2023 Atlanta 500: Arts, Sports, & Entertainment
For 15 years, Atlanta native Susan Bridges curated pop-up shows around the city in churches, U-Haul facilities, shipping containers, and an underground parking garage. In 2006, she opened Whitespace Gallery in a former carriage house behind her Victorian home in Inman Park. Today, the gallery represents more than 40 local and national artists, who’ve shown work at the Smithsonian Institution, the Venice Biennale, and Art Basel Miami Beach.
A native of Peru, Monica Campana moved to the United States in 1998. As the founder and executive director of the mural program Living Walls, The City Speaks, she’s facilitated the creation of more than 100 public murals throughout the metro Atlanta area from a diverse array of national and international artists. Campana has also served as curator at WISH ATL and project manager for Philadelphia’s Open Source, and curated an exhibition at Moscow’s Artmossphere biennale.
Annette Cone-Skelton founded the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia in 2000 with a mission to support the state’s artists. MOCA GA is currently home to more than 1,300 pieces, as well as a library and a voluminous archive. A longtime educator, curator, and editor, Cone-Skelton is also a respected artist whose work is collected in the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the High Museum of Art, among other places. She received the Governor’s Award for the Arts & Humanities in 2012 and Atlanta Contemporary’s Nexus Award in 2019.Holding Space for Nobility: A Memorial for Breonna Taylor, Ackland Museum
Omari J. Henderson has managed to fuse his educational background, business acumen, and love of art to strike a delicate balance between his passion, personal, and professional life as a partner and co-owner of ZuCot Gallery. Through his leadership, ZuCot has become the largest African American art gallery in the Southeast, endeavoring to elevate the careers of artists while providing a unique customer experience for collectors, corporations, and private consultations. A Decatur native, Henderson also works in Strategy & Innovation for Chick-fil-A, while serving on the board of directors for several organizations including Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre, Park Pride, and the REACH Georgia Foundation.
Onaje Henderson is a partner and gallery director of ZuCot Gallery in Atlanta. Under his leadership, ZuCot has advanced the careers of countless African American artists and currently stands as the largest African American fine arts gallery in the Southeast. A community educator, Henderson regularly collaborates with art enthusiasts, high-end collectors, and corporate executives to promote the necessity of owning one’s culture and has also advised countless clients on art selection. The Decatur native is also a member of the Fulton County Arts Council and sits on the boards of Hammonds House Museum and Art Papers.
As executive director of Atlanta Contemporary, Veronica Kessenich led the art center’s transition to daily free admission in 2015—and has seen a subsequent attendance increase of more than 109 percent. She continues to work alongside staff to create and implement unique programs and strategic funding initiatives to maintain free admission. Prior to becoming executive director in 2015, Kessenich was Atlanta Contemporary’s development director, closing out a $625,000 capital campaign and reimagining the center’s annual Art Party fundraiser. Kessenich is also an adjunct instructor in the art history department of Agnes Scott College.
Hala Moddelmog is president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center. She has spent nearly a decade serving in volunteer leadership at the Arts Center. She served on the Woodruff Arts Center Board of Trustees from 2011–2017 and has served on the Woodruff Governing Board since 2017. She also served on the Alliance Theatre Board of Directors from 2011–2020 and led the Alliance Theatre Board as co-chair from 2017–2019. Throughout her career, she has served in top executive roles and has served as a corporate director for four NYSE companies and a Carlyle Group private portfolio company board. In 2014, she became the first female president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Previously she was president of Arby’s Restaurant Group, president and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and the first woman to lead an international restaurant company as president of Church’s Chicken.
Ann-Carol Pence is the producing artistic director of Lawrenceville’s Aurora Theatre, which she cofounded more than 20 years ago with Anthony Rodriguez. Under their leadership, the theater grew from 120 to 5,000 season subscribers; it produces 800 events annually for 80,000 visitors, and is the second-largest theater in Georgia by membership and budget. The company recently moved into its new $35 million, 59,500-square-foot Lawrenceville Arts Center. Pence continues her work as an advocate of radical inclusion, creating space where people of all backgrounds gather to celebrate the arts. She’s also been a pianist and/or musical director in productions nationally and in Atlanta.
Since joining the High Museum in 2010, Michael Rooks has curated or managed dozens of exhibitions and increased the museum’s collection by a quarter, including work by Julie Mehretu, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, and Kara Walker. He was also commissioner and cocurator of the U.S. pavilion at the 12th International Architecture Exhibition at the 2010 Venice Biennale. A 2015 Atlanta Contemporary Nexus Award winner, Rooks previously held curatorial positions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Honolulu’s Contemporary Museum, and the Honolulu Academy of Arts.
