public art

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Jane Golden weighs in on the 'Power of Public Murals' and community

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2015 at 4:33 PM

Jane Golden, executive director of Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program - COURTESY PHILADELPHIA MURAL ARTS PROGRAM
  • Courtesy Philadelphia Mural Arts Program
  • Jane Golden, executive director of Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program
In 1984, Jane Golden got hired as a field director for Philadelphia's then-new Anti-Graffiti Task Force. Her salary was $12,000 and her job was to turn kids in the city from graf artists to muralists in an attempt to transform Philly's graffiti-covered walls. 

A tall task, indeed. But when Golden tells this story, as she did last month at the Atlanta Regional Commission's launch of its new Regional Public Arts Initiative, it's funny as hell. Golden may have started in over her head but she went on to lead Philadelphia's pioneering Mural Arts Program, among the first of its scope in the nation embedded within city government. 

She became the inspiration behind ARC's recent decision to start a competitive grant program for regional public art after members met her during a research trip to Philadelphia in 2014.

In case you missed the live stream of Golden's keynote address in Atlanta two weeks ago, it's starts at the 13-minute mark below. If you have a dog in the passionate debate over public art — or are still forming an opinion about whether public murals should prioritize the vision of the artist or the will of the community or incorporate both — you'll definitely want to make time to watch Golden's hour-long talk.


She starts with the story of how she landed in L.A.'s mural arts scene as a young artist with a mix of dogged determination and cluelessness straight out of Stanford University in the late ’70s. When she found herself tasked with spearheading Philly's program in the mid-’80s, marginalized communities were her main concern. That's largely where a lot of the graffiti artists helping her hailed from. And that's where the murals were going.

So she started by asking people in the community a simple question: "What do you want?"

That might seem sacrilegious considering the creative license granted in the age of street art muralists. But the response she got from residents back then sheds light on the tension that boiled over here in Atlanta between Living Walls and marginalized communities just a few years ago. 

Their response at the time, according to Golden: "'Well, no one ever asks us what we want. Things are either not done or done to us.'"

The murals the program went on to produce reflected the values and histories of the communities in which they were painted. "This was not art that was parachuted down from the sky or imposed on people," she says. "This was what is called today co-creation, co-collaboration. It was working together and it was really valuing the opinion of the people who were there."

Golden also acknowledges the criticism she and the Mural Arts Program received, characterizing it as "art snobs" who declared the murals weren't art because the neighborhoods were involved. To such criticism, she says she responded, "We answer to one entity alone. We answer to the community."

"I'm not saying that what we do cures everything cities grapple with, but I am saying to you that murals show us the catalytic role that murals can play in the life of a city and we have proof of that." 

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Elevate scores $25K NEA grant for public art Downtown

Posted By on Wed, May 6, 2015 at 2:11 PM

ELEVATE 2014: The WolfPack moves the crowd in Downtown Atlanta's Fairlie-Poplar District. - ERIC CASH
  • Eric Cash
  • ELEVATE 2014: The WolfPack moves the crowd in Downtown Atlanta's Fairlie-Poplar District.

The city of Atlanta's annual Downtown public art exhibition Elevate just got a boost from the National Endowment of the Arts in the form of a $25,000 grant.

The grant is one of 1,023 awards, totaling $74.3 million nationwide, the NEA will grant in this second round of 2015 funding. In a press release, the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs Executive Director Camille Russell Love stated, “It is an honor to be recognized with this national grant as we prepare for the fifth year of ELEVATE. With the support of the NEA, we will continue to enhance resident and visitor experiences with public art in Downtown Atlanta.”

Spearheaded by former Public Art Division project supervisor at the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs and Dashboard Co-op co-founder Courtney Hammond, Elevate has literally elevated the dead-end of Downtown for one week during the past four years. Local artists including Branden Collins, Romy Maloon, Abby Joslin, the Thimblerig Circus, and Kebbi Williams and the Wolfpack enlivened MARTA and deserted-after-work spaces last year in the Fairlie-Poplar District with large-scale installations, digital, visual, musical, and performance art.

Elevate 2015 is scheduled for October.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

New Public Arts Commission launches with public mural dialogue

Posted By on Mon, Apr 20, 2015 at 3:44 PM

Jane Golden, Philadelphia Mural Arts Program Executive Director - COURTESY PHILADELPHIA MURAL ARTS PROGRAM
  • Courtesy Philadelphia Mural Arts Program
  • Jane Golden, Philadelphia Mural Arts Program Executive Director
What is it about public murals that instigate such extreme reactions — from dialogue to debate, controversy to community-building? It's definitely deeper than paint. Which is the theme behind the first public event to be hosted April 28 by the Atlanta Regional Commission's newly launched Regional Public Arts Commission.

