I think this was the highlight of it,” said the artist’s husband, Jock Whitehouse. “She bonded with all those people in the photographs.”

“She was hugely proud of it,” he said. “I think she also felt it was also Atlanta’s.”

He thinks that his wife “was resigned to having it dismantled.” He said her photography is being inventoried and donated to an organization that could sell or auction the work, with proceeds going to its scholarship program for Mexican university students.

Jock Whitehouse said he thinks the idea of an image of the mural on the digital screen is “a great idea,” a way to keep it visible and address the issue of the physical deterioration of the mural.

“I think Deborah would love that,” Whitehouse said. As for the children in the mural, now grown: “They’ve gone digital.”