Catching up with . . .
Former Atlanta Pride director reflects on the record attendance, the thrills—and all that rain
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)