"Power of Public Murals: It Ain't About the Paint" will feature Jane Golden, the executive director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. As the largest such program in the nation, it's been heralded for fostering collaboration between the civic and arts communities. Living Walls Executive Director Monica Campana has also been working there on a new project called Open Source since putting the annual Atlanta mural conference on ice for 2015. 

ARC's Regional Public Arts Commission hopes to build on the power that murals have to affect change "by empowering artists to work alongside neighborhood residents," according to a press release announcing the event. That's certainly proven to be a point of contention in the past, with the local public art controversies pitting artists against residents in debates that range from creative license to censorship.

In addition to stimulating positive dialogue, the Regional Public Arts Commission intends to create a "competitive grant program" toward installing public art throughout the region. Presented by the Blank Family Foundation, the April 28 speaker series takes place at the Arthur M. Blank Family Office from 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m. It's free and open to the public, but you must RSVP by April 21 to register for the event. It's invite-only but the general public can watch by live webcast.

"Power of Public Murals: It Ain't About the Paint." Featuring Jane Golden of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. 5 p.m. reception and collaborative arts project. Live webcast. 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Tues., April 28. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been updated to reflect that the event is invite-only and not open to the general public, but the webcast is. More details about the application process for public art matching grants will be presented at the event.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

No Living Walls Conference for 2015

Posted By on Wed, Jan 21, 2015 at 11:06 AM

Boulevard Tunnel redesigned by New Orleans artist MOMO
  • COURTESY GOOGLE CULTURAL INSTITUTE'S STREET ART PROJECT
  • Boulevard Tunnel redesigned by New Orleans artist MOMO

Living Walls announced today that it would skip programming both its Living Walls Concepts series and its annual conference in 2015.

"I think that we finished [2014] feeling really happy and thankful for the projects that we did," says Living Walls Executive Director Monica Campana. "The Boulevard [Tunnel] project was great. It probably showed the most community engagement and had the biggest impact. ... [When] the issues we're seeing with the city council and public art ordinance being talked about [came up] is when we started to talk about our our goals and impact. We wanted to make sure that whatever projects we did really had a plan from beginning to end and that we knew what we were trying to accomplish. We weren't going to figure that out by 2015. It was a reoccurring problem. Gathering all that [information] in six months is just not enough time."

Since its inaugural conference in 2010, Living Walls has created more than 100 murals throughout Atlanta, including work by high-profile international artists such as JR and locals such as HENSE. In 2014, Living Walls announced a partnership with Google to preserve street art through documentation.

But the organization has its detractors. There are many in Atlanta that think the organization should focus more heavily on local artists. A handful of the murals have sparked heated debates in local neighborhoods and raised the question of whether or not Living Walls actually serves the communities in which it works. The mural nonprofit has also repeatedly butted heads with the Atlanta City Council and the city's Office of Cultural Affairs over the process for installing public art on private property.

A committee is currently being formed to help rewrite the ordinance over the next few months. A Living Walls board member has been nominated for the committee. All nominees must be approved by City Council.

"The new [public art] ordinance will probably be written by July. We see a lot of hope for 2016," Campana says. "I think we just needed a break for a minute. In terms of people saying there's not enough Atlanta artists, we think we're doing the right thing and people are not seeing it that way. … Maybe our mission statement should be different. Maybe people are not getting it cause we're not presenting ourselves properly or we're not being clear."

Campana will be spending the next 10 months in Philadelphia working with the city's acclaimed Mural Arts Program on a new project with curator Pedro Alonzo called Open Source.

"I'm really excited to really learn about their process. They're an organization that has been doing it for 30 years," Campana says. "They've managed to create jobs for [people] to do public art. [They're] working with kids and in prisons and actually creating change and being an economic force as well."

Campana says she has every intention to bring back Living Walls in 2016 and points to local contemporary art programming organization Flux, saying "it's a great example of taking a break and coming back full force with great programming."

"[We're] really happy but we need to do it better."

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include information on the the city council's committee nomination process.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Mural ordinance gets booted back to committee, '90-day commission' proposed to craft new policy

Posted By on Tue, Nov 4, 2014 at 1:21 PM

Some residents opposed a Living Walls mural painted by Hyuro near Chosewood Park
And now for a bit of non-election news.

Atlanta's long-running debate over whether city officials should be allowed to regulate art on public property will apparently continue.

