Sunday, February 26, 2006

Cultural haven or redneck tourist trap?

City and state officials have chosen the latter, delivering millions for a proposed NASCAR museum in downtown Atlanta and nothing for a new symphony hall.

Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the exterior is touted as a "postcard for Georgia," a beacon for tourists and a soaring affirmation of the city's commit-ment to culture. With acoustics designed by Chicago's Kirkegaard Associates, the state-of-the-art building will be customized for concerts, educational events and rentals for corporate and private functions.

There is no serious debate about the orchestra's need for a new home. Musicians and patrons know the acoustics of the current Symphony Hall as inferior — deemed unfixable in a 1992 study — and the bare-bones venue generates almost no rental income.

Granted, opting to fund a NASCAR museum isn't just about appeasing rednecks (but it won't hurt with those "NASCAR dads"). The attraction could pump some significant money into the city, though I argue you won't be attracting much disposable income. Not a knock, but racing fans tend to be on the lower end of the economic scale.

And does it always have to be about money? Civic pride used to matter, and it would be nice to have something to brag about here besides an aquarium. Yes, I'm being simplistic. Atlanta remains a very livable city. But for outsiders, not very memorable.

And for insiders, not very cultural. The potential is there, and so, I think, is the audience. As big as the NASCAR audience? I wish I could be that naive.


  1. damn. i love calatrava. and i'm supposing that zaha hadid won't be designing the NASCAR museum?

  2. Too bad Calatrava couldn't have designed the symphony hall. Just what Atlanta needs, a nascar museum to go with Jeff Foxworthy.