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With Bold Brushstrokes and Splashes of Color, Public Art Inspires Metro Atlanta Communities

Posted on: Jul 28, 2016

How can community art help inspire and change the Atlanta region?

That’s the question that metro Atlanta leaders brought home with them from the Atlanta Regional Commission’s (ARC) 2014 LINK trip to Philadelphia. During the city-to-city peer exchange trip, the Atlanta group heard community art advocate Jane Golden talk about the transformative effect of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

The LINK delegation came home eager to start a public art program in the Atlanta region. In 2015, ARC, working with a group of metro Atlanta leaders, raised funds to create the Atlanta Regional Public Art Program. Last fall, the program awarded grants to help four metro Atlanta communities install public art.

A $15,000 grant from the program helped MARTA install a mural at the King Memorial rail station, just east of downtown Atlanta. “Rise Above,” a towering, affirmative mural by Atlanta artist Fahamu Pecou that draws inspiration from the messages of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was completed in June.

“The mural at the King Memorial station is simply stunning, and shows how public art can be transformative for communities across the Atlanta region,” said Greg Burbidge, a senior program specialist at ARC who coordinates the public art program.

“We can’t wait to see the finished work at the three other projects that received funding,” Burbidge added. “Public art can do much more than beautify a community. If done right, it can foster public conversations about key issues and help communities better define who they are.”

The other communities that received funding from the Atlanta Regional Public Art Program expect to complete their projects by the end of 2016. These projects are:

  • City of Decatur – Mural on Marta Overpass, W. Trinity & Atlanta Ave. ($15,000)
  • City of Hapeville – Hapeville 125th Anniversary Sculpture Project ($15,000)
  • City of Woodstock – Downtown Woodstock Mural ($8,000)

Public art is a community effort – scenes from the creation of the King Memorial Station mural with artist Fahamu Pecou, community members, WonderRoot staff and volunteers.

“Rise Above” is the first of four murals that will be created by Pecou at Atlanta MARTA stations as part of En Route, a public art project coordinated by WonderRoot, an Atlanta-based community arts center. En Route is a partnership between MARTA, WonderRoot, Fulton County Arts & Culture and the TransFormation Alliance. Future public art projects are planned at the Oakland City, Hamilton E. Holmes and Vine City MARTA stations.

The project is funded by a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with Fulton County Arts and Culture, and additional funding from Wells Fargo, the Ford Foundation, Georgia Council for the Arts and the Atlanta Regional Public Art Program.

The goal of En Route is to create engaging, meaningful, high-quality public art that celebrates Atlanta’s neighborhoods, improves the experience of transit riders and enlivens the environment of MARTA’s transit stations. For that reason, engaging the community surrounding each MARTA station is a vital part of the development process for the En Route projects.

To develop the King Memorial project, WonderRoot held multiple community meetings. Pecou met with the neighborhood NPU, En Route stakeholders, an advisory committee, residents and business owners in the neighborhood to work out a concept that would resonate with the King Memorial neighborhood.

In addition, WonderRoot staff and volunteers went to the King Memorial MARTA station to survey transit riders, and Pecou held a community photo shoot to capture images of neighborhood residents as models for his art.

Through conversations and feedback, agreement was reached on an image that reflected both Pecou’s focus on concerns around contemporary representations of black masculinity as well as the neighborhood’s desire to highlight their historic connection to Martin Luther King, Jr.

The finished work is an arresting image of a young black man leaping into the air with the words Rise Above emblazoned across the MARTA station wall. The phrase is taken from a quote by King: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

In speaking about his work in ArtsATL, Pecou said: “Art has always been transformative. It is not merely a reflection of our times and experiences; it also has the capacity to redirect us. As artists, it is imperative that we use our creativity to say the things that words do not easily convey….After all, in the future, historians will tell what happened, but artists will tell how it felt.”