Downtown Dazzles With Local Stories In Lights

Forsyth Garage mural. Image Credit: Neka King

Mural by: Neka King

If you’ve been in downtown Atlanta lately, you might have been dazzled by a cluster of brightly lit digital signage.

Don’t be fooled, you’re not actually in Times Square – this display is part of the Central Atlanta Progress and the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (CAP/ADID) Arts & Entertainment District (A&E District) initiative to use a mix of media, art, and programming to jazz up downtown’s public spaces. The idea of the A&E District initiative is to help drive economic development while enhancing downtown’s visual aesthetics through light, art, and activity.

The Arts and Entertainment District was approved by Atlanta City Council in 2017 and is managed by ADID and includes an advisory council of individuals representing the downtown neighborhood designers, media companies, and downtown businesses.

A few installations have already gone up – above the MARTA station at Peachtree Center, the parking deck at 76 Forsyth St., and two of three boards planned for the Westin hotel. More are planned to be in place by mid-February: at the Embassy Suites at 276 Marietta St., and at the American Hotel on Ted Turner Drive.

Arts and culture programming is a major part of the district’s efforts. Digital artwork curated by Living Walls an Atlanta non-profit that brings artists from around the world to paint art on Atlanta’s walls, are already rotating between real-time MARTA train information on the Peachtree Center Board. The Peachtree Center sign also displays transit information and local events that are rotated between commercial advertisements.

Local Stories Writ Large

The arts programming also gives the A&E District a unique opportunity for storytelling. For example, one project called “Local Stories” will highlight Downtown Atlanta’s historical narrative. The Local Stories initiative is being supported by the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Community Development Assistance Program.

Local Stories aims to feature lesser known historic and cultural narratives unique to downtown Atlanta on the digital signage. The boards will showcase images and events that connect these narratives to iconic places downtown.

Local Stories programming framework was led by a 12-member steering committee – different from the 14-member committee that manages the district’s broader content strategy. The Local Stories steering committee includes people with an eye for cultural and historic preservation – folks from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Atlanta Preservation Center, the City of Atlanta Preservation Office, the National Organization of Minority Architects, Georgia State University historians – among others.

“It’s important to ensure stories are vetted and researched properly,” says Fredalyn M. Frasier, Project Director for Planning and Urban Design. It’s in this spirit that the committee foresees an ongoing role for a Georgia State assistantship to help research, vet, and catalogue these stories and provide a repository that is accessible to the public.

An early proposal from the Georgia State Honors College shows what this could look like. The project would commemorate the 60th year of the Atlanta Student Movement with photos of the Civil Rights marches and sit-ins that took place right in downtown Atlanta.

Along with Civil Rights history, other themes for Local Stories could include architecture, music, transportation, or notable Atlanta individuals. Local Stories content could start appearing on AE billboards as early as March.

What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.