The Rialto in running for Atlanta’s “Best Performance Venue”

Every year countless venues in Atlanta compete ferociously for the top spots on Creative Loafing’s “Best of ATL” list. One of the most contentious awards is the title of Atlanta’s “Best Performance Venue.”

There are a dizzying number of performance venues in Atlanta, but this year Georgia State’s own underdog is making a compelling argument on why they deserve the honor.

“You’re not just coming to a concert,” says Rialto Director Leslie Gordon. “The Fox has 4800 seats, but we are intimate; every seat is a good seat.”

Since reopening in 1996, The Rialto Center for the Arts has been at the heart of Downtown Atlanta’s cultural revitalization. Previously they were awarded ‘Best World Music Venue’ by Creative Loafing and have maintained a fierce loyalty to genres which often go unrepresented in other Atlanta venues.

“What we’re trying to do is get together all the voices in the world,” says Gordon. The Rialto regularly brings in an eclectic mix of jazz, Latin dance, African folk, and hosts many performances from Georgia State’s own School of Music.

For Gordon, the diversity of the venue’s lineup is not only a testament to the world’s cultural diversity, but a direct reflection of Georgia State’s own student diversity. “We think it’s important to reflect Georgia State’s own international student population…we love to bring together a broad audience to share in the experience of hearing and seeing these new artists,” explains Gordon.

The Rialto is one of the few venues in Atlanta that is working hard to sacrifice ticket prices in order to become more accessible to students. Currently, Georgia State students can receive 50 percent off of tickets when they purchase the day before the show. Gordon would like to see even greater cuts to student ticket prices.

“We’re trying to find more and more avenues for student ticket subsidies. We don’t receive any student fees, so we are raising money privately for student ticket subsidies,” says Gordon. She is working to cut prices to as low as $15 per tickets for shows which would normally cost as high as $50 for non-student patrons.

The Rialto also acts as an important resource for students to have a stage and an audience for their creative pursuits. Many student-produced shows, such as Miss GSU, are hosted at the theater and give students an invaluable experience not typically offered in classrooms.

What is perhaps most unique about the Rialto is not its diverse lineup or its emphasis on student participation, but the level of cultural immersion which accompanies every performance.

“We’re always giving extra service and putting it into context,” says Gordon. Every performance is preceded by a talk hosted by Georgia State professors or an interactive lesson relating to the culture of the artist. “Before the show you can hear about what you’re going to see, or if it’s a Latin dance group you might learn salsa, or if it’s a Flamenco group you might learn about certain costume elements of Flamenco.”

While The Rialto cannot contend with the sizable seating capacities afforded by The Fox Theater and Cobb Energy Center, it offers its audience a cultural intimacy unparalleled by its competitors.

Though voting has closed for CL’s “Best Performance Venue” category, visit our site for more updates on the Rialto. For tickets, events and more, please visit