The Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium.

It all started with a chance conversation in 2011 that stemmed from a transatlantic trip.

Global Atlanta founder and publisher emeritus Phil Bolton was reporting from Belgium when he found out that the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren would be packing up items from its vast trove of African art and sending them on tour during a three-year renovation. 

He mentioned as much to Jacqueline Royster, former dean of Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, over a lunch that she barely made during a busy day. 

“I said, ‘Hmm, do you think Atlantan could get any connection with that process?” Dr. Royster remembered in an interview with Global Atlanta in 2020. Mr. Bolton promptly looped in then-Belgian Consul General Benoit Standaert, and the seed was planted that would become Africa Atlanta 2014

Mr. Bolton’s role in cultivating the necessary partnerships was the main reason he was honored with the Dean’s Appreciation Award at the college’s annual Distinguished Alumni Awards in March

As it developed, Africa Atlanta blossomed into a full-blown interdisciplinary event series using art as an anchor to explore the “transatlantic triangle” linking Europe, America and Africa, which originated with the “horror of slavery” and colonization, Dr. Royster said, but hold promise if all sides can reconcile their history with the present. 

Jacqueline Royster

“To me, it wasn’t just that; it was the way that Atlanta could be a pivot point for rethinking how that transatlantic triangle might be thought of today,” Dr. Royster said. 

Centered around the “Kongo Across the Waters” exhibition displaying more than 100 African works of art at the Carter Center, the program garnered 50 organizing partners and built a program that also included films, an exhibition on mapping Africa, a research conference, lectures, performances and more. 

Mr. Bolton’s foundational role largely faded into the background, even as he continued to help Dr. Royster connect with the “international apparatus” of the city, drawing on more than two decades of experience covering Atlanta’s multidimensional ties with the world. 

She saw the ethos of Global Atlanta as a publication — linking the local and global — as perfectly compatible with the role of the college (also home to the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs). 

“I have always been a deep believer in the old saying, ‘No person is an island.’ You have to think of yourself in context; it’s just a no brainer from where I sit,” she said, noting that all issues the world faces today — from climate change to governance to innovation — are global issues that must be tackled acutely in various localities. 

For that reason, she wanted to ensure Mr. Bolton received due recognition before before she left the role for good. New Dean Kaye Husbands Fealing took over in February, just before a planned March ceremony where the honor was to be presented. It was canceled due to the nascent coronavirus pandemic, and the awards were distributed virtually. 

A former Peace Corps volunteer in Africa who has steadfastly reported on its links with Atlanta, Mr. Bolton said he was honored by the recognition.

“Although the museum houses the dark legacy of Belgium’s colonial past, its current role as a think tank nurtures positive relations between the European Union and Central Africa and creates important initiatives that can lead to a better future for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other nations in the region. I extend my deep appreciation to former Dean Royster and Belgium’s former consuls general to the Southeast, Benoit Standaert and William De Baets, for their support in the development of these links between the museum and Atlanta’s institutions.”

See the full program here, and learn more about the Dean’s Appreciation Award:

The Dean’s Appreciation Award signals the importance of teaching, research, and service in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts and the value of an educational experience informed by the ideals of Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. The award honors individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the College’s advancement, reputation, and mission.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...