As the founder of the dance company glo, conceptual artist and choreographer Lauri Stallings has transformed the Atlanta dance scene, collaborating with artists including Robert Spano, Janelle Monáe, and Big Boi. Stallings’s work has been commissioned and presented by venues including the Center for Civil and Human Rights, the High Museum of Art, Art Basel Miami Beach, and the Zuckerman Museum of Art. In 2018, she received the Hudgens Prize from the Hudgens Center for Art & Learning. She is also a MOCA GA Fellow (2017) and Rome Prize nominee (2013). In 2019, Stallings was the first choreographer in residence at the High Museum of Art and shared her choreographies in the XII Florence Biennale, where she was one of 400 artists representing 55 countries. In 2022 Georgia Trend included Stallings in its list of 100 Most Influential Georgians.
Randall Suffolk became the High Museum’s director in November 2015. Since his arrival, he has championed a commitment to community engagement, placing particular emphasis on collaboration, inclusivity, and access. To support these objectives, the museum has reduced admission fees, focused programmatically on the demographics of its audience, reinstalled its entire collection, and added numerous important acquisitions.
Troy T. Taylor is a founding partner and owner of ZuCot Gallery, the largest African American-owned fine art gallery in the Southeast. Its mission is to promote original works of art by living African American artists. Taylor has helped to develop a go-to-market strategy that was highly indexed at attracting the growing wealth of the city’s young African American professional population. He has amassed a client list of over 1,000 collectors and a social media following of over 10,000 followers. He has also developed an educational program with Atlanta Public Schools where over 2,500 students visit the gallery during the school year.
Allan C. Vella has worked in the facility management field since 1986, managing theaters, arenas, amphitheaters, and exhibition facilities. His experience spans a wide range of events, including NCAA tournaments, MLB and NHL games, ballet, concerts, and presidential visits. As president and CEO of the Fox Theatre, Vella is responsible for all operations and programming. The Fox averages more than 150 performances and hosts more than 600,000 guests annually, with events ranging from rock concerts to Broadway, ballet, comedy, and movies.
Anna Walker Skillman is the owner of Jackson Fine Art, a Buckhead gallery that emphasizes a mix of 20th-century and contemporary fine art photography. With a degree in art history, Walker Skillman began her career at the Haines Gallery in San Francisco, moving to Atlanta in 1993 to manage the studio of artist Todd Murphy. Joining Jackson Fine Art in 1998, she purchased the gallery in 2003 from Jane Jackson, who founded it in 1990. Jackson Fine Art’s clients include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Kenny Blank is executive director of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival—the largest film festival in Atlanta and the world’s preeminent Jewish film fest. A communications and journalism veteran, Blank worked for Atlanta mayors Maynard Jackson and Bill Campbell in the early 1990s, and won an Associated Press award for special coverage of the 1996 Olympics as a producer at WSAV-TV in Savannah. Most recently, Blank was an executive producer for WXIA-TV, where he received an Emmy for breaking-news coverage. A recipient of the IMAGE Film Award and Atlanta Contemporary’s Nexus Award, Blank previously chaired the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund.
Hill is a rapper, singer, songwriter, and media personality whose genre-bending work has made him an international star. He first gained national attention for his 2019 country rap single, “Old Town Road,” which made him the most-nominated male artist at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, where he won Best Music Video and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. The song also earned two MTV Video Music Awards, including Song of the Year, and the American Music Award for Favorite Rap/Hip Hop Song. The song, with a remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, became the longest chart-topper in U.S. history. He is the first openly LGBTQ+ Black artist to win a Country Music Association award. His full-length debut album, Montero, featured Doja Cat, Elton John, Megan Thee Stallion, and Miley Cyrus.
As a teenager London joined a rap crew called Dem Guyz and developed his musical skills by playing piano at his local church. In 2011, he released his first track, “Curtains,” with Young Thug. In the next few years he collaborated with Waka Flocka Flame, Gucci Mane, and Rich Homie Quan before signing with Cash Money Records. He’s become known for breaking new artists and has produced hits for artists such as 21 Savage, Summer Walker, Saweetie, G-Eazy, and more.
