From Graffitis to Murals: Atlanta’s Burgeoning Street Art Scene

Art pulls a community together…Art makes you feel differently. That’s what artists are doing all the time, shifting and changing the way you see life – Lister Sinclair

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Brandon P. Wicks, ROA’s graffiti at 209 Michell Stree, Atlanta 2012

Atlanta’s street art scene is a burgeoning melting pot. With enough effort, you can find street art in almost every corner of Atlanta that encompasses all cultures; from Chinese calligraphy to thought-provoking graffiti, clever and creative messages can be constantly found in the streets of downtown, midtown, Inman Park or Little Five Points. In fact, some call Atlanta’s evolving avant-garde art community a “visual art renaissance” (thegrio.com). Undoubtedly, however, it is the ordinary passerbys and citizens that benefit the most from these public (and free!) artworks that allow for anyone to find beauty in even the most ordinary things.

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Personally, I believe street art to be one of the purest and most thoughtful forms of artistic expression that exists. It allows people to find deeper meaning in a mural on the wall of their city or to smile when they are taking a walk around Beltline of Atlanta. In the fast-paced, concrete jungle society that we live in, there is tremendous hope and possibility in people slowing down to observe their surroundings with open eyes (and open minds), stopping to observe the work laid out in front of them, and realizing that it’s for them.

There are, of course, many that consider street art to be a form of vandalism. In fact, graffiti and street art are generally described as “any form of unsanctioned art that occurs in a public or privately owned space” (Wikipedia). With this, I wonder how certain people consider street art to be a form of ‘illegal vandalism’. Why can’t it be a form of reclaiming public space for ‘unsanctioned’ art that originally belongs to the people and that continues to exemplify a form of political resistance, before it is considered illegal? And how does one draw the line between a public installation of art and vandalism? Of course, we cannot expect everyone to feel the same way and obviously, there are residents who live in these areas that may feel as if their personal space has been violated. But this has always been a point of interest (and resolution) for artists; negotiating the space between creating an artwork that is can be readily integrated with the community and at the same time, can challenge its viewers to take something from the art itself.

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Living Walls 2013. Mural by Street Artist JR. Photo by Jaime Rojo
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Mural by Agostino Iacurci par of the bicycle tour given for Living Walls 2013. Photo by Jaime Rojo

On the walls and storefronts, there are a lot of gallery-worth works that have been commissioned by Living Walls, which since 2010 have sought to promote, educate and change perspective about public space in Atlanta communities via street art (livingwallsatl). Elevate Atlanta initiatives and Art on the Beltline have also added some spectacular pieces to our city’s streets (CurbedAtlanta).

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Mural by Bubelyoo. Photo @ Curbed Atlanta

 

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“Where the Wild Things Are” Mural by Corey Davis and Greg Mike. Photo @ Curbed Atlanta

To experience the climate of the art scene in Atlanta first-handedly, I’ve decided to take a walk on Atlanta’s very own Beltline. The Atlanta Beltline is a 22-mile long network of public parks, trails and transit circling downtown and connecting some of the city’s most popular neighborhoods such as Ponce City Market, Piedmont Park and etc. (AtlantaBeltline). It is home to many conceptual sculptures and murals and every year, Art On The Atlanta Beltline public art initiative selects new and returning artists to showcase dynamic installations and performances (AtlantaBeltline).

Here are some photos that were taken from my trip around Beltline (please excuse my lack of skills in photography).

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Author: Youjean (Ivey) Hwang

(1): thegrio.com

(2): livingwallsatl.com

(3): curbedatlanta.com

(4): AtlantaBeltline

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Voices of the Artistic CommUNITY in Atlanta

Voices of the Artistic CommUNITY in Atlanta

Integrating their talents, character, and experience to solve the weakness in social order, artists in Atlanta have embraced the community in their inspiring creative journey. With its artists greasing its wheels, Atlanta has come a long way in creating a seamless and vibrant hub for street art, exhibitions, and art caucuses. It is home to numerous art exhibitions and events that foster community involvement and dialogue between artists and audiences. Local artists and out-of-town artists invited were heavily focused on capturing and challenging issues that are often not talked about and that are important to Atlanta specifically.

Here are brief introductions to the different subject matters of art exhibitions, installations, performances and events held in Atlanta:

Freedom

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For Freedom: “Yard Sign Activation” project 2016

Flux Project (current and ongoing)

The Flux Project was founded in 2009 and till today, it remains as a medium in engaging Atlanta’s public spaces with thought-proving art. It is a non-profit arts organization that aims to shape and promote Atlanta’ cultural identity. (@fluxproject.com)

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One Woman Rising Ceremony 2015

Art in Freedom Park

Freedom Park’s visibility made it an ideal location for public display of art work in Atlanta. In 2005, Evan Levy opened the fountainhead for sculptures and paved the way for bolder, more conceptual and more risk-taking art installations and projects for local artists to explore. Ever since then, multiple installations and art events have attracted multiple citizens around Atlanta and further connected art with the larger cultural discourse. (@freedompark.org)

Slavery

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Murals by George Beattle in Georgia Department of Agriculture

            Murals in Georgia Department of Agriculture

As you step in the lobby of Georgia Department of Agriculture, you will come across a painting that has been hanging in the lobby for half a century. These murals are part of a collection of eight works painted by George Beattle in 1956. It depicts “an idealized version of Georgia farming, from the corn grown by prehistoric American Indians to a 20th-century veterinary lab. In the Deep South, the history of forced use of slave labor”. In response to the controversy around the paintings, Beattle responded, “as a human being, I am vehemently opposed to slavery, as anyone should be but it was a significant epoch in our history; it would have been inaccurate not to include this period”. (Associated Press)

Human trafficking and Sexual Assault

It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity.  It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric.  It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets.  It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.  I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name -modern slavery.

