Meet The Atlantans Leading Our Arts Scene

Jennifer Bradley Franklin | December 8, 2019 | People Feature

ATLAAtlantanPatronArtist223839.jpgShot on location at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

Patron: Rosemary Brown Player: Santiago Ballerini

The meeting between noted philanthropist Rosemary Brown and Santiago Ballerini came by chance when, in 2017, the Argentina-born tenor took over a key role in The Atlanta Opera’s ( production of Don Pasquale. “Since then, we have become close friends,” Ballerini says of Brown and her husband, John. The Browns’ generosity has helped transform the organization, and they will be honored at its 40th anniversary gala at Piedmont Driving Club in February. While all of the opera’s performers have talent to spare, Rosemary, who serves on the board, says Ballerini stands out. “There are many tenors, but Santiago has incredible clarity and makes you feel that he’s singing to you,” she explains. The admiration is mutual. When the Browns provided the funds to create the Jay and Susie Gogue Performing Arts Center at Auburn University (the pair’s alma mater), Ballerini offered a surprise performance at the ceremonial theater lighting ceremony, much to the delight of students, faculty and alumni. He returned this year to sing at the center’s official opening. “It’s one thing to have patrons, but it’s another to have true friends who support you,” he says. Aside from Ballerini’s extraordinary vocals, his character expressed in gratitude is equally unique. “After a show, the performers receive flowers from an audience member,” Rosemary recalls of a recent opera. “Instead, Santiago gave flowers to me. You can see what a special guy he is.”

ATLAAtlantan_PatronPlayer326184jpg.jpgThe Palmers, left, with artists Ariel Daniel and Radcliffe Bailey in front of Bailey’s “Oceans Beloved.”

Patrons: John and Vicki Palmer Players: Radcliffe Bailey and Ariel Daniel

The precursor to John and Vicki Palmer’s introduction to artist Radcliffe Bailey started with a simple conversation. “A friend told us that more than 90% of original art by African American artists is not in African American homes. A lightbulb came on,” says John. Soon after, the Atlanta-based couple found the renowned artist, first purchasing his work titled “Oceans Beloved.” “We were drawn into the piece. It was like a form of hypnosis,” says John. Though it’s been displayed in museums and galleries, the piece holds a permanent place of honor in the Palmers’ living room. That connection led them to become serious collectors of African American contemporary art, often as supporters of the National Black Arts Festival ( The organization helped send Bailey to travel to Africa, which allowed him to connect to his ancestral roots (“It was a missing piece of the puzzle for me,” Bailey says). Over the years, ardent supporters like the Palmers—who, along with Jay and Arthur Richardson, led the fundraising for his show at the High Museum of Art in 2001—have been vital for his success. “It’s important to have friends who personally support you,” says the artist, who currently has exhibitions in Belgium, Turkey and New York City. For the Palmers, supporting African American artists also means elevating up-and-coming talent, such as Ariel Daniel, whose work also hangs in their home.

ATLAAtlantanArt23161EditHIGHRES.jpgSara Steinfeld and Lucha Rodriguez, in front of Rodriguez’s work from her OPPOSITES and Fluoressence series

Patron: Sara Steinfeld Player: Lucha Rodriguez

Celebrating female artists has become somewhat of a life’s mission for Sara Steinfeld, who serves as the board chair for the Georgia Committee of National Museum of Women in the Arts (, an organization established in 1985. “It’s exciting to see a regional Georgia artist get international attention through our Women to Watch program,” she says. The five 2020 artists from across the state were chosen for the Paper Routes theme by a guest curator, the High Museum of Art’s Michael Rooks, and will exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia in January. Among them, Venezuela-born Lucha Rodriguez, represented at Kai Lin Gallery, will go on to showcase her work at the national exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. in June. “I’m so grateful to have opportunities like this because once we make the work, artists need it to be shared and seen by others,” Rodriguez explains of her arresting art, in which she makes thousands of tiny cuts on paper to create a light-filled image. Though more than 25 artists were considered for the top spot, Rodriguez stood out and was selected by the curators at the National Museum in D.C. “No one is doing what Lucha is doing,” Steinfeld explains. “It’s so unique, and she’s so patient and precise to cut these details to make these textures that turn out beautifully.”


ATLAAtlantanRand85670.jpgRand Suffolk in front of “Mogamma (A Painting in Four Parts): Part 2” by Julie Mehretu, on display; shot on location at the High Museum of Art

Patrons: Doris and Shouky Shaheen Player: Player: High Museum of Art

“Gifts of this magnitude do not happen every day,” says Rand Suffolk, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green Jr., director of the High Museum of Art (, describing the 24 masterworks donated by philanthropists Doris and Shouky Shaheen. The collection, which represents all of the couple’s impressionist, postimpressionist and modernist paintings, includes pieces by Matisse, Monet, Modigliani, Pissarro, Renoir and other masters. “It’s remarkably important to us and helps us build strength on strength within our [overall] collection,” Suffolk explains. “Every time we acquire a new work, it helps us create a new experience or opportunity for our visitors to engage with.” In appreciation of the couple’s generosity, the High will establish the Doris and Shouky Shaheen Gallery in its Stent Family Wing, where their collection is on display this December. The art lovers purchased the beloved pieces over the course of 50 years and have said in a joint statement “We’re thrilled that Atlantans will enjoy them for generations to come.” While the museum doesn’t release financial figures on its pieces, it’s safe to say the staggering collection—one of the most significant donations of artwork the High has ever received—is priceless. Suffolk adds, “It is an extraordinary gift, not only for the museum but also for the city of Atlanta.”

Photography by: Patrick Heagney; Doris and Shouky Shaheen photo courtesy of the Shaheen family and Piedmont Foundation