Paula D. Murphy is the executive vice president and chief operating officer and co-owner of Soul Circus Inc. and producer of the UniverSoul Circus which is one of the top family-focused entertainment touring shows in the world. Murphy has played a key role in navigating the growth of Soul Circus Inc. from under 30 shows in one market to over 500 performances annually. Murphy has over three decades of proven business experience on six continents and in dozens of countries. One of her career highlights includes producing Nelson Mandela: The Official Exhibition, in conjunction with the Royal House of Mandela, which opened in London in 2019 and is currently on tour in the United States. A dedicated advocate for education, Murphy is chair of the board of directors of Resurgence Hall Charter School in metro Atlanta.
Best advice received: Alice Mary Johnson, an executive of the Atlanta Area Commission on Children and Youth, taught me how radical Martin Luther King Jr. was.
Michael Williams grew up Marietta surrounded by music. His mother was a recording artist, his father DJed in clubs, and one of his sisters was a drum major. As a high school student, he started supplying tracks for Gucci Mane. He attended Georgia State but soon had his first hit with Meek Mill and Rick Ross. The multiple Grammy winner’s many hits include “No Lie” by 2 Chainz, “Bandz a Make Her Dance” by Juicy J, “Pour It Up” by Rihanna, “Body Party” by Ciara, “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus, “Formation” by Beyoncé, and “Humble” by Kendrick Lamar.
In 2015, Carlos Bocanegra joined Atlanta United as vice president and technical director following a 15-year professional career, which included stops in the MLS, English Premier League, Spain, France, and Scotland. In college, he played at UCLA, where he was a national champion. Bocanegra was twice a FIFA World Cup participant, captaining the United States in 2010 in South Africa. As an executive, he has won four trophies with Atlanta United and oversees the day-to-day soccer operations of the club, including the scouting department, the USL team, and the Academy. In 2021, he was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
In 2016, Stephen Cannon was named CEO of AMB Group, leading the for-profit arm of Home Depot cofounder Arthur M. Blank’s family of businesses, including the Atlanta Falcons, the Atlanta United, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and the PGA Tour Superstore. Previously Cannon served as president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, which generated record sales under his leadership, with annual revenues exceeding $20 billion. Cannon also oversaw the relocation of MBUSA’s headquarters from New Jersey to metro Atlanta. An Army veteran who served as a first lieutenant in West Germany during the fall of the Iron Curtain, Cannon speaks fluent German and graduated with academic honors from West Point.
Dan Corso is president of the Atlanta Sports Council, the arm of the Metro Atlanta Chamber that serves as a recruiter for major regional, national, and international sporting events. The ASC was instrumental in the selection of Atlanta as the site for the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship, Super Bowl LIII in 2019, and the 2020 NCAA Men’s Final Four (ultimately canceled due to Covid-19). Atlanta will be the first city to host the College Football Playoff National Championship again in 2025, and in 2026, the FIFA World Cup will be held in the city. Corso is also president of the Atlanta Football Host Committee, which helped plan the CFP National Championship. He serves on the boards of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau and College Football Hall of Fame. Prior to joining the ASC in 1999, Corso was vice chair of the festival division for the 1998 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
As CEO since 2014, Steve Koonin oversees all business, financial, and strategic operations of the Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club and State Farm Arena and represents the owners as the head of the organization. Under Koonin’s leadership, State Farm became the new naming-rights partner for the team’s venue; following a $192.5 million renovation, the rechristened State Farm Arena was named Best New Concert Venue by Pollstar in 2020, and the Hawks ranked first in the NBA for Overall Game Experience. The team also built a state-of-the-art practice and training facility at the Emory Sports Medicine Complex in Brookhaven. An Atlanta native and a veteran of the entertainment and marketing industries, Koonin previously served as president of Turner Entertainment Networks.
