Arts groups prepare to pivot from virtual to live events in 2021

Upcoming events in 2021 include (clockwise from left) an Emma Amos retrospective at the Georgia Museum of Art, the release of "Coming 2 America" with Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy and a new album from Sting.
Courtesy of Courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Art / John L. Severance Fund / Amazon Studios / AJC File
Upcoming events in 2021 include (clockwise from left) an Emma Amos retrospective at the Georgia Museum of Art, the release of "Coming 2 America" with Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy and a new album from Sting. Courtesy of Courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Art / John L. Severance Fund / Amazon Studios / AJC File

Credit: Suzanne Van Atten

Credit: Suzanne Van Atten

Perhaps by now you’ve seen the popular T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan, “2020. Very bad. Would not recommend,” followed by a one star rating.

It has been a difficult year for just about everyone. And for the arts, both locally and nationally, it has been devastating. Theaters and playhouses remained dark or shifted to virtual-only performances. Concert halls were empty, though some performers shifted to drive-in concerts and online performances. Museums and galleries closed their doors to the public for months. The lucky ones with budgets big enough were able to install new air filtration systems and adopt strict mask standards in an effort to lure back patrons. But even then, attendance numbers were a fraction of what they’d been in previous years.

So, the question is, will 2021 be a better year for the arts? Will it at least get a two or two-and-a-half star rating? With a vaccine for the coronavirus in very limited distribution and a larger rollout planned for the coming months, perhaps there’s a chance. For a glimpse of what’s coming in 2021, arts writers at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution provide a round-up of upcoming shows and events big and small, live and virtual. Much of how this will play out is still uncertain, which means everything is subject to change so confirm events before you go and check websites for COVID-19 protocols. What is for sure is Atlanta’s arts community is betting on a brighter future.

Here’s to hoping for a solid three stars, at least.

James Taylor and his All-Star Band, along with special guest Jackson Browne will be in Atlanta in June 2021.
James Taylor and his All-Star Band, along with special guest Jackson Browne will be in Atlanta in June 2021.

Credit: Norman Seefe

Credit: Norman Seefe

Music

Rescheduled from last year is the first joint tour from James Taylor and Jackson Browne, who will bring their soft-rock/folk catalogs to Infinite Energy Arena June 29, almost a year later than planned ($63.50-$129. 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth. 770-626-2464, infiniteenergycenter.com).

Despite a postponed road outing, Reba McEntire stayed busy this year. She co-hosted the recent “CMA Awards,” stepped out with new boyfriend, actor Rex Linn, and is allegedly working on a project with Carrie Underwood. The “Queen of Country” will return to Duluth July 22 ($84.50-$260. Infinite Energy Arena).

Later in the summer, the stadium scene will receive a heady dose of hairspray and spandex when Motley Crüe, Def Leppard, Poison and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts reunite for another shot at The Stadium Tour, which was expected to be one of the biggest of 2020. They’ll burn your eardrums at SunTrust Park Aug. 15. ($120-$2,105. 755 Battery Ave S.E., Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com).

Many artists opted to still release albums this year — with captive audiences sitting at home, why not? But Sting’s “Duets” was bumped to March 19, which coincides with his rescheduled May residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. From a pairing with Algerian musician Cheb Mami on “Desert Rose” to linking with Eric Clapton for “It’s Probably Me” to a collaboration with onetime tour mate Annie Lennox on “We’ll Be Together,” Sting again proves himself a renaissance musician. The 17-song set also includes the previously unreleased song “September,” with Italian R&B-rock singer Zucchero.

— Melissa Ruggieri

Arsenio Hall (left) and Eddie Murphy star in "Coming 2 America" out March 5 on Amazon Prime. 
Courtesy of Amazon Studios
Arsenio Hall (left) and Eddie Murphy star in "Coming 2 America" out March 5 on Amazon Prime. Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Credit: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Credit: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Film

Film festivals scheduled for the first half of the year, including the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (Feb. 17-28, www.ajff.org) and the Atlanta Film Festival (April 22-May 5, www.atlantafilmfestival.com), will be a blend of drive-in and virtual experiences. Meanwhile, the LGBTQ film festival Out on Film (www.outonfilm.org) hopes its screenings will be held inside theaters by the time it rolls around Sept. 23-Oct. 3.

For the first time in its 43-year history, the Sundance Film Festival in Utah is partnering with regional theaters including Atlanta’s Plaza Theatre to screen new, independent films on outdoor screens during its run Jan 28-Feb. 3. Details will be announced soon at www.sundance.org/festival.

