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Street art festivals like Living Walls have grown increasingly frequent in recent years. But as much as investigating what is happening at these events and within the artist communities that organize them, there is also the question of why.
Last year, Costa Rica native Blacki Migliozzi spent time studying in Barcelona, a city internationally regarded as one of the world's graffiti capitals. While there, he worked as a teaching assistant in a class that focused on New Urbanism — something he knew little about, but ended up resonating with him in a surprising way.
"I couldn't stop thinking about public spaces, art, and urban development," Migliozzi says. "Looking at the city through the lens of graffiti, that's really where [the Living Walls] concept came from."
The timing was good: Migliozzi, back from Spain, began conspiring with Lima, Peru, native and Atlanta-based artist Monica Campana, who was hot to put a fire under the ass of the local street art scene. In two days, the duo threw together a proposal for a gallery show at Eyedrum, and Living Walls was officially rolling.
Expecting that they would have to beg for both space and artist participation, Campana and Migliozzi decided to aim as high as possible with the hope of landing somewhere slightly north of mediocrity. That's not exactly how it played out.
"We thought, well fuck, we might as well try to get this great artist, or this amazing wall, because we didn't think anyone would say yes," Campana recalls. "But everyone ended up saying yes."
In recent years, events like Artlantis and Gather Atlanta have allowed artists to organize and collaborate in ways previously unseen in Atlanta. Living Walls is a natural progression of that. Eyedrum executive director Priscilla Smith is an unofficial third partner, and additional support has materialized in the form of supplies and manpower from arts collective Dodekapus and local art supply store Sam Flax.
As the conference evolved, the topic of urban development and the open consideration of public spaces became increasingly crucial to explore. Atlanta is a hotspot for this discussion. In May, the CNU 18, a conference on New Urbanism, selected Atlanta for its annual get-together. But many of those who would benefit from the discourse were turned off by the $300-per-day cost. Inspired by the notion that people other than wealthy architects and urban planners should lend a hand in shaping their environment, Living Walls organizers put the conference together as a more accessible answer to the CNU 18.
If ever there was a city in greater flux in terms of cultural identity, Atlanta is it. Consider for a moment Atlanta's public transportation plight: MARTA is one of the least comprehensive public transportation structures in the country. And the proposed transit loop that would be built along the Beltline, while being a relatively profound step toward remedying this situation, is still years from completion. As a result, Atlanta is a city of cars.
If you spend your time between destinations in what quite literally is a bubble, you detach from your surroundings. In a greater sense, the Living Walls organizers are attempting to not only execute this one mad dash to throw up art around the city, but to hopefully open the eyes of the bubble-bound denizens of Atlanta and encourage them to get more up close and personal with their surroundings.
Once all the artists are in town, organizers and volunteers will work together on the logistical execution of completing an almost absurd amount of art in just a few days. Volunteers are opening their homes to out-of-town artists, committing to ferrying them to and from their mural sites and generally showing them a good time. It's sort of a street artist foster program. Atlanta-based participants like Jason Kofke, Michi Meko, and the Paper Twins will give visiting artists the lay of the land for extracurricular street art projects.
"People want something like Living Walls to be happening," Campana says. "It's exciting and important. That's why they help."
Currently, Atlanta's most successful street art scene can be found along the Krog Street tunnel in Cabbagetown. The tunnel's walls and the train trestle above them have housed beloved murals, most notably of the actor Robert Mitchum, and social discourse along the lines of "FU BP."
Yet even the friendliest of the city's graffiti walls has the tendency to be redrawn as a battle line. Easing those tensions is central to Living Walls' quest.
In 2008, the Cabbagetown Neighborhood Improvement Association declared a call to arms on the wall flanking the south side of the Krog tunnel, beginning the now-notorious green paint campaign during which a faction of residents covered up several murals (and some tags) with rollers of mint-hued latex. Since that time, concerned neighbors have buffed out graffiti on the wall almost the minute it appears.
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