Reclining on a couch in a Castleberry Hill loft near his famed tattoo studio City of Ink, Miya Bailey takes a moment to smoke a cigarette and to talk about his latest venture before jetting off to a barber’s appointment.
“This is the project that I finally get to do kind of solo,” he says of Peters Street Station, his longtime dream for a multi-use art space and community center two doors down from his iconic tattoo studio. “I always did things with a collective or a team. The Goat Farm came in and gave me manpower and the resources, but I really wanted to see if I could do this without outside help.”
For Bailey, tattooing has always functioned as the art that’s helped him jumpstart a much larger vision. City of Ink has become an incubator for creative talent of all kinds, and Bailey himself has been the spark plug at the center of the collective, which has included artists such as Tuki Carter, Kevin “Mr. Soul” Harp, Corey Davis and PaperFrank. He’s gained a reputation as an entrepreneurial visionary who gives credit and opportunity to anyone who’s willing to take the initiative and put in the work. He’s staunchly community-minded when it comes to providing space and creating opportunities, but he doesn’t abide by the “art for art’s sake” model; art can and should be used a means to make money, he believes. Bailey has been content to carve his own lane on the periphery of Atlanta’s arts and culture establishment, and an air of self-sufficiency is always present.
“I know how to make income off my talent, and I know how to put the money back into the community so it can bring in more revenue,” he says. “I can show people that it can be done one-hundred percent using art income without grants, without investors, without banks, without your friends giving you loans. If I can do it, then anybody can.”
It’s that sense of independent creative risk-taking that’s enabled him to elevate City of Ink into one of the driving forces for culture in the city. It’s a wide platform — including a second City of Ink location that opened in 2014 on Edgewood Avenue and the 2015 launch of Notch8 Gallery in partnership with Sharon Dennehy — from which many local artists have launched their careers.
“I always tell people where I started — with City of Ink,” says Atlanta photographer Kaya Faery. Like many Atlanta artists, she credits Bailey with giving her pivotal early exposure. “It’s hard to describe, but once you’re in the family, you’re in the family and they’re going to push you to go wherever you’re trying to go.”
Bailey turns beaming and buoyant as he walks through the new space. Power tools and spare wooden planks still lie about as the finishing touches are being applied. He chats with the construction crew and points out different areas: a gallery, a library, a classroom for free art classes for kids, a cafe for neighboring Atlanta University Center students to hang out and take advantage of the Wi-Fi, private studios upstairs and more.
The soft launch of Peters Street Station — at which time the public will get a first glimpse — is set to coincide with the most popular event on City of Ink’s annual calendar, the anniversary party for the tattoo studio, now entering its 11th year, taking place on Friday, February 23. The 11-DJ block party will feature work from more than 150 artists, and Peters Street Station will host an open house, allowing the public into the new space for the first time to see what’s available. Participants will eventually help build out the flexible space with ideas for new activities and developments, which is all planned to happen in waves.
Peters Street Station started with an out-of-the-blue call from Anthony Harper, cofounder of the Goat Farm Arts Center. Harper asked if Bailey would be interested in purchasing a building Harper owned not far from City of Ink. Surprised, Bailey initially didn’t believe he would be able to acquire the property at market value, yet the two were ultimately able to work out terms on a deal that would allow Bailey to buy the building and make affordable mortgage payments. All that was left for Bailey was to execute the vision.
Thinking back to when Harper first asked him what he wanted to do with the building, Bailey’s eyes light up. “I told him I always wanted to start an art community center,” he says. Growing up in Asheville, North Carolina, Bailey attended Delta House Life Development Center, a nonprofit organization where African American, college-educated women teach music, arts, science and nutrition classes to economically disadvantaged youth. For the past decade Bailey has harbored hopes of creating a similar place in Atlanta. Thanks to the Goat Farm, his dream is finally coming true.
The emphasis on expediting ownership into the hands of artists is a critical distinction for Bailey and Peters Street Station as opposed to some of the prior Goat Farm-assisted spaces on Broad Street that now face uncertain futures as lease tenants. The fact that the Goat Farm already owned the building meant Harper could deal with Bailey directly, instead of having to play intermediary between artists and property owners, as in the other scenarios.
For Castleberry Hill, the addition of Peters Street Station will further bolster the community’s current arts footprint alongside mainstays ZuCot Gallery, Besherat Museum Gallery and other smaller participating venues during the monthly Second Friday Art Stroll. Peters Street Station is being positioned as a place to build capacity and skills for members of the arts community across a wide range — from beginners to professionals, kids to adults — and will represent an intermediate stage in the exposure pipeline for emerging artists.
Though Bailey has always placed an emphasis on self-sufficiency, he says that in the end, it’s never just about money. “We’ve been doing these events free for 10 years,” he says. “We didn’t do it for money; we did it just to cultivate culture, to spark culture, to define what culture is so Atlanta can have some kind of identity besides Trap Music.”
The irony of that perspective is that next door to Peters Street Station is Escobar, the restaurant launched by Atlanta hip-hop legend and Trap Music icon 2 Chainz; the proximity will likely help drive traffic to each business. In the end, Bailey is confident there’s room for everyone to thrive in the neighborhood that’s given him so much.
“I love Castleberry Hill; it’s my home, and I’ll do anything for this neighborhood. It’s always been good to me,” he says. “It got my family out of situations, and I made my income here, so this is where I plant my seed.”