History

History

In continuous operation since 1984, The Arts Exchange provides affordable studio space to visual, performing, and literary artists. The Arts Exchange is a multicultural, multidisciplinary, intergenerational arts colony located in Grant Park. This unique venue offers a nurturing environment for both emerging and practicing professional artists to create new work, and to interact with the community through innovative arts experiences, educational opportunities, visual arts exhibitions, and performances.

Founded by a diverse group of artists, activists, and community supporters, The Arts Exchange has changed the paradigm for what an in-town community arts center can do to serve artists and the greater community.

The list of visual artists who have called The Arts Exchange home reads like a “Who’s Who” of the art world and includes Guggenheim Fellows Beverly Buchanan, Rocio Rodriquez, and Allen Loehle. Performance groups, too, have had studios here – The African Dance Ensemble, Terri Axam’s Total Dance Theatre, Freddie Hendricks’ Youth Ensemble of Atlanta, and Pan People Steel Band, to name a few – as have photographers, bookmakers, writers and poets, and musicians. The vibrancy of the center’s creative output caused Creative Loafing to name The Arts Exchange “the most important site for new music in the city” three years in a row.

The Arts Exchange has been a part of some iconic moments in Atlanta’s cultural history. It was the inaugural site of the ROOTS Festival for the National Black Arts Festival and the legendary “Re-Thinking the Sacred Image” conference. The Summer Arts Enrichment Program for Youth that was initiated in 1985 was so successful that it became a model program throughout the state of Georgia.


Ebon Dooley

ebon obit

Ebon Dooley is the Founder of The Arts Exchange.  It was his intelligence, legal skills, community organizing skills coupled with his people skills and his humanity that allowed him to put in place broad political and community support, draw up and file the incorporation papers, pull together a dedicated board of directors (that not only represented the arts but labor and media and educators); all to create The SouthEast Community Cultural Center, Inc. d/b/a The Arts Exchange,  a new home for many and for some a home to replace the loss of The Neighborhood Arts Center . He saved a place at the table for black arts in Atlanta, carving out a space in the Atlanta landscape The Arts Exchange became an intersection of Cultures and Classes from Folk to Classical, Self-Taught to Guggenheim Fellows, and from all disciplines.  Ebon and that first board in those critical first years set in motion a vision we continue to live. Ebon was an activist, poet and revolutionary organizer. He passed away on October 12, 2006. For many years he was broadcast director of WRFG (Radio Free Georgia) in Atlanta.

Ebon was born Leo Thomas Hale, the oldest child of Leo and Beatrice Hale of the small farming community of Milan, Tennessee. Son of a school-teacher and the grandchild of middle-class farmers, he went to Nashville’s Fisk University on an early entrant scholarship. Ebon’s activism might be said to have begun with his work as managing editor of the Fisk literary magazine and newspaper (which included Nikki Giovanni as a freshman reporter). He went on to further activism when, as a regional honors scholar, he entered Columbia Law School in 1963. In New York he saw two very different sides of the larger world, as a law school management trainee at Manufacturers’ Hanover Trust and as a member of the Law Students’ Civil Rights Research Council and volunteer for the Harlem community action project of Har-you-act. At the first Black Power conference in Newark, he was impressed by the Chicago delegation; unable to get a large enough scholarship to go on to graduate school in business after his 1967 graduation from Columbia, he went to Chicago as a VISTA legal volunteer.

Ebon’s reputation rests mainly on one small but solid book of poetry.

In Memoriam: Ebon Dooley, 1942- October 12, 2006 

Ebon Dooley, an activist, poet and revolutionary, passed away on October 12.

Ebon was born Leo Thomas Hale, the oldest child of Leo and Beatrice Hale of the small farming community of Milan, Tennessee. Son of a school-teacher and the grandchild of middle-class farmers, he went to Nashville’s Fisk University on an early entrant scholarship. Ebon’s activism might be said to have begun with his work as managing editor of the Fisk literary magazine and newspaper (which included Nikki Giovanni as a freshman reporter). He went on to further activism when, as a regional honors scholar, he entered Columbia Law School in 1963. In New York he saw two very different sides of the larger world, as a law school management trainee at Manufacturers’ Hanover Trust and as a member of the Law Students’ Civil Rights Research Council and volunteer for the Harlem community action project of Harlem-you-act. At the first Black Power conference in Newark, he was impressed by the Chicago delegation; unable to get a large enough scholarship to go on to graduate school in business after his 1967 graduation from Columbia, he went to Chicago as a VISTA legal volunteer.

