Thursday, August 8, 2013

Public Art Makes Places Better

By Alexia Alvey, Operations Manager.

When people think about public art, they often think big, recalling larger-scale works like Cloud Gate in Chicago or other large sculptures in major cities. But this is not always the case – public art can also include anything from lighting an underpass to activating underutilized spaces and buildings.  Based on what I’ve experienced, I feel like there’s an ever growing appreciation for public art around communities.  This is especially true in Atlanta, where there is an ever-growing list of initiatives that both engage the community and give back to it using public art.

One example is Living Walls, an Atlanta organization that uses local artists to paint and decorate primarily older, unkempt buildings around the city.  According to their Facebook page, they “bring together street artists, academics, and the public at large to activate and engage communities.”   A lot of the art through Living Walls is concentrated in the Downtown/Old Fourth Ward area of Atlanta (see my previous post about my neighborhood here) which is where I took notice.  The buildings are not necessarily dilapidated, but when you take an otherwise plain, older building and add something interesting to it, it makes the building aesthetically more pleasing and also makes the surrounding area seem a lot more contemporary and hip.  Since they’re focused on keeping the artist base in Atlanta, it adds another aspect of community pride.

Another art initiative that popped up in Atlanta is called Dashboard.  They have a really neat concept of taking vacant buildings and using the space to have artistic performances.  According to their website they want to “activate raw space with radical contemporary art to inspire neighborhood development and cultural awareness. “
Other examples from Atlanta and elsewhere include Elevate from the City of Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs; Art on the Beltline in Atlanta; REV Birmingham light displays; Lake Worth, Florida’s Street Painting Festival; the many sculptures along the Urban Trail in Asheville, NC.
But, why the need for public art?  What does it do except add visual interest?  As Michael Beadle of Smoky Mountain News said of the public art initiative in the City of Waynesville, North Carolina, “To local residents and visitors alike, public art establishes that unique sense of place, an identity, a familiar landmark that attracts people and keeps them coming back.”  To me, the pretty much sums it up.