When Atlanta graffiti artist Juse tagged the tower of City Hall East on Ponce de Leon Avenue in June — a move that, at 150 feet above a busy thoroughfare, was as precarious as it was ballsy — two questions immediately rippled through the city: How did he pull that off? And for a city with a mostly polite constituency of street artists, wasn't that kind of a shitty thing to do?
Most who voiced an opinion took the expected "defacing public buildings ain't cool" position, while some Juse supporters made the just-as-predictable decision to defend Juse's act as a totally respectable move. Graffiti is a game, after all, and Juse was showing off.
This debate is by no means new — people have been arguing about where to draw the line with graffiti ever since spray paint hit the shelves — but for whatever reason, Atlanta is seriously obsessed with chiming in on street art these days.
The Atlanta street art scene hasn't spawned the kind of work present in more public-art-friendly cities around the world — you know, like Sao Paulo's nurturing of Os Gemeos and Bologna's acceptance of Blu. And rather than boasting insightful expressions of dissent or playfulness, the Atlanta scene is marked by a trickle of hasty tags punctuated by the occasional piece of artistically solid work. The city's official stance exists somewhere between disdain and tolerance.
So naturally, Atlanta's not exactly on the radar dominated by badass street art cities including Berlin, Paris, Copenhagen, Barcelona and New York. But hey, Atlanta's still going through major cultural growing pains. It's not on any major art radars, save the occasional blips of awesomeness that remind the rest of the world we actually have artists.
For the past nine months, a small team of Atlanta artists — including Monica Campana and Blacki Migliozzi — has been quietly making moves to organize what very possibly could be a single weekend that changes all of this. Thanks to the work of the team, an influential collective of artists and thinkers from across the globe will be invading Atlanta with the intention not just of throwing up some dope art, but of making the city's inhabitants start noticing their surroundings in a more intimate way.
After months of fundraising, visa applications, crossed fingers, calling in of favors, and general good luck, more than 15 of the world's most prolific and acclaimed street artists are traveling to Atlanta for Living Walls, the City Speaks, a three-day conference on street art and urbanism that kicks off Aug. 13. But this ain't your grandaddy's urbanism conference. Living Walls is part gallery exhibition, part lecture series, part international consortium, and part trouble-making.
Beyond the confines of the conference, out-of-town artists will spend a week hitting local street art stomping grounds, as well as testing the limits of what hasn't been done here. While businesses have donated more than a dozen walls to be transformed into new murals ... well, let's just say you can't bring this many feisty art vandals into a fresh city and not expect a heady dose of unsanctioned side projects. With that much new paint running around town, you can guarantee the local graf kids will be stepping up their game, too. Everyone is coming out to play this week, and the city will likely look noticeably different when they're finished.
Between the gallery show at Eyedrum, and the organizers having secured more than a dozen walls for mural projects, there are dozens of artists from Atlanta and abroad participating in the conference, with more artists still signing on. With an all-but-certain glut of unofficial participants creating street art works during the event, it's hard to get a handle on just how many collaborators and crashers will show up. Suffice it to say there are going to be a hell of a lot of them.
Some big names are included in the lineup: New York-based Gaia is notorious for his muted wheatpaste works that depict both humans and animals in startlingly gritty and emotional ways; Israel's Know Hope creates work that's — how should we put this? — like Shel Silverstein on acid; Chris Stain, who grew up in Baltimore, boldly reps the working man with his bold stencils and wheatpasted works, while mixing in powerfully hopeful statements about life and love.
While the action to watch might be on the streets, there are other, perhaps more legit goings-on worth attending. Nonprofit indie art space Eyedrum will play host to dozens of artists who couldn't physically participate in Living Walls but contributed posters and wheatpaste works for the gallery exhibition. The show promises to be a mixed bag, with a diverse group of artists given complete freedom to send in whatever the they want. And Georgia Tech's Architecture Department will hold a series of lectures on urbanism and transportation, as well as a keynote address by guerrilla advertising interventionist Jordan Seiler of NYC's Public Ad Campaign.
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