Ebon’s reputation rests mainly on one small but solid book of poetry. Revolution (1968) was written over a period of two years in the Chicago of the late 1960s. While Ebon found Chicago “a very depressing experience in many ways,” he also found it an even more vibrant intellectual, political, and artistic community than he had found in New York. He witnessed the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968, worked with youth gang leaders of the “main 21,” and counseled local citizens in their struggles for civil rights. The heart of Ebon’s Chicago experience was the OBAC Writers Workshop (Organization for Black American Culture), founded in 1967.

After Chicago, though the quality of his work did not decline, Ebon’s production slowed, as the activist poet gradually came to give more time to activism than poetry. In September of 1969 he went to Atlanta to take over the management of the Timbuktu Bookstore. He later managed Uhuru, another bookstore specializing in Afro-American works, until 1974. He was involved in the establishment of the Dunbar Center, the Atlanta Center for Black Arts, and the Arts Exchange, and was on the board of directors of the Southern Education Program, formed to recruit black teachers from the North for local colleges. As a CETA worker, he began teaching at Atlanta’s Neighborhood Arts Center in 1975 and later was its acting director for nine months. He understood that these centers provide the opportunity for creative expression, community building and empowerment. In addition to all of the above and much more, Ebon was one of the early organizers of WRFG.

Tribute to My Father
By Teressa A. Hale, daughter of Ebon Dooley

In retrospect, I started to think about …What words I could possibly say that would convey my deepest, most memorable feelings that I have for my father …So many recollections came to my mind. I admired so much about my father …He was a smiling, charismatic, gentle, loving, patient, helpful, peace maker, solution focused, driven, revolutionary, poet and activist who was also a son, a brother , a father , an uncle, and friend to us all …In my opinion he was the epitome of “love”. I can honesty stand here and say that there was not a time in my life that I ever saw my father become angry. He always saw, “the good” in everyone and everything optimistic … some may call him. It is a rarity in this lifetime that you come across genuine people. He had a genuine concern for people to become knowledgeable and empowered. This was one of his life’s mission.

I remember being told stories of all the significant people that he encountered and befriended as well as places that he had traveled to. He spoke so eloquent …Filled with a surplus of knowledge But had a humble disposition …You would have never known just by looking at him Because he didn’t do it for “show” He did it because it was embedded in his heart. I never quite grasped the meaning of the phrase “I’m going to die doing what I love to do”. My father did just that. He didn’t “live” to make a living Yet he lived to make a life. To leave a legacy and to help as many people as he could in the process. How he interacted with people left lasting imprints on every person he came into contact with. Thus, why each of you are sitting here today. I know a lot of times we as people take for granted the simple things in life. The most precious present you can give a person is your time. The reason why I say this is because you can’t get it back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone! That is why it’s so special. We as humans have a natural “desire” to want to be in the company of others. Hence, friendships and marriages :-). We are social beings. This is a known fact. During life there will be times that you come into contact with people who leave “good” and “bad” memories of the “times” you’ve spent together. Now learning comes into focus when you are able to appreciate the existence of each experience. This is what my father continued to teach me everything and everyone that we come into contact with in this life has its place. Just like the saying says, “a reason, a season, and a life-time”. Remember once we leave this world, material possessions, financial and social status are not what leaves a legacy. Life is all about character building, helping the less fortunate and leading people to Christ. This is a time of celebration of a great man …Who was born Leo Thomas Hale …Many of you knew his as Ebon Dooley. But I knew him as … “Daddy.”  I have accepted the challenge of carrying on the torch that my father has lit In addition, to live life, love life and empower others in the process. And I challenge each one of you to do the same.

This article originated in the People’s Tribune
PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, 773-486-3551, 
info@peoplestribune.org.
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