With film studios establishing the new Black Hollywood and blue streaks re-charting our country’s political future, Atlanta is creating ripple effects felt around the world. This portfolio celebrates the city’s collective power and rich tapestry of creative talent.

By Sydney Haymond
Feb 03, 2021 @ 10:00 am
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Credit: AB+DM

What makes Atlanta so sacred? It's long been a hub for anything and everything that matters — music, art, films, and certainly, as recent current events will attest, politics. But now, perhaps due to the spotlight on politics, people are paying attention to the city's unlimited potential and the supremely talented people who live there.

One such person is Dr. Joycelyn Wilson, the assistant professor of hip-hop studies and digital media at Georgia Tech's Ivan Allen College, who wrote an essay for March issue describing Atlanta's rich history and cultural significance, especially for the Black community. "Atlanta, like Wakanda, is a special place for Black Americans," she writes. "The difference is there are parts of the mecca mythology that actually exist. First, it's the birthplace of Dr. King — whose noble actions turned Atlanta into one of the most culturally resilient cities in the American South. Second, Atlanta has repeatedly applied its secret sauce for mixing music, culture, and business with progressive Democratic politics to keep the city blue and, more recently, help flip a traditionally red state."  

The spirit of collaboration and community also flows freely throughout the city. For this portfolio, two sets of Atlanta-based photographers — Ahmad Barber and Donté Maurice of AB+DM, and Chrisean Rose — banded together and came up with a roster of local politicians, business owners, and artists to showcase the city's varied and impressive thought leadership. Below, the creatives share their perspectives and passions for the place they call home. 

As Dr. Wilson writes, "Atlanta is not a perfect metropolis. No big city is. But it is unique. For years it wasn't fully respected as a place that had trained up a generation to position itself for national and international impact. The influence it holds now is because of its people and their cultural currency, which collectively makes up the city's Vibranium. Atlanta is our Wakanda. Those who are from here have always known of its superpower potential, and now the rest of the world is finally seeing it too."

Dolce & Gabbana suit and shirt. Jimmy Choo shoes. Cello, his own.
| Credit: Chrisean Rose

Okorie “OkCello” Johnson

CELLIST AND COMPOSER

What do you love most about Atlanta? 

Atlanta is where I became a Black man and an artist, found love with my wife, and where we chose to raise our daughters. It is where all my passions and talents have found purpose and expression. I believe that all of that could have only happened in Atlanta. 

What makes you most proud of the city?  

Honestly, the Blackness of it.  I am so proud of this city's Black history, present, and future. If it is good and Black, it's here. If there is a problem for Black people across the country, it, too, is here. And that is not to say that Atlanta doesn't belong to other races, ethnicities, communities and perspectives. I'm sure other people from other groups feel as strongly about Atlanta as I do.

What have been the most significant changes in terms of the arts and culture scene?

Something happened in the late '80s and '90s where Black Atlantans, through their art, sent out beacons to creative, artistic, alternative Black folks from all over the country.  We came, we stayed, we made art. It's harder to do now, though. The city is so much more expensive. But honestly that hasn't seemed to slow a single soul down. 

What does the outside world need to know about ATL?

It's a magic city and the closest thing to Wakanda I know. Most important is the fact that Atlanta is the site of this new America we are building — and this past election is the evidence.  Atlanta and its surrounding areas are the reason Georgia went Blue. You're welcome, America.

Alberta Ferretti gown.
| Credit: AB+DM

Jaycina Almond

MODEL, MOTHER, AND FOUNDER OF THE TENDER FOUNDATION

What do you love most about Atlanta? 

The people who make Atlanta what it is. The Black folks that drive and inform the culture. 

What makes you most proud of the city?  

The legacy.

What have been the most significant changes in terms of the arts and culture scene?

Recognition. Atlanta is beginning to be included in conversation with cities like LA or NYC. The city's scene has never needed the outside validation, but with it comes bigger and better opportunities for the creatives here. The artists here have left no choice but for folks to pay attention and recognize the amount of talent in the city.

What does the outside world need to know about ATL?

Atlanta influences everything.

Reem Acra caftan. Mahnal earrings. Headwrap, model’s own.
| Credit: Chrisean Rose

Akon Adichol

MODEL

What do you love most about Atlanta?

Atlanta is a melting pot. I've discovered the city to be open and inviting to anybody and everybody. That is not valid for most other communities. 

What makes you most proud of the city?  

Atlanta is a city that is distinctly Black. This is one of only a handful of cities where topics like diversity, inclusion, representation, and political power for Black people are not just aspirational talking points. It's only by discussing these issues that can we incite change for our community.

What have been the most significant changes in terms of the arts and culture scene?

[It's a place where] you are able to express your art and culture unapologetically. Atlanta supports prospering Black businesses, collaboration within our community, sharing of resources and queer visibility on a level that has not been seen in other cities. 

