Our Story

Over 50 Years of Artistic Excellence

The Woodruff Arts Center opened in 1968. Originally named the Memorial Arts Center, it was established as a tribute to the 122 Atlanta arts patrons who died at Orly Airfield in France while journeying home from an arts tour in 1962. At the time, the plane’s passengers represented nearly all of Atlanta’s cultural leadership. Out of this tragedy, the concept of establishing a unified arts center emerged to realize the aspirations of those we lost: for Atlanta to be a premier destination for arts and culture.

Today, the Woodruff Arts Center is home to three world-class artistic institutions: The Alliance TheatreAtlanta Symphony Orchestra, and High Museum of Art. The Arts Center enriches the lives of more than 800,000 patrons annually, including more than 170,000 students and teachers, making the Woodruff Arts Center the largest arts educator in the state of Georgia.

With world-class visual and performing arts as well as robust educational programming presented on a single campus, the Woodruff Arts Center brings together patrons of all ages, interest levels, and backgrounds.

Our Mission

The Woodruff Art’s Center’s mission is to inspire, create, support, and celebrate renowned arts and education for diverse audiences through a unique model of partnerships and collaborations, and in an institutionally sustainable manner.

In The Beginning

The Atlanta Art Association, established in 1905 by a small group of women, dreamed of founding a civic art museum. With the donation of member Hattie High’s mansion (pictured above), the Art Association opened the High Museum of Art in 1926. 

"A Fitting Permanent Memorial"

In 1962, 122 of Atlanta’s most dedicated arts supporters booked a trip to tour several European art capitals to gather inspiration for the museum. However, tragedy struck when all passengers and crew members were killed in a plane crash at Orly Field near Paris, France. After the crash, a devastated board of trustees came together to pursue a permanent memorial for the victims. 

Mr. Anonymous

Robert W. Woodruff spent most of his adult life making Coca-Cola a worldwide icon. In the late 1950s, he was determined to give his company’s hometown a gift of lasting impact. Alongside his chief advisor on civic and charitable matters, Woodruff began planning for the donation of a performing arts center for the city of Atlanta. 

The Groundbreaking

With Woodruff’s then-anonymous donation, the entities were able to break ground on a permanent home for the Atlanta Arts Alliance—the formation of what we know today as the Alliance Theatre, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO), and High Museum of Art. The Memorial Arts Center opened in 1968 and included a concert hall for the ASO; new exhibition space for the High Museum; a full floor for the Atlanta College of Art; and a spacious proscenium theatre to be rented out for plays, ballet, opera, and other performances. 

A Warrant for Growth

The Arts Alliance faced several challenges in its first decade housed at the Memorial Arts Center. For the High Museum, the pivotal issue was space. Although it received plenty of visitors, the Memorial Arts Center could not afford the museum enough space to properly house—much less expand—its collection. 

Atlanta's Orchestra

The first ten years of the full-time ASO were a defining era for the orchestra. Conductor Robert Shaw took the ASO to the community with a performance in Piedmont Park in 1976. The ASO also invested in a small, Cleveland-based recording company and became the first American orchestra to employ digital recording technology. Since then, the ASO has recorded more than 100 albums and won 27 GRAMMY awards. 

Becoming the Woodruff Arts Center

In the 1980s, the High Museum of Art received enough funding from private donors (and then-anonymous philanthropist Robert W. Woodruff) to build a museum large enough to house its growing collection. After the campaign ended in 1982, the Arts Alliance formally requested that its organization and the Memorial Arts Center be named the Robert W. Woodruff Arts Center.  

The World Stage

The 1996 Centennial Olympics Games put the Woodruff Arts Center on the world stage. Performing at the opening ceremonies for the Games, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus was heard by hundreds of millions of viewers via television. 

Atlanta's Home for World-Class Art

The Woodruff Arts Center is home to the Tony Award-winning Alliance Theatre, the GRAMMY Award-winning Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (ASO), and the High Museum of Art, one of the leading art museums in the Southeast. The Woodruff Arts Center serves as Atlanta's cultural cornerstone, offering world-class art to the community on one campus in the heart of Midtown.

Leading the Way for Arts Education

The Woodruff Arts Center serves as the #1 arts educator in the state of Georgia. Our Art Partners' education programs foster the innovation, creativity, and critical thinking skills that 21st-century students need to be successful.

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Explore to experience the arts and learn more about the largest arts center in the Southeast.
Explore to experience the arts and learn more about the largest arts center in the Southeast.

A Message to Our Patrons Regarding COVID-19