All posts tagged: Monica Compana

Atlanta Struggles With Legacy of Two Destroyed Murals and New Regulation

Atlanta Struggles With Legacy of Two Destroyed Murals and New Regulation

Last week on our BSA Film Friday feature we brought you the story of two murals in Atlanta that were destroyed by the community because certain elements of each offended them. The documentary “A Tale of Two Murals” by Public Broadcasting Atlanta and PBS, directed by Trevor Keller, faithfully followed the story that began in 2012 during the Atlanta Living Walls festival. This week we bring you a new essay on the occasion of a new ordinance proposed by the City of Atlanta to regulate the process of reviewing and approving these murals going forward. A former intern and Communications Director of Living Walls, Alexandra Parrish submitted this essay to BSA to give her opinion and perspective on the events during the last two years and what she believes will be the impact of new pending legislation. 

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A brigade of supporters washing the buff off of Roti’s mural in Atlanta (image courtesy and © of Trevor Keller and PBA from “A Tale of Two Murals”)

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By Alexandra Parrish

In the past five years, Atlanta has shaped up to be a veritable hub of the arts. Within this period, the city has witnessed a cultural renaissance thanks to a myriad of impassioned arts organizations and creative individuals. It should be mentioned that the largess of these initiatives came not from city officials, but rather propelled from the ground-up. Of those that have garnered international acclaim is Living Walls, the non-profit arts organization responsible for the installation of over one hundred murals across city limits.

As it stands today, Living Walls, among several other arts organizations and practicing artists are under attack.

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A brigade of supporters washing the buff off of Roti’s mural in Atlanta (image courtesy and © of Trevor Keller and PBA from “A Tale of Two Murals”)

Let’s back track for a minute. Five years ago, Living Walls hosted the first street art conference in Atlanta, inviting over twenty artists from around the globe and their own backyard to complete a series of murals. The impetus behind the event was to garner discussion about public space in Atlanta that seemed overpowered by the freeways that divided neighborhoods, overwhelmed by billboards and generally ignored by the city. Although street art could not solve these problems, it got people talking. Due to the success of the first event, the once deemed “scrappy” organization continued, and murals began to display across the city as the annual conference came and went.

Along the way, Living Walls made a few mistakes. First, the organization was into the third year of operation when the city noted that despite approval by private property owners, every mural that Living Walls was responsible for were done so illegally. The city had in place an ordinance that required the approval of public art from three different city agencies in order to determine if the work was signage. By that time, Living Walls began to seek non-profit status, and in an effort to follow to the law at hand, they obliged to the arduous process of approval. From then on, Living Walls staff made the effort so that every mural was subjected to this procedure.

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A detail of Roti’s mural in Atlanta (image © Google  from “A Tale of Two Murals”)

Second, one mural completed during the 2012 edition sparked controversy. Hyuro, a renowned Spanish artist, completed a mural of a woman in a series of undress in the neighborhood of Chosewood Park. The nudity offended some people; some even deemed the work ‘pornographic.’ When the city was notified, the Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA) remarked that the work that they approved had, in fact, not made it on the wall: the original sketch by the artist depicted a number of folding chairs. The controversial work was ultimately buffed since it did not appropriately follow procedure.

The third mistake wasn’t exactly a mistake on paper. In 2012, on the tail end of the Hyuro controversy, the French artist Roti painted another expansive mural in the corridor of the Pittsburgh neighborhood. Living Walls, and the artist, followed procedure: the sketch (which made it on the wall, this time) was presented to three departments and approved. About a month after the mural was finished, controversy stirred again. Unfortunately, this is where the story begins.

I believe it’s important that I offer full disclosure: I am the former Communications Director of Living Walls. I started working with the organization back in 2011 as an intern, and continued until I eventually moved from Atlanta in 2013. I am also the partner of Roti, whom I met during his stay in Atlanta two years ago. I’ve witnessed these events unravel before me, and I’ve felt powerless as to how to react. Today I feel the inclination to respond to these events, because with many miles between me and Atlanta and everything that is about to happen, I finally understand.

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Walking past Roti’s mural in Atlanta (image courtesy and © of Trevor Keller and PBA from “A Tale of Two Murals”)

We were in New York City when Roti and I heard the news: Camille Love, Executive Director of the OCA notified Monica Campana, Living Wall’s own Executive Director, that Roti’s mural had to be buffed. No explanation was given initially, but it would only take a matter of hours until we learned that several community members had objected to what they perceived as the murals “demonic” imagery. While Campana rightly justified that the city had approved the content and refused to buff the wall, about six men (including a former congressmen who I still can’t believe held office after watching this video) decided to do it for her – illegally. Despite their attempts, the water-based paint that haphazardly covered Roti’s mural stood no chance. In a matter of hours, over 100 people gathered with soap, water and sponges. Along with the help Department of Transportation, they managed to salvage the mural.