What does the outside world need to know about ATL?

Atlanta has claimed its spot and is continuously growing. I am forever grateful that I am able to be part of something that is in the middle of shaping itself rather than forcing myself or conforming to a society that does not always have my best interest at heart.

Carolina Herrera gown. Machete hoop earrings and silver and gold earring worn as a ring.
| Credit: Chrisean Rose

Porsha Williams

ACTIVIST AND REAL HOUSEWIVES OF ATLANTA CAST MEMBER

What do you love most about Atlanta?

The city is so alive with culture. A walk down the BeltLine provides a rolling view of all types of people — skaters, Caribbean music fans, foodies, bikers, parents, Black Lives Matter supporters, workaholics taking a break, and art connoisseurs and the like.

What makes you most proud of the city?  

The rich civil rights history. Streets like Auburn Avenue and Hosea Williams Boulevard boast homes where civil rights leaders met to plan the action that moved this country forward.

What have been the most significant changes in terms of the arts and culture scene? 

Atlanta has some of the most beautiful hotels...such different vibes! Get a massage at the Waldorf Hotel after having the Cobb salad at Del Frisco's right across the street! Definitely visit Wyatt's BBQ on Memorial Day, Old Lady Gang on Peters Street and The Original Hot Dog Factory downtown. Of course, everyone should visit Centennial Park. It's home to and down the street from Coca-Cola World, the Georgia Aquarium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, CNN Center, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and the starting point for many of the early 2020 BLM protests in Atlanta. And I love passing by Tyler Perry Studios. What he has accomplished is admirable and inspiring!

What does the outside world need to know about ATL?

Atlanta is also home to HBCU's Spelman College, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, and Morris Brown College.

Balmain corset. Norma Kamali dress. Khiry earrings. Gianvito Rossi boots.
| Credit: AB+DM

Lacey Duke

DIRECTOR

What do you love most about Atlanta? 

Atlanta is a welcoming city. I wasn't born or even raised in Atlanta, but it felt like home very quickly.  It's a flourishing Black city with a rich history and heritage, and you can feel that permeating through the atmosphere everyday.

What makes you most proud of the city?  

I've always felt like Atlanta is one big, supportive community. You can find like-minded individuals and really build with them. There is no barrier to entry.

What have been the most significant changes in terms of the arts and culture scene? 

The film and music industries are huge but still fairly new, so people are able to make their mark. It's an interesting mix of people who are actually from Atlanta and people from all over the world creating together. That's very special.   

What does the outside world need to know about ATL?

Atlanta is really the epicenter of culture right now. These connections between people here have birthed some of the greatest movements and moments in American history.

Akris top and skirt; available at Neiman Marcus. Gianvito Rossi boots. Hoop earrings and necklace, her own.
| Credit: AB+DM

Pinky Cole

ENTREPRENEUR AND FOUNDER OF SLUTTY VEGAN RESTAURANT

What do you love most about Atlanta? 

Gone are the days where you have to go to New York or LA to make it. Now, if you have a dream and work hard, you can succeed in Atlanta and that's what I love most about this city. 

What makes you most proud of the city?  

Starting my restaurant, Slutty Vegan ATL. I am proud that I've built something that has afforded me the opportunity to use my platform to give back through my non-profit organization, The Pinky Cole Foundation. We've made our mark in the city of Atlanta and will continue to do so.

What have been the most significant changes in terms of the arts and culture scene?

Atlanta is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I love the murals around the city. The culture is one of Black Pride and Black Excellence that showcases the city's rich history. 

What does the outside world need to know about ATL?

Atlanta exudes Black Excellence in every possible way.

Gucci dress. Oma the Label earrings and necklace. Alberta Ferretti belt. Stuart Weitzman sandals.
| Credit: Chrisean Rose

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms

What do you love most about Atlanta? 

I love the possibilities of Atlanta.  It is the place, no matter who you are or where you come from, that you can dream as big as your imagination will allow and know that your dreams can take form. There is a reverence, especially in the African-American community, for this uniqueness that sets us apart from any other city in the world.  

What makes you most proud of the city?  

I am most proud of our place in history.  We are the cradle of the Civil Rights movement in America, and the birth and final resting place of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Growing up and living in Atlanta, it was and is commonplace to see your history book icons in church, at the grocery store, working out next to you in the gym. When I was training for a triathlon and practicing my swim at the YMCA in Southwest Atlanta, [former] Ambassador Andrew Young walked in, stood next to the pool, and told me I had the worst kick he had ever seen.  He then coached me on improving my swim. Only in Atlanta!

What have been the most significant changes in terms of the arts and culture scene?

