Artist Harold Rittenberry and original architect Bob Clements sit among the welded stainless steel benches created by Rittenberry. Folk Art Park, GDOT's first public art project and created in 1996 as part of the city's Olympics projects, reopened June 1. 
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Downtown’s Folk Art Park, created for 1996 Olympics, freshly restored 

Harold Rittenberry, an Athens artist in his late 70s, stood staring at his welded-steel sculpture that was erected in downtown Atlanta more than 20 years ago. 

“I’m amazed. They said they were going to take care of it, and they did,” Rittenberry said Thursday morning. 

Rittenberry and a few dozen city leaders and artists had gathered at the partial reopening of Folk Art Park, a public art project that was commissioned for the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996. 

The result of a 1994 international design competition won by University of Georgia art professor Robert Clements, 67 works from 23 southern artists were placed across two cement bridges over Interstate 75/85.

But over the years, the park and its pieces had become damaged and weathered. 

"Earth Flower" is a cast sculpture is by artist Lonnie Holley in Atlanta’s Folk Art Park (Bob Andres/AJC)
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

In an effort to restore the collection, the Atlanta Public Art Legacy group requested money for improvements.

The Georgia Department of Transportation provided about $300,000, and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District contributed $100,000 for the preliminary design and engineering. 

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The artwork was restored with new paint, concrete and metal. Anti-skateboarding devices, bird deterrents to protect the sculptures, along with additional lighting and signage about the art was also added. 

This display shows the artists whose work is represented at the park. (Bob Andres/AJC)

Clements, standing alongside Rittenberry at the intersection of Piedmont Avenue at Baker Street, said the restoration was so important because many of the artists have passed away; he guesses “probably two-thirds” in the last 20 years.

“So it’s like a time capsule,” he said. 

The installation includes work from regional folk artists like former Atlanta city councilman Archie Byron, North Carolina’s Vollis Simpson and Alabama’s Lonnie Holley. Another area of the park, located at Courtland Street at Ralph McGill Boulevard, is scheduled to be restored next. 

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Folk Art Park, GDOT's first public art project and created in 1996 as part of the city's Olympics projects, reopened today after renovations. Art works representing 23 contemporary folk artists from five southeastern states are on display.
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