It has not been a year for easy conversations, on both a national and local scale, and our artwork and public programming is a direct reflection of this. Think about it: MARTA’s En Route programming; leadership removing themselves from the board of the BeltLine out of concern for gentrification; thought leaders such as Hank Willis Thomas, Theaster Gates, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay and Jose Antonio Vargas all coming to Atlanta in a matter of months to speak about issues of racism, social activism and art –– all in a matter of months. These are just a few examples. A lengthier, in-depth list could easily be compiled.
Joining the dialogue is ELEVATE, the annual downtown arts programming presented by the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs, which will be addressing one of the hardest conversations facing not just South Downtown, where the program will be taking place, but the city as a whole. “The curators this year are tackling a national issue that plays out in Atlanta daily: gentrification,” says the art program manager of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, Dorian McDuffie. “They’re tackling it conceptually. People’s lives are affected by gentrification, and South Downtown is a prime example of it.”
This marks a change in direction for ELEVATE, which recently evolved into year-round programming. ELEVATE was first developed and conceived by Eddie Granderson, the Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs’ former art program manager and an artist in his own right. In 2010 he hired Courtney Hammond to supervise and curate Elevate, which she went on to do for four years. During that time nearly 200 permanent, temporary and ephemeral public artworks were commissioned throughout downtown Atlanta, starting at Underground and migrating over to South Downtown. In 2015 the program focused on Southern identity in hip-hop and was curated by artist Fahamu Pecou.
Now in its sixth iteration, the aptly named and themed ELEVATE: Microcosm is instead curated by a team: Allie Bashuk, Mónica Campana, Pastiche Lumumba and Mark DiNatale. Together the four have amassed an impressive series of panels, artist talks, public performances and artworks which will take place in South Downtown between October 13 and 21. “Since coming back from Philadelphia, I was very aware of what was happening in the area,” says Living Walls’ Mónica Campana, one of this year’s co-curators. “We see that there is a way to create contemporary and thoughtful dialogue — starting projects with the community informing it. I want to get people’s voices documented and highlight the diversity that exists in South Downtown and in Atlanta. It’s complicated and beautiful.”
“I’ve been here for 22 years and I came down for a reason — that reason is going away now,” says McDuffie. “I came down because it was a great town with a lot of things to do, and I felt comfortable doing them in all parts of town. I’ve seen that dynamic change, I’ve seen people become uncomfortable in their neighborhoods. I’ve seen whole neighborhoods shut down and shift out and I don’t think it’s the city of Atlanta that did it or wanted it.” It’s her hope, along with the curators’ hope, that the 23 participating organizations, over 30 events and over 40 artists that will be engaging with South Downtown over the course of seven days, can not only address but commit to preserving the community’s culture.
404 Dinner This year’s event opens with an invite-only dinner, a collaboration between ELEVATE, Living Walls and residents of Broad Street. “It’ll be a fun way to get conversations going at each table,” says Campana. “The whole thing is to get people talking about things that are happening nationally, statewide, within the city, and then South Downtown. We want everyone to feel safe to sit down, break bread and unpack.”
Red, Bike, and Green’s bike ride, ‘ELEVATE: The Ride.’ The collective of Black, urban cyclists will advocate for a relevant and sustainable Black bike culture by conducting a tour of South Downtown. Participants will learn about Atlanta’s historic neighborhoods, engage with both Black- and bike-friendly businesses in the area and more.
Truth Booth Cause Collective’s internationally touring art project will make its stop in Atlanta on Thursday, October 20. Shaped like a cartoon speech bubble, the interior asks the public to finish the phrase, “The truth is . . .” in a two-minute video response. The accumulated videos are compiled to showcase and celebrate diversity.
JORTSFEST Eyedrum’s rooftop will be brought to life with JORTSFEST’s free, all ages and accessible music performance. Performances from Yani Mo, Pop Weirdos, Blue Tower and Fantasy Guys will take place in each corner of the building as an “auditory tour of the city of Atlanta.”
Panel: “Who Will Survive in Atlanta?” The Center for Civic Innovation’s founder and executive director, Rohit Malhotra, will lead a conversation between Zahra Alabanza (Red, Bike, and Green), Tim Keane (Commissioner, Department of Planning and Community Development, City of Atlanta) and Zaida Sanchez (Wussy magazine) focusing on the city’s development and direction.