Photo Essays

Waking Up a City with Public Art

by Alix Taylor on August 25, 2014

Moneyless, Side of Soundtable, Edgewood (all photos by Alix Taylor/Hyperallergic)

Moneyless, Side of Soundtable, Edgewood (all photos by Alix Taylor/Hyperallergic)

ATLANTA — This summer marks the fifth anniversary of Living Walls, The City Speaks, conference, an event and organization dedicated to bringing public art and conversation to downtown Atlanta. Each year Living Walls, which has grown significantly since its start in 2010, commissions new murals for the city; this edition brought 18 more artworks to Atlanta, by international artists like Ernest Zacharevic as well as local painters such as HENSE. The mid-August companion conference featured, among other events, a conversation with Juxtapoz magazine and Vandalog, a lecture by Meres One on curating the now-defunct 5Pointz, and a blowout event at The Goat Farm.

After the weekend of festivities, I hopped in my car to visit each of the 2014 walls in the middle of a Georgia summer storm. As I struggled to unglue my sweaty legs from the sticky car seat at each stop, I realized how palpable the impact of Living Walls has been on Atlanta’s landscape. On my way to new walls I passed pieces from years past, murals by artists I’d interviewed, and bikers admirably ditching fossil fuels for the Living Walls bike route.

In a city known for its sprawl, rush, and abandonment of the interpersonal interactions that seem to characterize other southern cities, Living Walls offers invaluable moments to stop and appreciate public art in some of Atlanta’s most vibrant neighborhoods.

Troy Lovegates, Humphries Street

Troy Lovegates, Humphries Street

Troy Lovegates, Humphries Street (detail)

Troy Lovegates, Humphries Street (detail)

SAN, Whitehall and McDaniels Street

SAN, Whitehall and McDaniels Street

Caroline Caldwell, Edgewood Ave and Hillard Street

Caroline Caldwell, Edgewood Ave and Hillard Street

Caroline Caldwell, Edgewood Ave and Hillard Street (detail)

Caroline Caldwell, Edgewood Ave and Hillard Street (detail)

Borondo, Atlanta Daily World Building

Borondo, Atlanta Daily World Building

Borondo, Atlanta Daily World Building (detail)

Borondo, Atlanta Daily World Building (detail)

Fintan Magee, Ralph McGill Boulevard

Fintan Magee, Ralph McGill Boulevard

The Living Walls 2014 conference took place August 13–17. This year’s murals remain on view indefinitely. Their locations can be found here.

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  • ATLmodart

    This is all good for the viewing public in Atlanta, and I’m glad to see more art in the public realm, but it comes at the expense of the artists involved and an actually viable art economy. Living Walls pays exactly $0 to artists who participate (aside from materials/installation costs), and offers only the tired/cliche compensation of ‘exposure’, and for international artists, travel expenses.

    Supporting your community is great, but in my opinion it’s simply unfair and disrespectful to presume that artists and their art should be donated at every turn in the name of ‘elevating art in community’ when that same community does not enable or support said artists to actually make a living at their profession. We are professionals; not hobbyists. In the same way one would not expect a doctor or lawyer to work one or two extra jobs in order to give out free services in their spare time, one should assume that artists should behave any differently.

    In an already anemic art scene, the precedent of free murals has now been established by Living Walls, making it virtually impossible for any artist to go out and get a paid commission in the areas LW is targeting. This will inevitably decrease the quality and quantity of impactful art, from local artists, in the city overall in the long run.

    And yes, the artists who agree to these projects are just as much to blame as LW, but given that most artists do not have much business mindset/entrepreneurial spirit (which is how things like this are able to even be considered/flourish in the first place), I feel it’s more the responsibility of these organizations to provide a real economy for artists than taking advantage of their talent and skill set in the name of community.

    Support LW as much as you please, but do so with eyes open to the immediate and long term effects of this practice and precedents of free art. No viable marketplace in a capitalists system can be expected when things are done (or expected to be done) for free, and if everyone who cheers the efforts of LW and public art in general truly supports the arts, then it should be no issue to vote with your dollars as well. As an example, people in Portland pay a $15 per year art tax to support their artists and art communities. A small and almost insignificant amount, but it goes a lot further than nothing…which is what Atlantans pay.

    Now you can discount the information and opinions expressed above as simply hating or whatever, but you do so at your own willful ignorance of the problem, and to the detriment of the arts communities which you purport to support and want to encourage. I fortunately have been able to make money commissions (including murals), but I’m the extremely rare .001% in the city that has achieved this. Support your arts community by supporting your artists. Landlords do not except exposure or painting materials as rent payment.

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