As chairman of the 2021 World Series Champions Atlanta Braves since 2001, and the team’s CEO until 2018, Terry McGuirk oversees all aspects of the MLB franchise. Major changes during McGuirk’s tenure at the helm have included the team’s 2007 sale to Liberty Media and the construction of what is now Truist Park, the $672 million new home the Braves moved into in 2017. McGuirk began his career in 1972 as an intern at Ted Turner’s recently acquired television station in Atlanta, rising through the ranks to eventually become chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting System.Now CEO, AMB Sports and Entertainment, and CEO, Atlanta Falcons, updated 1/23
Rich McKay became president and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons in 2011, having first been hired by owner and chairman Arthur M. Blank in 2004 to serve as the team’s general manager. During McKay’s tenure, the Falcons have made it to the playoffs seven times, attended three NFC Championship Games, and played in Super Bowl LI. In addition to his Falcons duties, McKay played a central role in the development, opening, and operation of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. McKay previously spent 10 years as general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Renee Montgomery is part owner and vice president of the WNBA Atlanta Dream. Montgomery has won three Girls State Basketball Championships and graduated from the University of Connecticut as a two-time All-American in 2009. She was drafted fourth in the WNBA and won two WNBA championships while also being named an All-Star and Sixth Woman of the Year in her 11-year professional career. She retired in 2021 after sitting out the 2020 season to focus on social reform and justice. That same year, she became co-owner and vice president of the Atlanta Dream, making her the first WNBA player to become an owner and executive of an WNBA team. Montgomery also serves as a sports analyst and a celebrity host to numerous media outlets and host of her weekly podcast Montgomery & Company.
Amy Phuong is vice president of government relations for the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena—a position that signifies an expansion of the Hawks’ efforts to unite the broader Atlanta community through basketball while deepening the organization’s relationships with local and state leaders. Prior to joining the Hawks in 2019, Phuong spent nearly a decade in public service. As parks and recreation commissioner, she oversaw some of Atlanta’s most ambitious park projects, including Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry, the Grant Park Gateway, and the largest strategic expansion to date of Piedmont Park. An Atlanta native, Phuong was also the city’s first chief service officer.
As president and CEO of the Atlanta Braves, Derek Schiller manages all business functions of the front office and sets the strategic vision for the Braves business. Schiller joined the Braves in 2003 as senior vice president of sales and marketing and became executive vice president of sales and marketing in 2007. As part of the Braves’ executive leadership team, he was instrumental in securing plans for what is now Truist Park and the Battery Atlanta and played a pivotal role in the design and execution phases of the project.
A veteran of the NBA for more than 20 years, Travis Schlenk joined the Atlanta Hawks in May 2017 after 13 seasons with the Golden State Warriors, including the final six as assistant general manager. Schlenk hired Lloyd Pierce as head coach in 2018, and under his guidance the team has acquired Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, and Cam Reddish, adding veteran center Clint Capela at the 2020 NBA trade deadline. Schlenk oversees operations as the Hawks continue to build on their goals of adding young talent and preparing for the future in terms of salary cap and roster flexibility.
In 2015, Kirby Smart was appointed head football coach at the University of Georgia, his alma mater. At press time, he had claimed five SEC Eastern Division championships, two SEC titles, and five bowl victories, and had led the Bulldogs to two appearances in national championship games—winning the 2021 national title by defeating Alabama. Smart’s 2019 Bulldogs became the first team in Bulldogs history to win 11 or more games in three straight seasons. Previously, Smart was a defensive coordinator at the University of Alabama, and has coached at Valdosta State University, Florida State University, and Louisiana State University. The son of a high school football coach, Smart played defensive back during his college career.
Alex Urban became the executive director of the PGA’s Tour Championship in 2022. Formerly, he had served as general manager and executive director of the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii, and was instrumental in Sentry Insurance’s onboarding as the event’s new title sponsor and subsequent extension. A Tour employee since 2013, Urban previously held roles in the Corporate Partnerships and Communications departments.
Represented by an 18,500-pound bronze statue at the entrance to State Farm Arena, Dominique Wilkins is one of Atlanta basketball’s most celebrated players. The 14th all-time leading scorer in league history, Wilkins played 12 seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, leading the team to the playoffs in eight. Today he serves as Hawks VP of basketball and special advisor to the CEO, and offers team analysis during broadcasts on Bally Sports Southeast.
Acquired by the Atlanta Hawks from the Dallas Mavericks, Trae Young officially signed a contract with the Hawks in 2018. Young was a unanimous NBA All-Rookie First Team selection as he averaged 19.1 points, 8.1 assists, and 3.7 rebounds in 30.9 minutes in 81 contests during the 2018-2019 season. In the 2020-2021 season, Young led the Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals, the team’s first appearance since 2015. By November 2022, Young’s 28 games of at least 40 points and 5 assists were the most such games in franchise history, while his 28 games of 40 plus points are third-most in franchise history, trailing only Hall of Famers Dominique Wilkins and Bob Pettit. The two-time NBA All-Star debuted his second signature basketball shoe, the Adidas Trae Young 2, in 2022.