Catch­ing up with . . .

For­mer At­lanta Pride direc­tor re­flects on the record at­ten­dance, the thrills—and all that rain

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

PAGE 22 For­mer At­lante Pride direc­tor Donna Nar­ducci

All non­prof­its ex­pe­ri­ence good years and bad. One year’s record-high fundrais­ing could be fol­lowed by a ma­jor dip the next. Events that took count­less hours and ef­fort to put to­gether can fall apart through cir­cum­stances out of any­one’s hands, yet a stranger’s kind words can lift you back up and re­mind you why you keep do­ing it.

No one knows that bet­ter than Donna Nar­ducci, the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of At­lanta Pride from 1996 to 2008. The 56-year-old Do­rav­ille res­i­dent has traded wran­gling a few hun­dred thou­sand LGBT peo­ple for wran­gling pets as co-owner of Roxie and Don­nie’s Pet Sit­ting Ser­vice, which she runs with her part­ner Rox­anne Succi. She took some time with us to re­flect on her ten­ure at the helm of At­lanta Pride.

You were on the board of di­rec­tors at At­lanta Pride and then be­came ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor as this huge surge in at­ten­dance hap­pened in the mid-1990s. How did you ad­just?

It was dif­fi­cult to keep up with the pace of at­ten­dance. We were a small or­ga­ni­za­tion back then. It was a board of 12 peo­ple, an op­er­a­tions com­mit­tee which plans the fes­ti­val so that’s an­other dozen peo­ple, then me, the only paid staff per­son. We also knew the Olympics were com­ing and wanted to cap­i­tal­ize on that. We had al­ways done well, be­ing in the Southeast with the sur­round­ing states, but that year with the Olympics right around the cor­ner from the fes­ti­val? It helped us bump those num­bers up.

The bomb­ing of the Other­side Lounge in Fe­bru­ary 1997 cast a heavy shadow over that year’s Pride. How did that af­fect your plan­ning as far as se­cu­rity goes?

It com­pletely changed the way we would con­duct the fes­ti­val from that point on. We

“You just knew we were mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in peo­ple’s lives and that was what was most im­por­tant to me.”

worked with the At­lanta Po­lice Depart­ment to help us for­mu­late a plan. We held train­ings for our com­mit­tee mem­bers and vol­un­teers, namely how to iden­tify a sus­pi­cious pack­age and how to find one. There were plain­clothes se­cu­rity, there were bomb sweeps of the stage, an in­crease in uni­formed po­lice.

Were there any threats or close calls?

There were sev­eral sus­pi­cious packages and they all turned out to be noth­ing. Ev­ery time that hap­pened we’d have to make peo­ple back up and bring the po­lice and bomb-sniff­ing dogs. You just feel like you’re a sit­ting duck out there and don’t know when some wacko is go­ing to do some­thing. It for­ever changed how we did things.

In ad­di­tion to pro­tes­tors, you had an­other equally un­wel­come, and fre­quent, vis­i­tor—rain. How try­ing was that?

Weather was al­ways fickle. That time of the year those thun­der­storms, they seemed to al­ways hap­pen right as the pa­rade was kick­ing off. The scary thing about that is you can­not stop the pa­rade, you have to keep go­ing.

There were two or three times when we had to close down the event. You plan for the event, you do ev­ery­thing you can and the one thing you do not have con­trol over is the weather. So it kicked us in the pants a few times.

On the flip side of that coin, a ma­jor drought in 2008 led to the city kick­ing all large fes­ti­vals out of Pied­mont Park. The move to the At­lanta Civic Cen­ter for 4th of July week­end, along with an­other bout with the rain, led to very low at­ten­dance and se­vere fi­nan­cial losses. Do you have any re­grets about how you han­dled that sit­u­a­tion?

What hap­pened with that was, how do you take a fes­ti­val the mag­ni­tude of what At­lanta Pride is and re­lo­cate it? And when you’re given less than six months to make that hap­pen, it re­ally elim­i­nated a lot of pos­si­bil­i­ties for us. And about the most vi­able op­tion we came up with was the Civic Cen­ter.

There were no dates avail­able in June be­cause of grad­u­a­tion cer­e­monies. Then we latched onto the July 4th week­end be­cause we thought that would be some­thing unique. We were look­ing for some­thing that made lemon­ade out of lemons. Ev­ery­thing started fall­ing into place.

Do I re­gret it? Hon­estly I don’t be­cause I think given what we had to work with, we made the best choice pos­si­ble. There was a lot of feed­back from the com­mu­nity that we shouldn’t have had it on the July 4th week­end and in a park­ing lot and I get that. It’s not fun to walk around and see the low num­bers of peo­ple. But we thought the in­door part would be a nice break from the heat that ev­ery­one was al­ways talk­ing about. And that was nice but it sort of cre­ated two dif­fer­ent fes­ti­vals. The whole thing just didn’t work and un­for­tu­nately the or­ga­ni­za­tion lost a ton of money. It was a hell of a year to go out on, that’s all I have to say.

So when you look back over your time with At­lanta Pride, what stands out for you the most?

There were some re­ally great stand­outs at the fes­ti­val for me. We used to be lo­cated on Oak Hill. Peo­ple would just pour over the hill for hours and hours and it would make the hair on my neck stand out. Peo­ple from small towns in Alabama and else­where com­ing up and thank­ing us for al­low­ing them to have a place to be out when they had to go back on Mon­day to work and be in the closet. Hold­ing onto that got me through a lot of tough times, like when the weather was crappy or you were ar­gu­ing with the city. You just knew we were mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in peo­ple’s lives and that was what was most im­por­tant to me.

Donna Nar­ducci now runs Roxie and Don­nie’s Pet Sit­ting Ser­vice with her part­ner Rox­anne Succi. (Cour­tesy photo)

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