As for the blockbuster movie release schedule, there is no shortage of revivals and sequels hitting theaters and/or streaming services in 2021. WarnerMedia is releasing all 17 of its films, including “Suicide Squad” (Aug. 6) and “The Matrix 4” (Dec. 22), simultaneously on its HBO Max service and in movie theaters, a move that has caused an uproar in Hollywood.

The much anticipated sequel to Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America,” “Coming 2 America,” was supposed to be released in theaters on Christmas of this year but has been moved to March 5 and sent straight to Amazon Prime. The final James Bond film starring Daniel Craig, “No Time To Die,” was the first film to be postponed due to the pandemic in March. It’s now set to come out April 2 in theaters. On April 23, expect the release of “A Quiet Place II,” a sequel to the haunting 2018 hit film. Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick” sequel to the original 1986 hit was pushed back an entire year and is scheduled for release in theaters July 2. His seventh “Mission Impossible” film is also set for Nov. 19.

— Rodney Ho

"Sandy and Her Husband" by Emma Amos will be among more than 60 works by the late artist featured in a retrospective show at the Georgia Museum of Art.
Courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Art / John L. Severance Fund
"Sandy and Her Husband" by Emma Amos will be among more than 60 works by the late artist featured in a retrospective show at the Georgia Museum of Art. Courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Art / John L. Severance Fund

Credit: Emma Amos

Credit: Emma Amos

Visual arts

Drive by the all but empty campus of Morris Brown College today and it’s hard to imagine that one of the great female painters of the 20th century got her start there. Emma Amos wasn’t yet a teenager when she took drawing classes during the college’s heyday. Amos would go on to become a young peer of Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff and others in New York, establishing herself as a painter of feminist themes centering black women, including herself. The Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia will present “Emma Amos: Color Odyssey” Jan. 30-April 25. Curated by Shawnya Harris, the retrospective exhibition includes more than 60 pieces by the artist, who died earlier this year. (Free, timed-entry tickets required. 90 Carlton St., Athens. 706-542-4662, georgiamuseum.org)

Armed with a new ventilation system using bipolar ionization meant to help purify the air of certain bacteria (although it’s unclear whether the technology does anything to negate the coronavirus), the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center launches its 2021 Biennial: “Of Care and Destruction” on Feb. 20. The show features more than 30 Southern-based artists including David Alston, Shanequa Gay, Meredith Lynn and L. Kasimu Harris. The artists’ works respond to a nation roiled by a pandemic, racial injustice and political unrest. (Opening events Feb. 20-21, RSVP required. Through May 30. Free, timed-entry tickets required. 535 Means Street NW, Atlanta. 404-688-1970, atlantacontemporary.org)

At one of then nation’s lowest points this year, Atlanta artist Charly Palmer, was called upon by Time magazine to illustrate the nation’s pain and rage after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. To capture the moment, Palmer created a stunning portrait of a young girl called, “In Her Eyes.” In the child’s hair, we see a reflection of the flames, frustration and protests that roiled the country last summer. Below her is a burst of red roses. Do they represent promise or requiem? Palmer’s work will be the subject of a retrospective at the Hammonds House Museum, tentatively scheduled from March through mid-June, dates to be announced later. The show spans 30 years up to the present. Situated inside a historic 150-year-old house in Atlanta’s West End, the museum has essentially been closed since March. Director Leatrice Ellzy Wright is hopeful Palmer’s show can be seen in person. (503 Peeples St. SW, Atlanta, 404-612-0481; hammondshouse.org)

— Rosalind Bentley

Spelman professor Keith Arthur Bolden is co-director of "Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments," an Alliance production that examines black life in the era of Michael Brown and George Floyd.
Courtesy of Alliance Theatre
Spelman professor Keith Arthur Bolden is co-director of "Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments," an Alliance production that examines black life in the era of Michael Brown and George Floyd. Courtesy of Alliance Theatre

Theater

The Alliance Theatre is examining a way to produce outdoor theater and plans to announce updates to the second half of its 2020-2021 season in January. Commissioned in response to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, the New Black Fest’s “Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments” is a series of monologues that was planned for the fall of 2020, then for February 2021. Now it’s not clear when the show will go on, although the Alliance is committed to presenting it in person in 2021. (1280 Peachtree St., Atlanta; 404-733-4650, alliancet heatre.org)

