“Elevate,” the downtown arts festival, opens Friday with a big block party. The debut of the multi-arts event will feature dancing in the streets, including “animation” groups Dragonhouse and Remote Kontrol, and possibly you as well, if DJ Genesis and Speakerfoxxx so move you. Art projects — murals, installations and a sidewalk “gallery” of works reproduced from the Clark Atlanta University Museum’s collection — will be on view.
But it’s not a one-night stand. Courtney Hammond and the team at the Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs have developed a number of ambitious, often synergistic, projects to induce you to return, maybe multiple times, during the festival’s eight-day run. A sampling:
“1960 Who?” Sheila Pree Bright’s installation highlights landmarks of the civil rights movement with monumental wheatpaste portraits of important players. Artist William Shweigert has created audio-and-image pieces relating to Bright’s sites. In addition to his performances, the material will be available in a pamphlet published by WonderRoot and through a QR code for the audio. The project coincides with an exhibition about the 1960s Atlanta student movement at the Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center.
“Y’all Gotta See This.” Beth Malone’s neon text works, intended to call attention to the architecture and possibilities of three buildings on Auburn Avenue, is the inspiration for a site-specific performance by Atlanta playwright Theroun Patterson, working with LostintheLetters.
“Mass Transit Muse.” Mike Molina and 7 Stages will offer a mobile play at three MARTA stops, which viewers ride from stop to stop to see. They can exit at the final one (Five Points) to see a performance (also mobile) by seven members of Bistaki, an avant-garde French troupe, on the plaza, during which they will make use of the 2,500 ceramic tiles with them from Toulouse. Hmmm.
Building on the transit theme, Atlanta transportation experts will convene for a panel discussion titled “Moving in Creative Atlanta: How Does Art Impact How We Get Around?” Aptly, the OCA is offering bus, bicycle and walking tours of the festival (which will inevitably cross paths with trolley construction) and other points of interest in the area.
The “Elevate” website contains information on landmarks, places to eat and concurrent events, as well as detailed accounts of its own. The organizers, you see, believe in art as an instrument to invigorate downtown. Getting people downtown – to see what it has to offer, or what is has the potential to offer – was an impetus for the festival.
They are also trying some gentle social engineering. A number of projects and performances will cluster along Broad Street, in hopes of luring the denizens of the north to the south, and vice versa. The effort will have to overcome not only the corridor’s physical disruption by the Five Points MARTA Station and plaza, but also issues of race and class that divided it long before the station did. Whether “Elevate” can contribute to the necessary psychological transformation is an open question. In the meantime, there’s always the art.