Art on the Atlanta Beltline gets bigger 

Exhibition brings monumental works to peoples’ backyards

MEET THE NEIGHBORS: #weloveatl’s “45x45: Neighbors Connected”

Jason Travis

MEET THE NEIGHBORS: #weloveatl’s “45x45: Neighbors Connected”

For five years, the Art on the Atlanta Beltline project has been converting trails into outdoor gallery spaces. With about 100 exhibited works this year, the number of pieces has almost doubled since 2010. However, the premise remains the same: invite Atlanta residents to discover new art and utilize the miles of Beltline trails in exciting ways.

"The [Art on the Beltline project] was an idea by our director of design about experiencing this new public space," says Elan Buchen, project coordinator of Art on the Beltline. "We know that artists have the tremendous power of reconceptualizing the environment, meaning you see things in a different way. The notion was that you could get out there, discover a piece of artwork, continue to explore and see another piece, and before you know it, you walked a mile or two."

The organization makes an open call every year for artists of all disciplines, with no specific theme in mind except for the artists to transform their assigned spaces on to the trail. Once they are selected, the collaboration between the organization and the artists is essential to the success of the work.

"It's always a dialogue," Buchen says. "We all work together to figure out what's the best solution for the site of the work, especially when so many of the pieces end up having some sort of site specificity. We want everyone working together, so in the end it looks like it's the best decision for the art."

Despite the growing number of submissions accepted, the organization isn't running out of space anytime soon. The Atlanta Beltline corridor continues to expand throughout the city, allowing more space for projects and performances during the exhibition — currently making it the largest temporary public art exhibition of its kind in the Southeast.

After the installation of the projects, the lifespan of each artwork depends on the needs of the artist and the organization. "If at the end of the exhibition a piece has gotten a lot of positive attention and the artist doesn't have plans to do anything with it, we invite them to leave the piece up," Buchen says. "Even when some pieces stay on, the environment changes around it. That nature of change, of discovery, has been a quality that decides it every year."

Among this year's completed pieces, local mobile photography group #weloveatl collaborated with photographers for their "45 x 45: Neighbors Connected" project. Located under the bridge that lets the Beltline cross North Avenue, the installation was inspired by the Inside Out Project and consists of 45 giant wheat-paste portraits of residents from the 45 neighborhoods connected to the Beltline.

Community involvement from those 45 neighborhoods was essential for the project as residents helped support the artists before, during, and after the artwork is completed. "A lot of volunteers and communities are open to helping with the creation of artwork," Buchen says. "We have groups that have adopted segments of the Atlanta Beltline to do clean ups in preparation [for] artwork coming in. ... It's not only showing a piece of artwork, but engaging the community, having them meet the artists involved in the creation process, and attending performances."

But even after five years, the organization still has a few firsts. The max award that artist could receive for their commission is $6,000 (it was $4,000 last year). In addition to the funding, the Beltline team worked to include use of cranes for installation, a dance surface for break dancers, projectors for film screenings, and an improved sound system for productions. Though most of the financing for the exhibition comes from private donors, this is the first year they've tried crowd funding, using Uruut. The organization hopes to raise even more funds by involving the community once again.

"This is a project that when people get it, they want a piece of it, they want to be a part of it — it's infectious. It's a really passionate thing. People are really enjoying it since it's about improving their quality of life experience. It's about introducing new, provocative monumental scale of work into people's backyards."


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