The Kids Are All Right 

Hip-hop rocks the High

It was 9 p.m. and the High Museum of Art had never been hipper. A line five-people thick snaked from Peachtree Street, through the Woodruff Arts Center and into the High entrance.

One woman decked out in her Friday night date ensemble froze in her tracks and told her male companion in no uncertain terms that she would not be joining that enormous crowd.

But plenty of people -- the majority of them black -- continued to join the line. Young professionals, college kids, parents with kids in tow, grandmas and couples on dates. The moment felt significant and emotionally charged, as if the inflexible institution was trying something radically new.

Offering a gesture of goodwill. An olive branch to the hip-hop generation.

That was the optimist's spin. To cynics it was a shrewd attempt to hijack hip-hop in order to win a fresh young audience.

The weather was gorgeous and the mood jovial the night the hip-hop generation came knocking at the High's door for the Art, Beats & Lyrics event April 8.

Yes, it was fleeting.

Only one night.

But it was nevertheless change.

And now with DJ Spooky coming to Atlanta Symphony Hall on Fri., April 22, (www.aca.edu/100YearsCalendar.htm) the Woodruff Arts Center campus is getting positively jiggy.

The Art, Beats & Lyrics event, organized by young turk Jabari Graham, had its doubters and doomsayers. A depressing number of them were fellow artists posting on the Internet ARTNEWS listserv who took issue with some uppity graffiti-influenced artists - MICHI, Fuze Green, UrbanMedium, Dubelyoo and Dosa - having their work exhibited at the High for the College Night event.

Often (rightly) criticized for not showing enough work by local artists, the High had offered the young urban renaissance a venue - albeit a limited one. But many artists, demonstrating how quickly the fringe becomes the art police, were still angry.

It wasn't the right local art by the right artists. And these artists didn't seem to know how things are done around here. They consorted with the Man. They did design work for companies like Nike, Heineken and Coca-Cola. And the Art, Beats & Lyrics event had corporate sponsorship from Sprite and Scion, hardly a novelty for a museum world whose croissant is buttered with company green.

But none of the critics had ever raised a Coke to their virgin lips. Their televisions had been killed. Nike, who?

Did it matter that the artists and organizer did their own publicity, built their own walls to display their work, huffed it all into the High on their own, then broke it all down when it was over?

The High clocked 1,300 attendees in the museum, not including those waiting on line, which some estimated at 2,000 to 3,000.

Maybe some things could have been handled better, like the decision to stop allowing people to enter the museum at 10:30 p.m. An hour-and-a-half before the event was slated to end, with the Atrium exhibition area packed, High officials announced to people still waiting in line that they would be unable to enter because the museum had reached sold-out capacity.

Atlanta artist Stan Woodard was inside where he said the band was loud, but the mood upbeat. The only issue for him was a sense that the High staff working at the event were a little intimidated by the size of the crowd, and possibly, the young, black demographic.

So maybe the High wasn't operating in peak diplomatic form that night. Maybe the staff got a little wiggy when their usual Dockers set was replaced by hordes of hip-hoppers.

But the event seems like a positive step forward for the High, in addressing a new, younger, more multicultural audience. High Director Michael Shapiro has made no secret of his desire to expand the museum's audience and make it a regular, habitual cultural destination. Museum representatives say they plan to offer more programming for young adults with the debut of the museum expansion in November.

With 177,000 more square feet to fill when the Renzo Piano addition opens, it would certainly be a good time to start thinking of where all those warm bodies are going to come from. That's a lot of hip-hop.

As part of its 25th anniversary, the national professional art organization ArtTable honored Spelman College Museum of Fine Art Director Andrea Barnwell. Barnwell was feted earlier this month at a New York City gala for her Distinguished Service to the Visual Arts along with 11 other recipients including Bronwyn Keenan, founder of the eponymous gallery, and Laura Hoptman, curator of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum.On April 27, Barnwell will moderate an Artist Survival Skills panel at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center called "Criticism: The Role It Plays in an Artist's Career." The complete Artist Survival Skills 2005 schedule can be seen at www.thecontemporary.org.

Felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.com

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