Yesterday, strong pushback from the local arts community and supporters, constitutional lawyers, and even some elected officials helped stop Atlanta City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd's measure that would have required commercial property owners to seek city approval before painting murals on exterior walls. The legislation, a revised version of the controversial bill that Sheperd proposed earlier this year, blindsided the arts community and has been called unconstitutional by attorneys.

Councilmembers at Monday’s full Council meeting voted to send back the measure to committee for additional vetting. Councilwoman Cleta Winslow, who questioned whether permit scofflaws would respect any new process, was the lone no vote.

Sheperd now wants to create a commission that would spend 90 days working with a range of groups to come up with a proposal that suits everyone. Those groups could feature officials from the Savannah College of Art and Design, city departments, community leaders, and faith leaders. It would also include arts groups, including a representative from Living Walls.

"All these entities could come together to look at legislation, best practices across the country... as opposed to having a huge argument," Sheperd said.

Prior to Council tapping the brakes on the proposal, local artists and arts supporters told Council to reconsider the ordinance and its potential impact on the city’s public art movement.

Local artist Peter Ferrari said the ordinance would create “bureaucratic obstacles" for artists and property owners. "Communities will be ones that suffer,” he said. “[Don’t] throw out the baby with the bathwater and continue to support a thriving arts scene."

Constitutional lawyer Gerry Weber, who last week told CL he would sue the city if the ordinance was approved, warned the policymakers that they were venturing into uncharted territory.

"No other city in the country does this," he said during public comment. "Indeed, almost every city in the country does not regulate art on a person's own property at all."

But several residents of Pittsburgh and Chosewood Park, where some residents butted heads with Living Walls organizers in recent years over two murals’ content, told councilmembers that communities needed more input on murals, regardless if they’re on private property. Doug Dean, a former state representative who helped paint over the Pittsburgh mural, promised they'd continue to push for the ordinance.

“[T]here will never be [another time] that they disrespect our community," Dean said. "Ninety percent of the speakers are saying absolutely nothing about letting community have input about the kind of art that comes into our neighborhood."

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Flux bringing performance art to Ponce City Market

Posted By on Fri, Oct 17, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Nick Cave to premiere Resurrection, April 23-26, 2015, in Atlanta.
  • Nick Cave to premiere 'Resurrection,' April 23-26, 2015, in Atlanta.
Now here's a Ponce City Market opening worth blocking out on your calendar.

Flux Projects, the same Atlanta public arts org behind the popular Flux Night events in Castleberry Hill, announced today that it will premiere a new performance titled Resurrection by renowned artist Nick Cave, in collaboration with Atlanta-based choreographer T. Lang, at the multi-use development in April 2015.

This is Nick Cave the American dancer and visual/performance artist, not Nick Cave the Aussie musician. Best known for designing elaborate wearable fabric sculptures, Cave's career started over 20 years ago amid a sociopolitical climate that resonates today. He conceived his first Soundsuit in 1992 in response to the LAPD's infamous Rodney King beating. "They described [King] as larger than life, scary, and that it took ten policemen to bring him down," he told Interview magazine. "I started thinking, what does that look like and how do I identify myself as a black male? I was thinking the moment I leave my studio my identity is in jeopardy."

His resulting wearable sculptures often combine vivid color and whimsical texture — sequins, feathers, buttons, beads and human hair — to bridge everything from tribal tradition to couture fashion.

Billed as a “call to arms, head and heart” for participating Cave initiates, the two-part Resurrection will feature contributions from Lang, the Spelman College assistant dance professor and artistic director of the Atlanta-based dance company that bears her name, T. Lang Dance. Lang will select accompanying dancers for the performance and choreograph a portion of the work.

Here's more on what audiences can expect participating dancers to undergo in Cave's Resurrection:

Through the performance, they are prepared mind, body and spirit to face the forces that stand in the way of selfhood, to enter a world over which they have complete control. Initiates become warriors of their own destiny. In this two-part performance, dancers are joined by actors, musicians and a spoken word artist.

The premiere will be staged in Ponce City Market's central food hall. There will be two performances each day from Friday to Sunday, April 24—26. All are free and open to the public: Fri., April 24 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sat., April 25 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sun., April 26 at noon and 3 p.m. For those who prefer something more exclusive, a Patron party on Thurs., April 23 at 7 p.m. will afford attendees the opportunity to meet Cave and watch a special dress rehearsal. Tickets for that event will go on sale in 2015.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Why walk, when you can ride in a Ford® to Elevate Atlanta?