Over the past few decades, Atlanta has become known as the hip-hop capital of the world, but over the course of the last decade, the film and movie industry have flourished. It is almost expected to see a peach and the words "Made in Georgia" in the end credits of most television shows and movies. You have the incredible investments made in our community by Tyler Perry and other major Hollywood production companies. A few years ago, production companies were bringing in their own crews. Atlanta is now training and cultivating home-grown talent for production jobs. We are truly the Hollywood of the South.

What does the outside world need to know about ATL?

We are a multi-faceted city, continuously evolving. Atlanta influences everything!  There is a synergy between our corporate, philanthropic, government, and arts and culture community that is unparalleled.  Our administration made a commitment to our community that in the midst of all the progress of our city, we would not leave anyone behind. We are not a perfect city, but we work each and every day to fulfill the dream of Dr. King to create a beloved community, a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of one's fellow human beings.

noir kei ninomiya dress. Church’s shoes.
| Credit: AB+DM

Lauren Amos

OWNER OF SNEAKER-CONCEPT STORE WISH ATL

What do you love most about Atlanta?

Its spirit, passion, and vibrancy. Atlanta has emerged as a cultural hub for film, music, arts, and fashion. There has been a tremendous spotlight on Georgia in the past year and I was glad to see that at such a crucial time in our history.

What makes you most proud of the city?  

Atlanta is known for its spirit of activism and the heart of it is fueled by young, hardworking, creative people who want to make a difference in the world. I'm proud of the young leaders who are working hard to address the real challenges that we're facing now. As one of the most diverse cities in the South, we are having real conversations about institutional racism, inclusion, diversity, and equity.

What have been the most significant changes in terms of the arts and culture scene?

There is definitely an increased appetite for global fashion and streetwear within the local culture. I've always been passionate about bringing things that I've discovered from around the world back to my local community, which is what led me to open WISH ATL in 2004. 

RELATED: Fashion History Forgot About the Black Women Who Invented Streetwear

What does the outside world need to know about ATL?

Once known as a small town in the South, Atlanta is now a world-class city that is home to a rich, vibrant, creative, and innovative arts community. 

Gucci coat, turtleneck, and pants. Christian Louboutin sneakers. Ring, his own.
| Credit: Chrisean Rose

Sean Bankhead

DANCER AND CHOREOGRAPHER

What do you love most about Atlanta? 

No matter where I go in the world, I find that people are fascinated by how Atlanta is always ahead of trends, especially when it comes to dance, music, and entertainment.

What makes you most proud of the city?  

I made a hard decision when I first started my career as a choreographer to do the opposite of the norm and leave California to come back to Atlanta. I've been the most successful since that has happened. Being able to showcase Atlanta talent on a global scale makes me feel proud. When people see Atlanta dancers on a job, they know we mean business! 

What have been the most significant changes in terms of the arts and culture scene?

Atlanta has never felt stuck; it's always finding a new vibe, breeding more original talent and getting stronger.

What does the outside world need to know about ATL?

We are a family down here. We support each other and have fun when creating!

Brandon Maxwell top. Chelsea Paris sandals.
| Credit: Chrisean Rose

Skye Lin

ART DIRECTOR, PHOTOGRAPHER, AND FOUNDER OF PINKER TIMES

What do you love most about Atlanta? 

Living in Atlanta allows me to always stay curious. Each pocket of the city has its own unique personality, authentic cultural experience and delicious cuisine. 

What makes you most proud of the city?  

Not only does the city embrace change and growth, it also nurtures and advocates for artists, entrepreneurs, innovators, makers, and whoever has an authentic vision that needs to be seen. It is one of the fastest growing cities but has so much warmth and hospitality.

What have been the most significant changes in terms of the arts and culture scene?

The long overdue recognition and attention that Atlanta deserves! People and businesses are coming and staying instead of leaving. 

What does the outside world need to know about ATL?

What can I say? It's a city that's always in motion. Don't let the traffic scare you. We're pretty awesome.

Loewe pants.
| Credit: AB+DM

Keith Reeves

COMPANY BALLET DANCER, ATLANTA BALLET

What do you love most about Atlanta? 

The diverse arts community.

What makes you most proud of the city?  

Our deep rooted history in the Civil Rights movement. 

What have been the most significant changes in terms of the arts and culture scene? 

I'm seeing more and more Black creatives move here each year. 

What does the outside world need to know about ATL?

 The Atlanta arts community is flourishing and full of rich culture. 

Lafayette 148 New York top and pants; available at Neiman Marcus. Khiry earrings and ring.
| Credit: AB+DM

Amiyah Scott

TRANS ACTRESS AND MODEL

What do you love most about Atlanta? 

Self-expression is encouraged and I love that you can freely be yourself and find your tribe.

What makes you most proud of the city?  

I'm proud that a city that isn't my hometown can still feel like home. I evacuated New Orleans at 17 because of Hurricane Katrina. My family lost everything and had to start over. Atlanta was the springboard for my career. What seemed like a nightmare turned into a dream come true. 

