10 Atlanta attractions for 2010

A wealth of cultural events beckons

It’s a new year, time for a fresh slate. Atlanta’s cultural institutions and attractions have a lot of intriguing programming and developments in store, from flying dolphins to dueling banjos, an expanding green space to an expansive mural memorializing Martin Luther King Jr. Here are 10 big items on Atlanta’s 2010 agenda.

1. Though shortened by an assassin's bullet, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s life was epic in sweep and accomplishment. "The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Mural," to be installed behind the Martin Luther King Jr. Natatorium facing the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site visitors center, will be fittingly epic as well.

Spanning 125 feet, it will tell the interlaced story of King's life and the civil rights movement. The mural, designed by Morehouse College art and humanities instructor Louis Delsarte, was commissioned by the City of Atlanta's Office of Cultural Affairs' Public Art Program. It will be dedicated at 1 p.m. Jan. 17. (www.atlanta.net )

2 The life of the Princess of Wales was cut short in 1997, but the public's fascination with Diana is long. The Atlanta Civic Center is banking on that interest to deliver large crowds for "Diana: A Celebration," an exhibit opening Jan. 23.

Nine galleries will hold more than 150 objects, including Diana's royal wedding gown, 28 designer dresses and the original text of her brother Earl Spencer's tribute at her Westminster Abbey funeral. The run is through June 13. (Tickets: 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com )

3. Honoring the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth and the 50th anniversary of the Atlanta student movement, the Atlanta History Center will present "Civil War to Civil Rights," a series of exhibitions and programming that explores American history from the 1860s through the 1960s.

The exhibitions will include: "Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits" (Jan. 30-April 25), "Voices Across the Color Line: The Atlanta Student Movement 50th Anniversary" (March 15-Sept. 25), "With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition" (Sept. 4-Nov. 6) and "Turning Point: The American Civil War" (the History Center's permanent 9,200-square-foot exhibit, the largest on the Civil War in the Southeast). The opening show, "Let Your Motto Be Resistance," features 100 photographic portraits tracing 150 years of U.S. history though the lives of well-known African-Americans, from Frederick Douglass to Malcolm X to Jimi Hendrix. (404-814-4000, AtlantaHistory Center.com )

4. Nature, as Hurricane Katrina reminded us, can generate a force greater than man can control. But in the exhibit "Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters," opening at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History on Feb. 6, visitors get to control nature, at least virtually.

Interactive displays and animation let museum-goers trigger an earthquake, simulate a tsunami, generate a virtual volcano and stand in the center of a tornado. Organized by Chicago’s Field Museum in Chicago, “Nature Unleashed” focuses on earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes and tornadoes.

In the Local Connection gallery, five Atlanta meteorologists reveal the science behind some of Atlanta's most notable natural events. The National Geographic film "Forces of Nature" will complement the exhibit on Fernbank's five-story Imax screen. "Nature Unleashed" runs through May 2. (404-929-6300, www.fernbankmuseum. org )

5. Do you like "Green Eggs and Ham?" Folks who like Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel's children's books might be surprised to know that the man behind the wild characters and kooky twists of tongue in titles such as "The Cat in the Hat" was a political cartoonist during World War II. He was the chief editorial cartoonist for the New York newspaper PM from 1941-1943, a period in which Geisel responded to the prospering Nazi regime with more than 400 editorial cartoons.

"Dr. Seuss Goes to War and More," an exhibition opening at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum on Feb. 15, will show how Geisel applied a Seussian flair to political cartoons with an anti-Axis powers bent. The Breman show will be drawn from two private collections as well as from the Holocaust Museum Houston. (678-222-3700, www.thebreman.org)

6. The banjo is boss in bluegrass music, but the instrument isn't Southern. It has African roots, as explored in "Throw Down Your Heart," a 2008 documentary about banjo player Bela Fleck's musical journey through Uganda, Tanzania, Gambia and Mali. The trip also produced a widely praised 2009 album of the same name.

And now Fleck is bringing some of the musicians from the film and album on a tour that stops at the Rialto Center for the Arts on March 6. Among the players joining Fleck in "The Africa Project" concert will be Bassekou Kouate, who plays the n'goni, a Malian banjo; the Malian group N'goni Ba; and Tanzanian musicians Anania Ngoliga (thumb piano/vocals) and John Kitime (guitar/vocals). (404-413-9849, www.rialtocenter.org )

7. Roll over, Monet, and tell Van Gogh the news.

The High Museum of Art will present autos as art with a design exhibit of 18 rare custom-built cars from the 1930s to the '60s. "The Allure of the Automobile" zoom-zoom-zooms into the High on March 21.

“Allure” presents what a High press release terms “masterpieces” by Bugatti, Duesenberg, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Ferrari. Among the “rolling sculpture” is a 1935 Duesenberg SJ Roadster formerly owned by Clark Gable and a 1957 Jaguar XKSS Roadster once owned by Steve McQueen.

Running through June 20, the exhibit will trace the evolution of cars, cover the influence of decorative arts and design, and chart changes in styling and engineering before and after World War II. (404-733-4444, www.high.org )

8. The number of reasons to visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden will mushroom with the opening of the second phase of its Green Expansion in May.

The Canopy Walk, a 600-foot elevated stroll through the treetops of Storza Woods, has received the most attention after a tragic construction accident delayed it in late 2008. But the additions go well beyond the walk. For one thing, the nearly 15 acres of Storza Woods — a mature forest filled with native hardwoods such as maple, oak, tulip, poplar, beech, black cherry, hackberry and flowering dogwood — will finally be open to visitors.

If Southerners like anything better than gardening, it's eating, so a big attraction will be the Edible Garden, situated on the site of the garden's former parking lot. It will be planted with vegetables, fruits, herbs and edible flowers from around the world. Finally, the Cascades Garden, a terraced water garden set amid hardy tropicals, replaces the old entry road. (404-876-5859, www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org )

9. While panda parents Lun Lun and Yang Yang and cub Xi Lan are settling in for an additional five years, other Zoo Atlanta carnivores won't be faring so bad either. The Grant Park attraction's project for 2010 is Complex Carnivore, a new habitat for the likes of Sumatran tigers Kavi, Chelsea and Jalal, clouded leopard Moby, and new friends: two sun bears, who'll come aboard in summer when phase one is expected to open. A second phase, tentatively expected to be finished in early fall, brings more carnivores: Bali mynah, a couple of different kinds of tortoises, binturong, coati, fossa, kinkajou and raccoon dog.

The habitat will feature a more naturalistic design, from the Atlanta architectural firm the Epsten Group, and will include viewing areas at street level and from a terrace atop the building. An “Asian Wildlife Highway” theme in the habitat will educate about man’s role in endangering creatures such as Sumatran tigers and sun bears. (404-624-9453, www.zooatlanta.org)

10. When its construction was announced a year and a half ago, founder Bernie Marcus called the Georgia Aquarium's $110 million bottlenose dolphin exhibit, opening in November, "the next 'big wow' " for downtown Atlanta.

Subsequent details have been few from the aquarium, which wants to keep its expansion under wraps until closer to its debut, but this we can say: It's big. Located on the west side of the attraction near the Luckie Street parking deck entrance, the expansive, windowed building is taking shape. It will hold 2 million gallons of water and feature a big theater hosting dolphin shows. At some point, the aquarium will also offer small-group interactive dolphin encounters. (404-581-4000, www.georgiaaquarium. org )