Cyclorama's future revisited

City could sell panoramic painting of Civil War battle to free up cash

Cyclorama, the historic Civil-War-themed panorama painting located in Grant Park, could be on the move, or even sold, in the near future.

For years, city officials have considered moving the massive image that depicts the Battle of Atlanta, which was fought 150 years ago. Those conversations, including a task force three years ago that looked at what to do with the painting, have resurfaced as Mayor Kasim Reed looks for ways to free up as much as $20 million of the city's budget to help fund a potential $250 million infrastructure bond referendum next March.

To find those funds, Reed has assembled a panel of elected officials, corporate execs, and union heads to suggest cuts or potential new revenue streams. The working group, known as the "efficiency commission," is putting the finishing touches on its recommendations to Reed, which include selling nearly $80 million in city-owned properties such as Underground Atlanta, the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center, and, it turns out, the iconic Civil War mural housed in a 93-year-old museum just outside Zoo Atlanta's gates.

Reed spokesman Carlos Campos says that conversations about what's next for the Cyclorama painting are "still ongoing." City officials say the piece of art, one of only two panoramic murals of its kind in the United States, has an appraised value of $25 million. The painting could be relocated to either the Atlanta History Center or a Downtown facility near Centennial Olympic Park.

But some concerns have been voiced about the future of the Cyclorama image that has hung in the park since 1921. Museum officials claim the historic artwork is the world's largest oil painting at 358-foot-by 42-foot. David Dreyer, chairman of the Grant Park Conservancy, says the painting is a "rare treasure" that commemorates the neighborhood's ties to the Battle of Atlanta. He declined to comment without knowing more details about a specific moving or sale proposal, but said he hoped that upcoming talks would take Cyclorama's historical significance into account.

As with prior Cyclorama talks, Grant Park residents say they hope that the museum and painting stay in place, albeit with some long overdue improvements. Grant Park Neighborhood Association President Lauren Rocereta says the city should take steps to improve the attraction's programming, renovate its museum, and expand its hours. If the museum stayed put, the building would likely require major restoration facilities to the tune of nearly $10 million. In 2014, museum administrators expanded programming to include additional lectures, movies, and performances.

"Whatever happens with the Cyclorama, most people in Grant Park would prefer it stays in Grant Park," Rocereta says. "The Cyclorama is an integral part of the neighborhood's story and history."

For now, the efficiency commission's proposal to unload the painting is a recommendation. Atlanta City Councilwoman Carla Smith, who represents Grant Park, wants her constituents to be included in future decisions made about the art.

"It would be a long and difficult process to sell the Cyclorama," Smith says. "But the neighborhood should be in on the decision."

The group's suggestions will land on Reed's desk sometime in the coming weeks.