– President Barack Obama in remarks to the Clinton Global Initiative in 2012

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“How Much” by Faith Dickey            

Human trafficking is brutal and widespread in Atlanta. In fact, Atlanta is one of the largest hubs for human trafficking in the country. Mary Bowely, who runs Wellspring Living, a non-profit organization in Atlanta that helps young survivors of human trafficking explains how the numbers are bigger than what many people consider; there are about 200-300 girls that are trafficked each month in this very city and around 100 girls are exploited in metro Atlanta every night. To fight modern slavery, local Atlanta artists and artists from out-of-town gathered together in Mammal Gallery this September to engage in dialogue with the community and raise awareness of human trafficking in Atlanta. (@WCAGA.org)

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Charlie Watt’s “The ThrowAways” at Emory University’s Visual Arts Building Gallery (Photo by John)

 

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Charlie Watt’s “The ThrowAways” at Emory University’s Visual Arts Building Gallery (Photo by John)

 

In 2013, an Emory graduate, Charlie Watts Watts held an exhibition about sex trafficking at Emory University’s Visual Art Building Gallery. Titled, “The ThrowAways” Watts involved a photographic genre of pictorialism with glowing, digitally produced color images in her creative efforts to create art that would “neither drive away potential viewers nor blunt the impact of the unpleasant facts embodied in the subject” (@artsatl). Her exhibition, in a review by Jerry Cullum credited the exhibition to have “exactly the right mixture of cold realism and metaphoric evocation” that placed the viewer in a climate appropriate to understand the oppressive, tense and brutal aspects of human trafficking (Jerry Cullum).

Author: Youjean (Ivey) Hwang

(1): Fluxproject.com

(2): Freedompark.org

(3): Associated Press, accessed through ArtDaily.org

(4): ArtsATL.com

(5): ArtsATL.com

History of Art and Activism in Atlanta

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It’s difficult to imagine Atlanta’s art scene thriving without African Americans who grease its wheels. From slam poetry to art installations on the Beltline, African American artists have long reflected not only their individual opinions and experiences but also their historical and cultural ties with the past. For us, Emory students, we tend to take diversity and inclusion for granted, and we are often oblivious to the hidden racist history of Atlanta. Particularly for Atlanta, art has been influential in dismantling the strength of racism and has aided generations of African American artists in their collective and progressive efforts to integrate all citizens, black and white, to promote the equality and diversity that we enjoy today.

Until the 1950s, arts and culture were adversely affected by the restrictive nature of legalized segregation. Even till 1959, African-American musicians could play to white audiences, but could not intermingle at intermission (Tate, 2012). In the very worst days of Atlanta’s ugly past, Carlton Molette, Neighborhood Arts Center’s first chairman of the board recalls, “Georgia Tech used to invite us to their dress rehearsals because it was illegal for them to sell us tickets” (Tate, 2012). The weed of Jim Crow policies had not been completely laced till the end of the 1960s and it was suffocating the arts of African Americans.

Slowly and gradually, however, the art climate in Atlanta was moving towards integration. With the King Center established in 1968 and Atlanta Center for Black Arts in 1971, Black Arts Movement flourished in the late 1960s and marked the transitional era for African American artists in Atlanta. By 1970s, there were deteriorating section of downtown Atlanta as segregation had given way to integration, suburbanization and the abandonment of many social support structures innate to a system of racial separation (Tate, 2012). After the national Black Power Movement that was prominent till the late 1970s, in 1970s and 1980s, Atlanta became a reflection of a national black art scene. There were, of course, many white American that were interested in the advancement of all the arts, regardless of the artist’s race. Lomax, who was once an Emory professor in his dissertation explains how Atlanta was, “one of the few spaces where blacks and whites came together because artists were always marginalized” (1986).

As Franz Fanon states, “revolutionary art is both a product of struggle and a reflection of it”, Atlanta’s history is filled with stories of prominent African American artists and their journey of growth, acceptance, innovation, and hope. It is through their collective efforts, that current African-American artists and artists of every color can enjoy the liberty of art and readily combat the urban blight of society.

Author: Youjean (Ivey) Hwang

(1): Tate, Rachanice P. “Our Art Itself Was Our Activism: Atlanta’s Neighborhood Arts Center, 1975-1990.” PhD diss., Clark Atlanta University, 2012.

(2): Lomax, Michael L. “Countee Cullen, ‘From the Dark Tower’.” PhD diss., Emory University, 1984.