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."
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.
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.
"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.
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.
#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.
After commissioning more than 100 murals by as many globally and locally renowned artists since its founding in 2009, the street art nonprofit Living Walls is celebrating this year with a conference that encompasses the trend of public art in Atlanta and beyond over the last half decade.
The annual conference, which runs from Aug. 13-17, will include a curated bicycle tour of this year's completed murals, an outdoor movie screening of the documentary Public Discourse, and a street-art lecture series, featuring keynote speaker Ryan Gravel of Atlanta BeltLine, at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
The main event, presented by Goat Farm and Living Walls on Sat., Aug. 16, will feature Pecha Kucha-style talks at 7 p.m. with other nascent local arts organizations, including Dashboard Co-op, Goat Farm, gloATL, and Atlanta Streets Alive. In addition to the gallery exhibit starting at 5 p.m., music performances start at 9 p.m. with a wide range of arty, mostly local indie acts. Announced acts include Space Trucks, Warehouse, TV Dinner, Cult of Riggonia, and W.I.C. Additional acts may be named later. There's a $5 suggested donation for the event.
After five years spent cementing a growing reputation as a street art organization, Living Walls is going global via Google.
The Atlanta street art nonprofit joins
30 29 other partners spread throughout the world in the inaugural launch of the online Street Art Project by the Paris-based Google Cultural Institute.
While online sharing of such images is nothing new, Google's official foray into the preservation of street art may be the most mainstream legitimization of an art form still viewed contentiously by some. While adding another wrinkle onto the public art vs. street art debate, Google intends to cover its bases by only showcasing images owned by the actual organizations, according to the Economic Times:
Sheperd opened the work session, the first opportunity that Atlantans have had to present their questions and comments, by immediately proposing the substitute ordinance. Before explaining the changes, she defended the how and why of the amendment. "I just want to go on record saying that the City of Atlanta, and me in particular, loves art," Sheperd said. "So how did we get here to this legislation?"
The councilwoman cited the 2012 Living Walls mural controversy along the border of Pittsburgh, one of the southwest Atlanta neighborhoods she now represents, as drawing her attention to what she considered a lack of community input and inconsistencies in the process to approve art on private property.
"There were a lot of little flaws that we thought should be cleaned up to be more succinct for us as a council, for the community as a whole, and also for the artists who come down here, who would have to go through the process that was actually created in 1982," she said.
The City of Atlanta's stance on public art gets more ironic by the day.
At the same time that city officials are pushing for a controversial law meant to rein in artwork visible on private property, a new video sponsored in part by the city puts such public art in a positive light.
The educational video is part of a public art web series co-presented by AtlantaPlanIt.com - which is part of Public Broadcasting Atlanta - and the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs. Yep, that's the same Office of Cultural Affairs that largely would be responsible for overseeing the stringent approval process for public art should the ordinance pass.
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