What is it about the Wren’s Nest?

Today’s blog post was written by our new Managing Director, Dean Baker. We are thrilled to have Dean as part of our team!

I have always had an interest in the past, knowing what has come before and how it still informs and shapes the present. During my life, this interest has taken different forms in working to help share, uncover and preserve the past. Growing up outside of Saint Paul, I was fascinated by the interconnected buildings on the Skyway System, a project that considered and connected historic buildings in a new and different way. This interest connecting the past in different ways has shown through in efforts as the Urban Designer in Roswell and Planning Director in Woodstock where we introduced new ways to recognize the story of the past,  while developing the future. This was followed by over a decade at the State Historic Preservation Office, where I helped preserve hundreds of buildings, mostly train depots, while getting to learn the broad history of Georgia. Later, about the same time I first came on the board at The Wren’s Nest, I was able to take on a couple of projects that helped to share more of Atlanta’s Civil Rights Movement story. One was teaching at the Georgia State University Honors College where I got to work closely with one of the main instigators of the Atlanta Student Movement and Civil Rights leader Lonnie King in helping to start the Herndon Human Rights Initiative. I continue to work with a number of classes at Georgia State to research and share more of the story of the Atlanta Student Movement. The other project was working with Central Atlanta Progress and Portman Holdings to list Peachtree Center on the National Register of Historic Places. This was groundbreaking preservation work and one that connects all of the pieces of modern Atlanta history, a story that really begins about the time The Wren’s Nest represents.  

When I started working full-time at The Wren’s Nest, not too long ago, I reached out to our board members and friends of the Nest to ask their advice. The most memorable response was a very long period of deep laughter, followed by, “I guess I should say congratulations!” I’m not going to name the particular board member, but the response was both encouraging and a reality check. While this place of joy has certainly not been as filled with laughter as it should be, especially recently as we await the opportunity to freely open our doors to our friends and neighbors we have been missing. Like the Harris family when they left Savannah for Atlanta in 1876 to escape the yellow fever epidemic, this unusual time also reminds us what is truly important and that whatever plans we may have made, we can only operate within the world we find ourselves in at the present.

I have long been a fan of the story of Atlanta, a city created through something of an accident of geography and time. The Wren’s Nest represents one of these true Atlanta stories of people coming together to create a special place that allowed them to be released from previous social and class restrictions. In our case, it can be best summed up as “when country comes to town.” Joel Chandler Harris was undoubtedly a product of his rural upbringing in Eatonton, and he was able to create a home within this city that was connected while being a place apart.

The idea of The Wren’s Nest as a retreat from an overwhelming world that is too often difficult to understand continues to be an appealing one. We are now coming back to the concept of The Wren’s Nest existing as a state of mind, one that can now easily reach people all over the world, while still also being an integral piece of our neighborhood and city. We will continue to offer all of our programming virtually, even when we are finally able to welcome visitors back into our beloved home. This place for storytelling needs to become what it will be next, and that is the challenge we are facing today.

What is the Next Nest?

The Wren’s Nest has long been a place filled with joy, family, friends, conversations, life, happy memories, warm feelings, and an ongoing love of stories. Today, we find ourselves unable to welcome our friends and family in the ways we are used to, and we are working on finding different ways to help bring more happiness, joy, and stories to those who love The Wren’s Nest and everything it has long stood for in our changing and often chaotic world.

The Wren’s Nest has always been an oasis in the ever-growing Atlanta that surrounds us. We want to make sure we can provide a place that is focused on the foundational stories from many cultures that have made their way to Atlanta. This is not just an academic approach, but one that shows the constant threads that connect us to where we began, long before anyone arrived in Atlanta, and how these stories will continue on long after we have gone.

The Next Nest looks to shift our approach from getting people to come to the West End to hear stories with us, to sharing stories from the West End in new and different ways, with the whole world.

In order to become what we will need to be next, we are going to have to change how we do things. The first change is focused on our programming. We will have three distinct programming seasons each year that will include panel discussions, author talks, virtual and physical exhibits that will now be shared in other ways to spread our stories across the world, without giving up our Southern accent. As an ongoing effort, we begin programming focused on children with a series of storybook readings and we will, of course, continue to highlight our outstanding storytellers, finding new ways to highlight and share their talents. This is an opportunity for us to experiment with how and where we share our programs and stories.  

While we will be reaching out with our programming starting in 2021, we also want to remember our roots in Atlanta. Our yard and amphitheater will continue to welcome our neighbors, but now we are more conscious of crowd size and social distance. This holiday season, we are getting ready to test how we will welcome visitors, to determine how we can operate safely as possible going forward. We seek to safely welcome visitors once again for our authentic Atlanta experience, but now we will require reservations and masks so that we can help keep everyone safe. Please watch out for notification on these events coming very soon.

As we move forward into our changing world, looking to become the Next Nest, we will need to open ourselves up to new ideas and experiences. To continue bringing more joy and happiness to the world, we will need to rely on those who have loved and helped us in the past, while we seek new people with new and different ideas to share, that will help us get to where we need to be next. I hope you will join us on this journey as we seek out what our Next Nest will become.

Please let us know your thoughts for what is to come for The Wren’s Nest. As we go forward in our new world, we will need all the help we can get in creating our Next Nest. I can be reached at dean@wrensnest.org.

announcements, Atlanta, Atlanta history, director, Joel Chandler Harris, new director, next nest, The Wren's Nest

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