When Mónica Campana co-founded the Living Walls conference on street art and urbanism with Blacki Migliozzi in 2009, they weren't sure that any artists would show up or that anyone would give them a wall to paint on. "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 told Creative Loafing at the time. "But everyone ended up saying yes." Two conferences later, Living Walls has hosted street artists from Argentina, France, Peru, Spain, and other international locales. It has also found public space for their work in Atlanta alongside local artists such as Jason Kofke, Joe Tsambiras, and others. In December, the organization announced its plans to expand programming into year-round projects.
In person, Campana is demure about her accomplishments, rightfully championing the work of loyal volunteers who've helped coordinate the conferences. But her role as a headstrong, committed organizer and visionary is undeniable. In an article about the most recent conference, longtime Atlanta art critic Cathy Fox remarked, "I'm convinced she could run a Fortune 500 company." Keep in mind that Living Walls isn't working with genteel members of contemporary art's elite. The organization champions folks from the male-dominated world of graffiti and street art, whose pedigrees in trespassing and anonymity are as well-cultivated as their knowledge of color palettes. This petite Peruvian's organizing skills seem downright remarkable: One might assume that running a nonprofit that specializes in herding stoned cats would require a similar set of skills.
"I'm a lot like my mom and my grandma," Campana says. "Really strong, feisty, angry even, Peruvian women. I like to have control. I'm not a mother, I don't want to have kids, but I'm like a mother for Living Walls. I'm not all sweet or like 'Oh, my baby,' but I'm like a mom: 'Did you eat?' 'Did you do this?' 'You have to be up at this time.' 'You have to go to sleep.'"
Campana's forceful style of getting things done can rub some folks the wrong way, too. In the first installment of Living Walls Concepts, Living Walls' new year-round programming, in December, the wall promised to Israeli artist Know Hope fell through. A last-minute replacement was found on Edgewood Avenue, but it covered up a 2009 mural that Campana says she didn't realize was commissioned by arts nonprofit WonderRoot.
Campana is insistent about her dedication to working with Atlanta's broader arts community. "I have to collaborate with people like WonderRoot, Eyedrum, Streetela, MINT Gallery, the guys from Beep Beep, so we can all move together," she says. A more polished organization might not make the same mistakes, but Campana clearly isn't the type to be held back by a misstep or two. When she talks about the future of Living Walls, she dreams big: a gallery space, a residency program, a conference entirely of female artists, a constant influx of new artists. The programming for 2012 already looks promising, with Berlin-based artist and filmmaker Brad Downey slated to give a Living Walls Concepts talk. "Living Walls is a big force that's moving, not just me. I'll be the mother in the back telling people to eat and wake up at a certain time."