In the early 1980s, the Forward Arts Foundation, the group that built and maintains the Buckhead gallery, was using an old house on the High Museum of Art’s campus in Midtown to display art. But when the High told the foundation the house would be torn down as part of the museum’s expansion plans, the foundation had to find a new home.
Sara Moore, one of the foundation’s 12 original members, provided the funding for the $397,400, 864-square-foot gallery. Frances “Fanny” Cocke, another founding member, spearheaded the effort to build the gallery, said Catherine Rawson, a longtime member who was asked to design it and hire the architect, Caldwell Smith.
“She is the one that got 12 ladies together and decided we needed to have a place [to display art] other than the museum,” Rawson said.
The gallery is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. It opened Sept. 7, 1984, as an addition to the coach house, part of the original 1928 Swan House property on the Atlanta History Center campus. The coach house’s restaurant and gift shop have been in existence since 1965, the year the foundation was formed. It has nearly 200 members and raises funds for the visual arts in Atlanta.
Over the years the gallery has changed little physically but has become a top location for both established and rising artists. Before it opened, the foundation displayed art upstairs in the restaurant.
“All of us have an appreciation and respect for the founders of this organization,” said Becky Warner, a 30-year foundation member and former gallery chairwoman who worked with Rawson on the gallery’s planning. “Anne Cox Chambers is the only founding member who is still living. We wanted to follow their efforts. We knew their efforts were gifts of the passion and love of the arts.
“To have done what they did in the early ’60s was a remarkable story. It’s a driving point for the membership. We want to do better year after year. It has made a difference in the collection of the art and the expansion of the museum. We know we have made a difference. That’s very pleasing.”
Warner said the gallery’s success can be seen in its progress, including hiring a full-time curator after having the foundation’s members do the work.
Also, its Emerging Artist Award received about a dozen applications in its first year in 2000 but gets up to 50 today.
Foundation members and gallery leaders said they are proud to see it turn 30.
“I think it’s growing in a wonderful direction,” said Marianne Lambert, who has been the gallery’s curator for 14 years. “My hope is to see it become even more of a contemporary gallery with more thoughtful shows being presented to the north side of Atlanta. … I plan to do more conceptual shows and solo shows that will be an exciting direction for the future of the gallery.”
Sara Hehir, the gallery chairwoman and niece of Sara Moore, agreed.
“It goes back to the community, which was the original purpose of foundation, to educate and expose the public and membership to art,” she said.
“They realized if we’re going to have somewhere to display art in Atlanta, it should be displayed in the way it needs to be displayed.
“My aunt was the first with the idea to build a gallery and fund it. My aunt got all the credit but Catherine did all the work.”
Said Rawson, “I guess [the anniversary] means that our energy has been sustained for a long time and people enjoy coming here. Not only do they have a wonderful gallery to see but they can have lunch and shop. It’s a destination.”