Just south of Atlanta, off Interstate 75 at Clayton State University in Morrow, sits a gem of a venue that each year draws some of the world's very finest classical and jazz musicians. Spivey Hall may seat only 400, but it punches way above its weight, thanks to that very intimacy and the exquisite acoustics of the space. Artists just love to perform there.

Stellar though that lineup may be, the marquee Spivey Series is just one part of what the hall offers and could yet offer. Building on those strengths and possibilities keeps its executive and artistic director plenty busy. Katherine Lehman came on board at the start of 2022; the 2023 - 2024 season, which kicks off Sept. 24 with pianist Inon Barnatan, is the first she fully curated herself.

Katie recently sat down with GPB's Sarah Zaslaw to discuss all things Spivey, from community educational programs and creativity on campus to its famed concert series.


Interview highlights

Edited for brevity

On physically reconnecting Spivey Hall and Clayton State's music department

Spivey Hall literally connects to the music building next door, but for various security reasons and probably as a leftover from COVID, the doors in between our two halls were locked, and there was a sign on the door that said: "These doors are to be locked at all times." I found that kind of symbolic. After getting to know my wonderful colleagues across the way, I thought, all right, we need to make a change. So they invited me to faculty meeting, and I invited all of my staff colleagues, and we came downstairs and had a ceremonial opening of the doors. We videotaped ourselves ripping the "locked at all times" signs off the doors, and have made a very strong point of saying we are open, we are part of this campus. We want students to be a part of what we do.

On supporting all students' creativity

There are roughly 6,000 students at Clayton State University. Our student body is 70% or 80% students of color. It also has a lot of women and is an opportunity for many first-generation college students to get a degree. So we see Clayton State University as a truly transformational place. The students we have at Clayton State may not have had violin lessons when they were 5, or parents who were capable of getting them to youth symphony rehearsals and those sorts of things. It is my goal to think innovatively about how we bring students in to express themselves artistically and creatively, using Spivey Hall as a backdrop and a resource and making them feel like they count as much as anybody else in their creativity.

On serving the community

We have a wonderful education program that we are doing all we can to expand. That brings upward of 5,000 to 10,000 pre-college students onto our campus every year. Equal to our Spivey Series, we do about the same number of events for the Clayton State Music Department, we do various kinds of events for the university as a whole, and we've even had civic and governmental meetings there. So we invite all kinds of people onto the campus.

Spivey Hall

Spivey Hall

Credit: Spivey Hall

On fulfilling the Spiveys' dream

[Spivey Hall] opened in 1991, and it was the dream of Walter and Emilie Spivey, who were property developers on the South Side and loved their community and wanted to give back. So they donated money to have this hall built that would become the property of Clayton State University. Emilie wanted it to feel like inviting people into her living room. And those of you who come to see us will admire the beautiful marble and lovely fittings and fixtures and the stunning chandelier in our lobby, very much in Emilie's style, which is to say rather formal and something of a product of the 1990s. There are photographs hung on every wall of artists that come and visit us. The lobby comes alive every Monday when our children's choir gathers, and we have 120 or so children for our three children's choirs. Sitting in that very formal lobby, we have children playing cards, doing homework, playing games and laughing and having a good time. But that was Emilie Spivey's dream: that we be a collection point for our community and for all kinds of arts activities.


On attracting north metro Atlanta concertgoers to a south metro hall

We have a lot of audience members or potential audience members that say, "Oh, it's just too far." And we tell them, "Well, it's really right down I-75." We often joke that our marketing materials ought to start with a giant headline that says "Free Parking." I joke with people, I love going to the Atlanta Symphony and my retort when they talk about our location is: You can get halfway home from Spivey Hall in the time it takes to get out of the Woodruff parking garage after a concert, after you've paid your $16 or whatever you pay over there. It's not that far. And we program our concerts mostly on Saturday and Sunday afternoons because that's when the traffic is the lowest.


On assembling a concert season

It's a crossword puzzle. We have dates that we can offer, and of course, artists have their own schedules and they're trying to put together tours that make sense geographically and chronologically. So we all put things together piece by piece. An agent will call and say, "I have these artists on these dates," or "I am particularly looking for this one date to fill for this artist on this tour, are you interested?" Other times I just have an artist that I want and I go after them. We are often the location for a concert the week before Carnegie Hall.

On the intimacy of the hall

I have artists that come into Spivey Hall for the first time, they look at me and they say, "Oh my goodness, I can do anything I want in here." And it's so much fun.