The Changing Face of Atlanta's Art Scene

On Killer Mike, guerrilla art, The Goat Farm, and “creative refugees.”

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Sep 22 2015, 4:30pm

Atlanta’s South Downtown district, image via The Goat Farm Arts Center.

When artist Jack Pait moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 1981, the face of the city was bare. The street art movement hadn’t reached southern soil yet, and the population of Atlanta idled around a comfortable two million, establishing Atlanta as a medium-sized city. Now, 34 years later, Pait looks out over a transformed city as a figurehead of the Atlanta street art scene. He is best known as the art alias Evereman and started the Evereman Project, a guerilla art movement.

“Atlanta is fertile ground right now to be an artist,” Pait tells The Creators Project. “Compared to other major cities, there are more affordable places to live, there are a lot of grassroots organizations popping up that are making art happen on their own terms. I think an artist could come here and have freedom that they might not have in New York or LA. There’s these other places that are more sewn up and have their established players, but people can come here and create their own identities.”

South Downtown, Atlanta, GA. Image via The Goat Farm Arts Center.

This atmosphere of opportunity Pait speaks of has not gone unnoticed by the greater artistic community. The extreme urban sprawl occurring within the last 30 years has yielded an influx of cultural growth in the city, resulting in, for the first time, Atlanta’s High Museum of Art’s exhibition of solely Georgia artists. Aptly titled Sprawl!, the show featuring the work of artists Greg Mike, Fabian Williams, and Abbie Merritt, amongst many others.

Atlanta is a city divided into 224 distinct neighborhoods, and one of its vices is that public transportation and urban planning did not account for large amounts of growth. Atlanta is extremely spread out and relies heavily on commuters, and sub-par transit systems notoriously stagnate change in the city.

The ongoing installation of the Atlanta BeltLine since April 2005, however, connects the greater Metro area by placing a pedestrian-friendly railway through the heart of the city. So far it's had an overall positive project for a fractured community. According to Camille Love, a representative from Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs, “The actual population for Atlanta swells tenfold during the business day, so the infrastructure repairs will not only affect the taxpayers, but the daily commuter as well.”

Evereman on the early construction site of the Atlanta Beltline. Photo courtesy of Evereman.

Atlanta’s growth has, however, proven to be a double-edged sword for the community. Unfortunately, the BeltLine brought gentrification into the city’s more affordable neighborhoods, such as Old Fourth Ward and Cabbagetown, which are also cultural hubs for Atlanta’s creative communities. The success of the BeltLine project has raised rent in these areas considerably (15% in just the past six months), effectively pushing out the area’s longstanding residents—as the tale of gentrification typically goes.

The Goat Farm, a cotton gin-turned-arts center, has added a grassroots effort to protecting the fledgling community. It's a hybrid complex of event spaces, galleries, studio spaces, and tech start-ups that has, thus far, been extremely successful as an unconventional concept for building an arts community. Goat Farm owners Anthony Harper and Chris Melhouse credit the sheer density of creative energy in an otherwise disconnected community. They are a for-profit that rents long-term studio space to hundreds of practitioners but their venues are free to the 150 or so art concepts accepted by its curating board annually. Goat Farm uses a large portion of their revenue to invest in and support the the aritsts presented in their venues.    

Their new project, BEACONS, is aiming to provide a solution for "creative refugees" displaced by gentrification.  Over the next decade they plan to turn empty buildings in South Downtown into habitable environments. The Goat Farm doesn't actually own any of the properties but is helping to rehab them anyway.  BEACONS hopes to provide more stability and staying power for artists and entities they  install Downtown by helping them become owners vs renters and helping venues & galleries downtown develop excess rentable space so they can grow stronger business models.  BEACONS has the potential to create a self-sustaining arts district despite Atlanta's overbearing wealth lines.

Atlanta’s Goat Farm Arts Center, images via The Goat Farm

“Over the past couple years here at The Goat Farm, we’ve learned the power of density. Here, there’s lots of people and lots of organizations in one location. There’s gravity that’s created with a dense location of stuff. It's "louder" and tough to ignore,” Harper tells The Creators Project.

With efforts like BEACONS, the changing face of the Atlanta arts community may be able to sustain its ability to cater to a working class artist. In an interview with NPR, rapper Killer Mike describes his home city: "Atlanta is a typical Southern town, at its core. We like our church on Sundays; we like our wine and our sinning on Saturdays. But there's this whole other culture of high art and avant-garde thinking here that meshes with that.”

Learn more about The Goat Farm here.

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