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It's sport _ not art _ that's lord of the rings in Atlanta

So much for the theory that sports and culture go hand in glove. In the heat of Olympic fever, even Jerry Seinfeld is having trouble drawing a crowd.

Atlanta arts programers, who were hoping to cash in on the influx of visitors, are instead drawing half-empty houses. And nowhere has the disappointment been more obvious than at the Olympic Arts Festival.

As the nine-week cultural showcase enters its final days, key events and exhibits have been plagued by sluggish attendance. And while officials say the pace is picking up now that the Games are here, they acknowledge they may have overestimated the festival's appeal to a sports-hungry crowd.

Blame it on several factors, says Jeffrey Babcock, director of the Cultural Olympiad, which is producing the festival. Chief among them is that sponsors who bought large blocks of tickets have failed to show, resulting in sparse audiences for even sold-out events.

"There may have been 2{ times as many tickets sold, but there aren't people in the seats," said Babcock, who won't provide exact attendance figures. "We can't resell those seats, and they remain empty."

Not that there haven't been events that have sold poorly. Many of these took place during the week before the Games. "In retrospect, that was probably a mistake," Babcock said of the decision to program so heavily in the period.

Other arts programers are reporting similar disappointments. "The whole city is terrified, and they're all staying home," said Cellar Door Productions' Ted Mankin, whose company is producing both the Fabulous Fox Concert Series and Decatur's three "Hometown to the World" headliner concerts.

The Fox series still has tickets for Jerry Seinfeld today, and Tony Bennett on Monday. The theater has resorted to handing out flyers.

Organizers of the Miller Lite series at Underground have decided to make its remaining B-level shows free. "Obviously, the crowds are not what we anticipated," said Kevin Foster, a marketing manager for the Miller Brewing Company.

As for the Olympic Arts Festival, officials whose institutions are involved see other causes for failure. They express frustration at the lack of marketing, saying that it was a mistake for the fest to be promoted under the same Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games umbrella as sports.

"We have people here who are pretty skilled in selling tickets to our events, but since we have no control over it (the festival), we can't do it," said Edith Love, managing director of the Alliance Theatre.

One organization that has shown plenty of independent initiative is the High Museum, which is hosting the blockbuster "Rings: Five Passions in World Art" exhibit. Marketing manager Ann Wilson estimates the museum has invested "several hundred thousand dollars" in promotion. The result has been crowds of more than 1,500 a day.

Other local cultural officials account for the weak attendance by noting that much of the festival's activity has taken place outside the Olympic Ring, an area that Olympic visitors have been hesitant to explore. And they blame their own self-inflated expectations, a point that Babcock is quick to echo.

"It's unrealistic to think a program that's basically 1 or 1.5 percent of the (ACOG) budget is going to get 50 percent of the visibility," he said. "What we were charged with was to create a festival that enhances the Olympic experience."

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