Above: Camille Russell Love shares her love of the arts with the City of Atlanta and its children. Photos by Julie E. Bloemeke

About 20 years ago, Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell recruited Camille Russell Love to work at City Hall, and she has served as executive director of the Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs since. She’s held the job for two decades and under four mayors.

Campbell, who knew Love from Duke University Law School, asked Love to consider working for the Office of Cultural Affairs. She refused him twice. Then, “he put his wife on me,” she said, laughing and beaming, “and I never imagined 20 years later I would still be sitting here.”

In her younger days, Love worked for IBM and travelled extensively, often internationally. During downtime on the road, she became a “cultural tourist,” frequenting museums of art and history, performances and bookstores.

Love shows artwork created by Doug Odom for the 2010 Atlanta Jazz Festival.

“I loved to learn about where I was,” she said.

Her travels and exposure to art led to an interest in art collecting. Love also began volunteering with the National Black Arts Festival, working alongside Cicely Tyson and Harry Belafonte during an event she says was life changing.

When IBM announced a round of layoffs, Love faced a choice. “I just stepped out on faith,” she said. “[And I told myself] if you don’t go now you never will. I went about the business of re-inventing myself.”

Love combined her interest in art collecting with her upbringing. Her father was a politician and a public servant who helped instill the belief that life was about “looking for things to nurture the soul.”

She continued to volunteer with the National Black Arts Festival, and also went into business connecting art patrons with artists. This led to her opening of the Camille Love Gallery in 1993, which she operated until 1998 when she accepted her current position.

During her tenure as the city government’s top public arts director, Love has spearheaded the Cultural Experience Project, a collaboration — now in its 14thyear — between Atlanta Public Schools, the philanthropic community and cultural venues. The project ensures that Atlanta school children will have field trip experiences at no cost. Last year, the project provided field trips for almost 80 percent of students in APS, or about 40,000 children.

“Atlanta’s children need to know their cultural ecology, they need to know what makes up the cultural environment here in the city,” Love said. “We think that going on a field trip to a cultural venue is life-changing for students.”

Love is also excited about the recent completion of the Atlanta Jazz Festival and the ongoing celebration of the 50thanniversary of the Chastain Arts Center and Gallery.

Some of the many commendations that Love has received for her community work in the arts.

“We’re celebrating that we’ve managed to keep open in the community for 50 years… [and that we continue to serve in] helping the senior community re-invent themselves through access to classes and activities like painting and sculpting.” Online class offerings cover everything from watercolor, oil and acrylic painting to ceramics, jewelry making and collage, among others.

“We want to ensure Atlanta is an incubator for creativity,” she said. Love has found new opportunities to achieve that goal, including Gallery 72, a project focused on local talent, and ELEVATE, a program that, its website says, “seeks to activate the downtown Atlanta area through visual art, performances and cultural events.” Though ELEVATE offers year-round programming, October marks the annual festival.

Does she see herself slowing down anytime soon? Not at all. Love not only loves and collects books — especially signed first editions by African-American women writers — she admits that she hopes to one day write one herself.

“Aging is truly just a state of mind,” Love said. “I have to remind myself that I’m a senior citizen.”

Find out more

Visit the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs website, ocaatlanta.com. Click on the Menu tab. Under “Our Programs” are links for Chastain Arts Center, ELEVATE, Gallery 72, the Cultural Experience Project and more.

Julie E. Bloemeke

Julie E. Bloemeke is a writer and poet based in metro Atlanta.