Posted By on Tue, Oct 14, 2014 at 1:05 PM

The Ford tours original tagline: Why walk, when you can ride in a Ford?
  • OCA
  • The Ford tour's original tagline: "Why walk, when you can ride in a Ford?"
Later this week, Atlanta's Office of Cultural Affairs will kick off Elevate 2014, the city's annual event designed to promote public art that features performances and gallery exhibits throughout Downtown. But the city found itself in an awkward spot when a marketing campaign associated with the event contradicted ongoing efforts to promote pedestrian activity in the neighborhood.

In recent years, Elevate has provided self-guided walking and biking tours. This year, the city has partnered with Atlanta-area Ford dealers, hooked up through local advertising firm Timeless Brands, to offer free driving tours of the art exhibits. Those tours will take place in Ford vehicles provided courtesy of local dealers.

According to OCA Executive Director Camille Russell Love, Elevate attendees who sign up to ride in Ford vehicles will start their tour on Washington Street near City Hall and make six different stops north of Marietta Street and Edgewood Avenue. Elevate volunteers will guide passengers to different works of art at each stop and provide details about the artists and the exhibits.

"Our goal in partnering with Ford this year was to ensure that every citizen would be encouraged to visit Elevate and see the work of our city’s many amazing artists," Love tells CL. "Elevate is an opportunity to use culture to showcase the beauty of [D]owntown as a place full of architectural gems, historic corridors and rich cultural activity for those that live in [D]owntown, as well as those that have never been to [D]owntown before; those that walk and ride bikes as well as those that drive."

However, there was a slight problem with the campaign. The city's original tagline to promote the Ford tours read: "Why walk, when you can ride in a Ford?" That pitch didn't sit well with residents who say they felt insulted by the promotion's anti-pedestrian implications, especially considering Elevate's 2013 theme of "Transit: Time, People and Places." The promotion raised some questions about whether the marketing ploy was in the best interests of a city-sponsored event that has previously boosted Downtown's image.

Love tells CL that the Ford tours provide another option for people "who are not as familiar with [D]owntown and the great nooks and corners that Elevate artists have found to exhibit their work." In response, she says OCA has scrapped the original tagline and replaced it with a new one - "Take a ride in a Ford" - to clarify the city's intentions.

Kyle Kessler, president of the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association President, says he supports Elevate's decision to change its marketing to be less discouraging to pedestrians.

"I appreciate that Elevate has worked with Ford to rethink the marketing of the auto tours in recognition of the Fairlie-Poplar district's compact grid of tree-lined streets and historic buildings that are best experienced as a pedestrian," he says.

But Kessler raised additional questions about the Ford tour logistics, including the rationale behind starting driving tours at the Government Center Parking Deck near City Hall, a move he says is likely prompted by the realization that the parking deck near the Spring Street viaduct is closed.

We reached out to Timeless Brands for comment. If we hear back, we'll post an update.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Santiago Páramo's Beltline art installation vandalized

Posted By on Thu, Oct 9, 2014 at 3:38 PM

Estamos Unidos, an interactive art installation commissioned for Art on the Atlanta Beltline 2014, was partially destroyed along the Westside Trail.
  • Amy Pursifull Photography
  • "Estamos Unidos," an interactive art installation commissioned for Art on the Atlanta Beltline 2014, was partially destroyed along the Westside Trail.
On Tuesday night, Colombian visual artist Santiago Páramo learned that "Estamos Unidos," an interactive art piece he installed along the Atlanta Beltline's Westside Trail last month, was vandalized.

"I feel frustrated and sad and mad," Páramo tells CL. "This [installation] is for the public. I put this out there as a gift for the people of this city to interact with. ... It started a conversation. It generated a positive feedback. But maybe there's another group now who doesn't get it. Maybe they're kids just angry with no reason. It definitely took some effort."

Atlanta Beltline Inc. officials had commissioned Páramo, artist Jay Wiggins, and photographer Matthew Smith to create the installation along the trail near Westview as part the 2014 Art on the Beltline, an annual temporary public art exhibition that's billed as the largest of its kind in the Southeast.

According to ABI Spokeswoman Jenny Odom, the vandalism marks the second time that someone has destroyed Beltline art since 2010. And it's the first time, she says, that Beltline art has been destroyed on the Westside Trail, which runs from Adair Park to Washington Park in southwest Atlanta. ABI officials first heard about the damage earlier this week and reported the incident to the Atlanta Police Department. She says APD intends to step up patrols and keep an eye out for more vandalism along the project.

"Estamos Unidos" features three different wood cubes that each include four black-and-white portraits of people of different genders, races, and ethnicities. Each cube is divided into thirds and swivels to effectively remix the portraits. Páramo, a Colombian native who moved to Atlanta eight years ago, says the piece is a tribute to the city's diversity and civil rights legacy.

