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Eyedrum: An oral history 

How a series of scrappy loft art parties helped incite Atlanta's underground art scene

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A peek inside Eyedrum's new Castleberry Hill digs, which only recently had electric installed and is still waiting on plumbing. Until then, port-a-potties. - DUSTIN CHAMBERS
  • Dustin Chambers
  • A peek inside Eyedrum's new Castleberry Hill digs, which only recently had electric installed and is still waiting on plumbing. Until then, port-a-potties.

The combination of rising rents, declining attendance and general economic downturn started to take a toll. Facing rising debts and near-closure in August 2009, a last-ditch fundraiser was held and raised $15,000 — enough to keep the organization afloat. Emboldened by its success, Eyedrum seemed poised for a revival. But just a year and half later, the group closed the doors on its MLK Drive location on New Years Eve 2010. Since then, board members including Robby Kee and Nathan Brown have been producing satellite events around Atlanta at locations such as the Goat Farm.

Avett: Eyedrum was a pirate ship floating in the waters of Atlanta. How it stayed afloat, why it didn't explode, I still don't know. We were living a charmed life. We were, I assume, serving from an illegal bar we had going on and that in itself was crazy. Why the neighbors who lived around us stayed while it happened, and grew like it did, as we put on crazier and louder shows — it was kind of cool.

Tauches: We'd have fucking wild and crazy punk shows in the back and all the art would be right there. And people who were coming for those shows didn't have the sensitivity about fine art. And this is the experiment: art and music together. And in the end, rock 'n' roll won.

I'd say the worst thing that started to happen at the end for me was that the art would be destroyed. And pianos! We had two pianos destroyed just out of drunkenness. I mean, how disappointing. Somebody donates a grand piano to our space and we can't keep it because we're afraid somebody's gonna come and smash it with a hammer.

Robby Kee, current board chairman of Eyedrum: Eyedrum is not exactly a small gallery. Places like Beep Beep and Kibbee do that tremendously well. One of the things that Eyedrum has is a method of curation and a larger exhibition space, and a multidisciplinary aspect that no place else has.

The interest in arts [in Atlanta] has grown past its original freaks, misfits and rebels group back when the area where we live now was a little more dangerous. Eyedrum was the first in this line of places that kind of took over that swath that runs from Castleberry to Edgewood and developed an arts center in the area. As it gets easier to live here, arts have become kind of the ethos of living there.

Cheatham: The place has to make a choice on which way to go. If it becomes institutionalized it will loose its old Eyedrum edge. A lot of places that become institutionalized continue to operate regardless of whatever connections it once had and then they become globalized and loose their relationship that they had with the community. Art Papers and the Contemporary are prime examples of that.

These kinds of places, like Eyedrum, have their own place, and their own values system. I always tried to discourage Eyedrum from thinking one day would grow up and become the Contemporary. They are both equally "grown-up," but their ideologies are different.

Avett: I think whether you call it Eyedrum or you call it WonderRoot or Goat Farm or whatever, I think there's still a place for it in Atlanta. The concept and the spirit of the place — every city should have a place like that.

MORE: See Eyedrum's legacy in photos

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