What have been the most significant changes in terms of the arts and culture scene?

Atlanta is becoming THE Black Hollywood and I'm so happy that Black voices are being heard, Black talent is being seen, and opportunities are being created for us, by us.

What does the outside world need to know about ATL?

That we've reached capacity. I'm just joking! Atlanta is a magical city and a place to make your dreams come true. I'm living proof of that.

Zimmermann dress. Machete earrings.
| Credit: Chrisean Rose

Alex Delotch Davis

MARKETING MANAGER AT THE HIGH MUSEUM OF ART, FOUNDER OF GALLERIE88

What do you love most about Atlanta? 

It is both a city and a community. It's a great place to raise my children, the weather is beautiful, and the people are kind.  At the same time, it is a hub of business and creativity where people are collaborating and pooling resources to erect monuments of Black excellence. 

What makes you most proud of the city?  

Atlanta is a city of dreamers who believe in themselves and in each other. It's very empowering to work with people who are incredibly talented across all industries including business, art, music, and tech. They are people who look like me, understand where I come from, and [knows] what inspires me.

What have been the most significant changes in terms of the arts and culture scene?

Atlanta has a rich cultural history. You can't even talk about music without talking about Atlanta, from Grammy-award winning recording artists to Grammy-award winning symphonies. What has changed is recognition. There are people who have spent their lives developing the arts and culture of Atlanta and the fruits of their labor are now being recognized as artists find themselves on world stages. People are coming here to see what it's all about and that is creating more excitement for young people to get involved as creators as well as investors. 

What does the outside world need to know about ATL?

Atlanta is an exciting place, but it's also a serious place. The amount of brain power here, not just from the top down, but from the bottom up is outstanding. It's a model for cities where everyone participates and all voices count.

Gabriela Hearst dress. Machete hoops and necklaces. Oma the Label necklace. Khiry bracelet and ring.
| Credit: AB+DM

Joycelyn Wilson, Ph.D.

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF HIP-HOP STUDIES AND DIGITAL MEDIA AT GEORGIA TECH’S IVAN ALLEN COLLEGE

What do you love most about Atlanta? 

There's no other place like Atlanta! Nowhere else can I see people who look like me on a daily basis. There's an energy that was injected into Atlanta's culture. No matter where my journey takes me, Atlanta is home. 

What makes you most proud of the city?   

When Atlanta shows up. Take these last two crucial elections — the general election and Senate run-off. We showed up and showed out! I take great pride in that as a city with such a robust civil and human rights history.

What have been the most significant changes in terms of the arts and culture scene?

The most significant change happened in 1994 when Outkast declared, "the South got something to say," and when the GOODie MOb asked, "What you really know about the dirty South?" That statement and question shifted attention to the art, music, and culture coming out of Atlanta and the region. 

What does the outside world need to know about ATL?

The rest of the world needs to put some respect on Atlanta's name. I don't mean to sound harsh, but this city, even while dealing with its issues of poverty and homelessness, knows how to activate culture to advance progressive politics. Part of that activation is in the coalitions Black and whites have built together since at least the 50s. 

Okorie "OkCello" Johnson: Hair by Jerica Edwards and Brent Batson. Makeup by Danielle Mitchell. Set Design by Skye Lin. Production by Kenley Duke. Jaycina Almond: Hair by Andy Buckmire. Makeup by Christine Vazquez. Set Design by Spin Style. Production by Sienna Brown. Akon Adicho / Porsha Williams: Hair by Jerica Edwards and Brent Batson. Makeup by Danielle Mitchell. Set Design by Skye Lin. Production by Kenley Duke. Lacey Duke / Pinky Cole / Joycelyn Wilson: Hair by Andy Buckmire. Makeup by Christine Vazquez. Set Design by Spin Style. Production by Sienna Brown. Tiffany Everett Nail Tech for Pinky Cole. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms: Hair by Jerica Edwards and Brent Batson. Makeup by Danielle Mitchell. Set Design by Skye Lin. Production by Kenley Duke. Lauren Amos: Hair by Andy Buckmire. Makeup by Christine Vazquez. Set Design by Spin Style. Production by Sienna Brown. Sean Bankhead / Skye Lin: Hair by Jerica Edwards and Brent Batson. Makeup by Danielle Mitchell. Set Design by Skye Lin. Production by Kenley Duke. Keith Reeves / Amiyah Scott: Hair by Andy Buckmire. Makeup by Christine Vazquez. Set Design by Spin Style. Production by Sienna Brown. Alex Delotch: Hair by Jerica Edwards and Brent Batson. Makeup by Danielle Mitchell. Set Design by Skye Lin. Production by Kenley Duke. All styling throughout, Julia von Boehm. Sittings editor throughout, Ray C'mone.

For more stories like this, pick up the March 2021 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Feb 12th.