No one has ever called me Pollyanna, so this may come as a surprise: 2010 turned out to be a pretty good year for Atlanta’s visual arts scene.
Yes, we can talk funding woes, the Georgia Council for the Arts’ near demise, lagging gallery sales and the departures of two able and community-friendly curators at the High Museum, Julian Cox and Ron Labaco. But the positive developments in 2010 not only outweigh the disappointments but also augur well for the future.
Atlanta has long suffered from insecurity. One of the root problems is that the local arts community is so diffuse and fragmented that, like the blind men touching the elephant, no one has the full picture or even what Gertrude Stein might have called a sense of “thereness.” This year has seen a number of good efforts to address this issue.
In the absence of a central institution or locale, and the unlikelihood that any single hot spot will (or necessarily should) develop, more galleries banded together to create their own geographical identities, as Buckhead and the Castleberry Hill district have done in the past. The West Side Arts District and i45, a consortium on the East Side, created signature events as part of this self-definition, and I imagine the fledgling Ponce Crush will do the same.
The explosion of public art projects in 2010 spoke to a desire to establish a communal geography. Atlanta BeltLine Inc. hosted “Art on the BeltLine,” an exhibition of local artists, as a way to activate the 22-mile rail loop as a public space. Artists Monica Campana and Blacki Li Rudi Migliozzi, aided by Eyedrum’s Priscilla Smith, mounted an international graffiti exhibition and conference in August, which called attention to the potential and politics of the streets.
Some of the most interesting and ambitious public art projects were mounted by Flux Projects and the Possible Futures foundation (new this year); both were founded and are led by Atlanta businessman Louis Corrigan. Highlights included gloATL at Lenox Square; “Between You and Me,” a five-channel video projection (pictured below) by Whitney and Micah Stansell at FLUX, the street art event in the Castleberry Hill district; “Memory Flash,” which vivified the hidden history of gay life in Atlanta, by John Q; and “Roadside Haiku,” John Morse’s satirical simulation of the bandit advertising signs that clog the visual landscape, which stirred a useful controversy.
Corrigan, who serves on many Atlanta arts institutions’ boards, is strategic in his philanthropy. One guiding principle is “Know each other.” Thus, Possible Futures funded membership drives for the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia and gave grants to ArtsCriticATL, Burnaway and longtime local arts writer Jerry Cullum in acknowlegment of the role that critics and reporters play in a healthy arts ecology.
Corrigan also convened a series of meetings of arts leaders across generations and organizations, many of whom did not know one another. For those of us who’ve been around awhile, it was impressive to see, in one room, a new generation of gallerists and activists who have spawned such entities as Mint, Kibbee and Beep Beep galleries and the WonderRoot community arts center.
As a beneficiary of Corrigan’s largesse, I am mindful of sounding self-serving when I say that his emergence is the single most important event of 2010 on the Atlanta arts scene. Yet his catalyzing influence is indisputable. The extent to which his interests will shape the community remains to be seen. In his attention to small and mid-sized concerns and grants to artists, Corrigan, who is in his mid-40s, also represents a philanthropic path notably distinct from the entrenched Woodruff Arts Center axis. Whether he is on the cutting edge of a new generation of philanthropists or inspires others to follow his grass-roots approach also remain to be seen.
Awards are another way to celebrate and broadcast achievement, and 2010 saw the inauguration of three. Atlanta Contemporary Art Center’s Nexus Award and the Creativity & Arts Awards started by Emory University’s Center for Creativity & Arts honored those who have made commitments and long-term contributions to the community. Cullum, for whom 2010 was clearly a very, very good year, won one of each. In addition, Andrea Barnwell Brownlee, director of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, won a Nexus Award and Lauri Stallings, founder of gloATL, received the Emory award. And the first Hudgens Prize, a competition for Georgia artists run by the Jacqueline Casey Hudgens Center for the Arts, went to Gyun Hur (her work is below). Together with existing awards — Idea Capital, the Forward Arts Foundation’s Emerging Artist Award and MOCA GA’s Working Artist Project — there are now mechanisms for recognition up and down the artistic food chain.
Recognizing our own worth is, of course, insufficient. To thrive, Atlanta has to be part of the larger art-world conversation. The Contemporary and the Savannah College of Art and Design have brought in a steady stream of stimulating artists and curators, who add to the discourse here and hopefully take a better knowledge of Atlanta with them when they leave. Atlanta Celebrates Photography does this as well, and its new affiliation with Festival of Light, an international consortium of photography festivals, will be a vehicle not only to draw international speakers but also to spread the word about Atlanta.
Atlanta’s growing involvement with Artadia, a granting organization with a big national network, could also prove more fruitful. Atlanta became one of the cities it serves during its 2008-09 granting cycle. The seven selected Atlanta artists — Tristan Al-Haddad, Don Cooper, Ruth Dusseault, Fahamu Pecou, Jerry Siegel, Larry M. Walker and Angela West — are featured in a group show at the Boston Center for the Arts through January 2 (installation shot below).
In addition, Stuart Horodner, artistic director of the Contemporary, is active with Artadia as a curator, and Corrigan has just joined its board. The organization is publishing a book about the artists, including the Atlantans, who won in 2008-09, and Artadia founder Chris Vroom included Flux Projects in his portal Art and Culture, which markets limited-edition fund-raising prints and other items for selected organizations.
What has been missing from this community ecology is the support of Atlanta’s most prominent artistic institution. But it seems that the High Museum of Art, intent on cultivating its national and international reputation, is now also turning its attention to its home town. Although High curators have worked and partnered with many local institutions, a recent spate of meetings between High Director Michael Shapiro (right) and other local art leaders suggests a new willingness to play a more active role. (See our recent post.)
If you look back through the history of the Atlanta art community, you’ll find too many other promising moments when the engine revved, as it seems to be doing now, but never turned over. The city slogan, “Every day is an opening day,” is unfortunately all too true.
Just to be contrary, I will dare to say that Atlanta has a new momentum. It has a cadre of productive artists, youthful energy, mid-size institutions that are humming, young ones that are thriving, and perhaps a new partner in the High Museum. Let’s hope the umpteenth time is the charm.