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Today, WonderRoot lets the local community's ideas and needs drive the organization's programming, rather than mandating what services to offer or causes to stir up. As a result, artists, musicians and activists across the indie spectrum are flocking to WonderRoot.
"We made a conscious decision," Appleton says. "Instead of sitting in a room and dictating 'This is what Atlanta needs,' we open our doors and let people come to us." The public-art project Art Sign the Beltline, an installation of an eventual 216 paintings at outposts along the 22-mile proposed transit loop, is a perfect example. "Beltline advocate Angel [Poventud] came to us and said, 'This is why this is important.' The idea didn't come from WonderRoot, but we had the resources to make it happen."
So WonderRoot built it ... and the artists came. Other current projects include the adult education series "Artists Helping Artists;" the youth arts-enrichment program "Creativity for Kids;" the monthly potluck-style conversations "Dinner and Discussion," and several other public art and community service programs – not to mention a music, art, or film event almost every night of the year, including WonderRoot's "Generally Local and Mostly Independent Filmmakers Night" at the Plaza Theatre, a Monday night open mic, and performances from local favorites such as Atlanta Sedition Orchestra, and Magic Apron.
Ben Cohen, creator and director of the online TV show "Godamsterdam," has WonderRoot to thank for his production and rehearsal space, along with a full post-production suite and means for distribution through WonderRoot TV. "In other words, without WonderRoot, I would just be another film student scribbling ideas on the back of a cocktail waitress." Yes, he did say waitress.
Makings of a movement
Atlanta is a city that, for any number of reasons, has a hard time hanging onto its creative kids. Last year, artists and musicians were making (or at least threatening to make) an exodus to New Orleans, touting its superior environment for the arts. The year before that, it was Portland, Ore. (Well, it's kinda always Portland.) But recently, something strange started happening: Not only are fewer people packing up their guitars and paintbrushes and hitting the road in search of a more comfortable creative climate, but a new flock of young creatives has migrated to Atlanta – for the exact reasons people were leaving Atlanta before.
"Right now, [artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers] could go to New York and be part of the scene, or they could come here and create it," says West. "Every scene has its peak that, in hindsight, everyone wishes they had been there for. That's right now in Atlanta. Whatever happens right now, whatever we create – that's what Atlanta will be known for."
Of course, the city has a ways to go – and no matter how empowered and idealistic WonderRoot continues to be, it can't single-handedly elevate Atlanta's arts scene to Portland status. The city – and its creative scene in particular – is in the throes of pubescence, with a rapidly changing body and heaps of peer pressure pulling it in different directions. The process is, well, awkward. There's a sense that Atlanta's on the international radar and there's a palpable pressure to participate, to keep up, to do something significant. Sure, Atlanta could become the Next Big Thing, but several big obstacles remain, as well as one pressing question: Will Atlanta's political and civic leaders continue to focus on wooing big businesses and growing the city at all costs, or will they place a priority on improving local communities by expanding such quality-of-life amenities as transit, greenspace and the arts?
A growing contingency of artists and activists is pushing for sustainable, locally focused city growth, with more attention being paid to the interests of under-served populations (artists, cyclists, walkers, low-income families, etc.). The hope is that Atlanta's leaders will follow suit.
"We need different organizations, galleries, publications, and collectives with differing interests and ways of doing things," West says. "This city, or the art thing here, shouldn't be run by just a few people. The more, the better. And what's great about Atlanta right now, is you can actually be a 25-year-old and open a gallery, or start a nonprofit and make it work."
In the past five years, independent galleries run by twenty- and thirtysomethings, including MINT and Beep Beep, have joined ranks of more established indie entities such as YoungBlood and Eyedrum, all of them adhering to the mission to support local, emerging artists. Patrons can find high-quality, low brow art from across the spectrum: homemade 'zines and books, locally produced clothing and accessories, and cheap prints of your favorite local paint slingers' work (the accessibility of affordable art, and disseminating it to the masses, is highly prized in this subculture; there are a surprising number of 25-year-old art collectors in Atlanta).
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
When will you be accepting applicants for the 2014 competition?
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