Our Story

Art is powerful.

At The Woodruff Arts Center, we believe art transforms lives and impacts our community in a powerful way. Building upon more than 50 years of experience, we showcase art that reflects the stories, history, and heartbeat of our community. We not only pass the power of art to the next generation through access and education, but we connect thousands of people—each one of them empowered to make this city stronger. This is the core of what we do.

Our history. Originally named the Memorial Arts Center, The Woodruff Arts Center was established in 1968 as a tribute to the 130 Atlanta arts patrons and crew who died at Orly Airfield in France while journeying home from aarts 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.

Where we are today. The Woodruff Arts Center is home to three renowned 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 us the largest arts educator in Georgia.

With 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 Arts 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.