Synchronicity Theatre will be offering both in-person and filmed versions of their productions. If COVID-19 numbers dictate caution, they will offer only the filmed version. A highlight of the season will be Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” June 3-27. ($35 in the theater; $10 on screen. One Peachtree Pointe,1549 Peachtree St., NE, Atlanta. 404-484-8636; synchrotheatre.com)

Aurora Theatre planned for coronavirus uncertainty when, in the midst of a $35 million expansion, it won a $2 million CARES grant to add a 200-seat outdoor performing space to the Lawrenceville complex. Slated to open in the spring, Aurora’s new facility will add a 500-seat theater to the existing 250-seat theater, plus a new 300-seat cabaret theatre. Artistic director Anthony Rodriguez said the theater plans launch a traditional season of plays in October. (12 E. Pike Street, Lawrenceville. 678-226-6222; auroratheatre.com)

— Bo Emerson

Nathalie Stutzmann will serve as guest conductor when the ASO performs new music from Missy Mazzoli on Feb. 18, 2021. 
Courtesy of Simon Fowler
Nathalie Stutzmann will serve as guest conductor when the ASO performs new music from Missy Mazzoli on Feb. 18, 2021. Courtesy of Simon Fowler

Classical music

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra continues Behind the Curtains, a virtual program of concerts featuring smaller ensembles taped live in an empty Symphony Hall and streamed, through spring of 2021. ($20, 404-733-4900; www.atlantasymphony.org)

Highlights include a Jan. 14 performance featuring Tyshan Sorrey’s “For Roscoe Mitchell,” a four-minute piece that was recently given a world premiere by the Seattle Symphony, with feature cellist Seth Parker Woods and guest conductor Maxim Emelyanychev.

And on Feb. 18, guest conductor Nathalie Stutzmann will present “Sinfonia (For Orbiting Spheres),” a new-to-the-ASO work by Missy Mazzoli, along with Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3. Stutzmann is among the young conductors in the running to replace music director Robert Spano, who is set to retire at the end of the season.

Dutch violinist André Rieu doesn’t tour the U.S. very often, which made fans even more despondent about his postponed 2020 tour. But, along with his Johann Strauss Orchestra, Rieu will head to the U.S. in February for a handful of dates, including a rare sighting in Atlanta on March 8. ($69-$139. State Farm Arena, One State Farm Drive, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com).

The Atlanta Opera will bring back its “Big Tent” for performances in April, including Bizet’s “Carmen” and Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera.” Times, places and prices are yet to be announced. This month the opera company also rolled out its Atlanta Opera Spotlight Media digital subscription service, giving audiences access to exclusive new video content. See details at Atlantaopera.org

— Bo Emerson

Alvin Ailey's signature work, "Revelations," can be streamed for free at alvinailey.org.
AJC File
Alvin Ailey's signature work, "Revelations," can be streamed for free at alvinailey.org. AJC File

Credit: Renee' Hannans Henry / AJC

Credit: Renee' Hannans Henry / AJC

Dance

Every winter like clockwork, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre performs in Atlanta — except in 2021. Next year, fans will have to get their dance fix virtually, starting with the documentary “Ailey.” Peabody and Emmy award-winning director Jamila Wignot creates a resonant biography of Alvin Ailey, the visionary Black artist who overcame obstacles at the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement to found a globetrotting dance company with a repertoire grounded in the African-American experience. With an original score by Daniel Bernard Roumain, the film blends archival footage with audio recordings to evoke Ailey’s memories and the language of his inspiration. The film will be streamed Jan. 30 and Feb. 1 by the the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and is slated for a broader release this spring or summer. ($15, festival.sundance.org)

Meanwhile, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater continues its online offerings through Ailey All Access, including a 2015 Lincoln Center performance of “Revelations.” (Free, donations welcome. alvinailey.org)

The Atlanta Ballet has faced numerous obstacles during the pandemic — from performance cancellations to social distancing restrictions in the studio to a travel ban preventing noted choreographers from working with the company. Seeking the positive in a bad situation, artistic director Gennadi Nedvigin invited company dancers to choreograph original pieces on their fellow dancers in response to the current times. The result is “Silver Linings,” a series of works that reveal bright veins of creativity, particularly Guilherme Maciel’s emotionally textured trio “This Bitter Earth” and Darian Kane’s “Dr. Rainbow’s Infinity Mirror,” a solo Kane describes as an “accidental glimpse into the creation of an alternate reality.” The works will be featured in two live-streamed events presented in partnership with the Rialto Center for the Arts and Georgia State University broadcast program GSUTV Feb. 12 and March 19. (Free, donations welcome. atlantaballet.com)

— Cynthia Perry

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