The first sight greeting fans at the main entrance of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a mass of steel, bronze and concrete that’s 41.5 feet tall. The giant falcon monument weighs more than 73,000 pounds and has a wingspan of 64 feet that spreads high above the stadium entrance.
In the weeks before the venue opened, when the silver panels of the falcon’s wings and its giant talons clutching a bronze football could be viewed from outside the chain-link fence, locals and tourists stopped their cars in the middle of the street to jump out and snap photos.
The falcon, one of the largest undertakings by Hungarian artist Gábor Miklós Szoke, is a showstopper, but it is just the beginning of a highly curated collection of art designed to elevate the new stadium from a high-tech sports center to a space that also embraces the cultural and artistic heart of the city.
“The stadium is first and foremost for the residents of Atlanta. These will be the individuals that will attend Falcons games, United games and various concerts. It was our goal to curate an art collection that will bring a sense of excitement, as well as a sense of pride,” said John Paul Rowan, vice president of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah.
The effort began almost two years ago when AMB Sports + Entertainment enlisted SCAD to commission, design and install works of art throughout the interior and exterior of the new stadium. After sourcing art from its global network of 45,000 artists and issuing a call-out for local artists, SCAD commissioned more than 50 artists, including 26 from Atlanta and surrounding cities, to create more than 180 pieces of artwork throughout the stadium.
Arthur Blank, owner and chairman of the Atlanta Falcons — who attributes his appreciation of the arts to his mother, the late Molly Blank — said the stadium was designed to reflect both top-notch architecture and the diversity of Atlanta’s population and culture.
The art experience begins outside the stadium and continues throughout the interior from the main concourse to the private suites and club rooms. It includes the photographs, paintings, sculptures and mixed-media works of highly regarded artists featured as prominently on the upper levels of the stadium as on the main level.
Many of the artists, including New York-based Nari Ward, found ways to include the local community in their work. Ward’s “One Voice” uses his trademark shoelaces in a large-scale installation on the main level. The work is composed of more than 10,000 pairs of shoelaces that were gathered from metro-area residents. This gives locals an intimate connection to a work of art that symbolizes regional unity.
High above the main concourse is Radcliffe Bailey’s “Conduits of Contact,” a mixed-media marvel that, at more than 48 feet, is the largest two-dimensional work in the stadium.
Bailey, an internationally recognized artist who is based in Atlanta, worked with Pellom McDaniels, a former NFL player and rare book librarian at Emory University, to research the role of sports in the African-American community. They sourced images of sports teams at historically black colleges and universities as early as 1901, which Bailey used to help depict the movement and history of African-Americans in the country.
Savannah-based artist and SCAD graduate, Melody Postma also turned to history to create “Love of the Game,” an homage to the 50-year history of the Atlanta Falcons. She drew inspiration from memorabilia — such as season tickets from early Falcons games and the three logos used in franchise history — to tell a story interwoven with the geography of the state.
It took some effort to produce work on such a large-scale, said Postma, but it paid off. “It has that wow factor, which is the energy they wanted to convey,” she said.
Because the stadium is also home to the Atlanta United soccer team, artwork in the stadium references that sport too. A large-scale mural by Atlanta-born artist Jimmy O’Neil depicts a goalkeeper formed in hand-painted gold mirror.
In 2018, a 35-foot mirror-faceted soccer ball sculpture by Studio Roso — based on the first multi-panel football design from 1970 at the FIFA World Cup Finals — will be installed at the stadium’s north entrance as a symbol for Atlanta United.
“I hope through this project many more individuals will be exposed to what great art can be,” said Rowan of SCAD. “Art should be something that is approachable, has meaning and is crafted with a point of view.”