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Monday, October 6, 2014

'A Tale of Two Murals' explores Living Walls controversy

Posted By on Mon, Oct 6, 2014 at 5:14 PM

This should be good.

On Thursday, Oct. 9 at 10 p.m., PBA-TV will air A Tale of Two Murals, an hour-long documentary that delves into the controversial reaction and heated dialogue sparked by two polarizing murals in Atlanta.

The murals in question — one painted by Roti in southwest Atlanta's Pittsburgh neighborhood; the other painted by Hyuro in southeast Atlanta's Chosewood neighborhood — were both part of the 2012 international street art conference Living Walls, the City Speaks.

Since Living Walls got its start in Atlanta five years ago, the nonprofit has become adept at navigating and negotiating the space between art, community, and government. But with varying results, according to some. Despite receiving such recognition as a recent induction into CL's Best of Atlanta trophy case, LW still garners criticism. In last week's CL arts feature, Atlanta visual artist Kevin "Mr. Soul" Harp pointed to the disconnect that he feels exists between the inner-city communities Living Walls canvases and the murals and artists curated. The organization does, however, ensure that 50 percent of the artists selected every year are from the Atlanta area, according to Living Walls' Communications Director Jasmine Amussen.

Beneath the layers of paint, the relationship between public art and public space can be transformative. But it also offers a transparent view at such underlying issues as economic inequality, political disenfranchisement, and gentrification. More than an arts organization, Living Walls has become a case study for cultural exchange in Atlanta. All the more reason why this doc should be a worthy watch.

A Tale of Two Murals. PBA-TV. 10 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 9. Re-airs 10 p.m., Sun., Oct. 12, and 11:30 p.m. Sat., Oct. 18.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Beltline community residents highlighted in '45x45' project

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 2014 at 10:00 AM

45 x 45: Neighbors Connected
For the past three years, renowned French street artist JR has helped communities across the world install large-format wheatpastes — similar to the kind he plastered on walls in Old Fourth Ward during the 2013 Living Walls Conference — of local residents as part of an ongoing participatory art project known as "Inside Out."

#weloveatl, a loose collective of cellular shutterbugs based around the Instagram hashtag, has partnered with Art on the Beltline on an "Inside Out" project that features 45 portraits of residents living in 45 different neighborhoods adjacent to the 22-mile loop of parks, trails, and greenspace — aptly titled the "45 x 45: Neighbors Connected" project. The 15-foot-by-50-foot wheatpaste, comprised of monochrome portraits positioned in a 3-by-15 grid, was plastered last weekend onto a drab concrete wall on North Avenue near the Beltline and Historic Fourth Ward Park.

"We wanted to have a place that had a monumental quality to it," #weloveatl Co-founder Brandon Barr tells CL. "We didn't want to divide the installation [into individual photos]. I like it because it's located at the heart of the Beltline. [That location] shows what the Beltline has done for eastside neighborhoods and it hints at the promise of what the Beltline can do for westside neighborhoods."

#weloveatl reached out to 45 different photographers who actively contribute to the group's Instagram community. They assigned each cameraman with a specific neighborhood adjacent to the Beltline, provided them a neighborhood contact and map, and asked for a portrait of a community resident. The "45 x 45" photographers had varying degrees of experience — some are professionals, others solely post iPhone photos on Instagram — and used a wide range of equipment for the project.

"We've always been about encouraging people to connect offline and online," Barr says. "We wanted to connect people and to allow conversation to happen around the portraits. Some used the neighborhood contacts and others roamed the streets. What you get is a diverse sort of selection of people. In some neighborhoods, people have been involved for 30 years, other times it's someone walking their dog in Atlantic Station."

The "45 x 45" project's larger focus remains on how the Beltline interacts with its surrounding neighborhoods. It also allowed photographers to engage in different communities through the city. There were photographers who documented a person in a familiar neighborhood. For others, like commercial photographer Keith Taylor, who photographed Sister DeBorah Williams in West End, it allowed them to explore a new neighborhood that took him out of his comfort zone.

"I went down [to West End] not knowing the neighborhood," Taylor tells CL. "I never had a reason to go there during my 14 years in Atlanta. ... Some places you get the idea you're an outsider there. But I was there to tell the story of a resident as a photographer. It was one of those things where I'm a commercial photographer that gets paid by companies. It's going out to photograph strangers like that makes me feel alive and appreciate what I do."

#weloveatl and Art on the Beltline will be putting the finishing touches on the "45 x 45" project between now and Sept. 6. Once it's complete, you can head to weloveatl.org to see the portraits online and read interviews with each of the residents about their relationship to the neighborhoods.

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