Roti and I were completely floored by the chain of events. I think for any street artist who travels the world painting murals understands that once they’ve done their work, it no longer belongs to them. It belongs to the people who have to see it every day, the communities of which it is in. I urged Roti to issue a statement about his work, but he refused to make any concessions. It didn’t belong to him anymore. We were just witnesses to the theater underway.

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Hyuro’s mural in Atlanta (image courtesy and © of Trevor Keller and PBA from “A Tale of Two Murals”)

When I returned to Atlanta, the saga of Roti’s mural continued. Two council members from the area hosted a press conference to “discuss a resolution” with concerned parties. Conspicuously, Living Walls was not invited, nor anyone else who was in favor of the work. Word travelled fast and as soon as the cameras turned on, a crowd had gathered just opposite Roti’s mural. Those in front of the camera stood in their opposition to the mural, while those standing behind the camera maintained their support. The pundits spoke their grievances and the cameras were turned off. The hostility simmered to a boil once many from the community who believed in the work felt slighted, and seeking the opportunity to discuss their differences, were immediately shot down. I saw fingers pointed, voices raised and accusations slung. It was the most unfortunate event I have ever witnessed, and I will never forget.

Roti’s mural was buffed grey soon thereafter. Those council members who so vigorously opposed Roti’s mural assembled a committee that was determined to draft legislation so that an event like this would never happen again. In the spring of this year, they finally presented the legislation. Once the arts community caught wind of the initial proposal, valid issues were raised. Of the most paramount concern was that this ordinance would give city officials the right to make aesthetic decisions about private property, and anyone with knowledge of American civics can understand that this is a clear encroachment on first amendment rights. The ordinance, which was quickly ostracized by many Atlantans (not only in the arts), was shelved up until last week when the city council decided to take it up again to vote for approval.

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A neighborhood meeting about the fate of Hyuro’s mural in Atlanta (image courtesy and © of Trevor Keller and PBA from “A Tale of Two Murals”)

This brings us where we are today, and where my long-winded explanation of this series of events will come to a close, but only after I offer my consideration of this entire situation. I understand the sentiment shared by those community members who did not approve of Hyuro’s and Roti’s murals is exacted because of just that: they were not notified, so therefore they weren’t given the chance to say yay or nay until the work was already up. I could get into specifics and blame the council members for this point (they represent these communities, and had approved of the work), but I’ll leave that aside. The point is, these people felt disenfranchised by the artwork. But can a hefty bureaucratic measure resolve this issue? Simple answer: no.

That brings me to another concern. The legislation requires a lot of work on behalf of the artist and private property owner. I’ll give the city some credit where it’s due that they are trying to “streamline” the process by funneling all the paperwork through one office, but the paperwork in itself still requires too much red tape over the freedom of expression. I would even dare to suggest that it would deter individuals (or smaller organizations than Living Walls) from making so much as an attempt to follow this draconian procedure. In other words: this legislation stifles creativity.

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Hyuro’s mural in Atlanta (image courtesy and © of Trevor Keller and PBA from “A Tale of Two Murals”)

This civic creativity is what has put Atlanta on the map in terms of the arts and culture. It came from the porches, bars and backyards. These informal networks, which are made on a daily basis, built the cultural capital of Atlanta. And it is precisely because they had the freedom to do so. That is why I will go so far to claim that this legislation is an attack on the arts in Atlanta, because if it is passed, it will eventually alter this practice. If murals are accountable to time-consuming subjugation, so is the imagination of these artists.

I may no longer live in Atlanta, but the city is still part of my identity. I’ve traveled to different places around the world and have had the pleasure of meeting many people who knew of Atlanta, not only because it hosted the Olympics back in 1996, but also because of it’s flourishing arts scene. If the city takes this step to restrict artwork, they will undoubtedly place a constraint on the creative industry that has followed. Those “scrappy” organizations like Living Walls may fall short to the city’s demands, and others may never even surface.

For the sake of creativity, let it be.

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Hyuro’s mural in Atlanta (image courtesy and © of Trevor Keller and PBA from “A Tale of Two Murals”)

An addendum:

*After a public meeting this week with the committee spearheading the legislation, councilmember Joyce Shepard has decided to take more time to review the proposed ordinance. Additionally, she suggested that perhaps arts and legal experts could offer further consultation. While I would like to dictate some optimism on behalf of this news, I find it politics at best. When initial proposal faced criticism from arts organizations and artists alike, city council attempted to thwart constructive input by rescheduling a public meeting nearly five times. This news echoes the habitual avoidance demonstrated by city council since the onset of the proposed legislature.

However, let us hope that the ostracism of the arts community by the city council in drafting this public art ordinance is subject for reversal. Perhaps, this time around city council will review these points made above, which sound loudly among all artists in Atlanta.

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To see the documentary “A Tale of Two Murals” in its entirety, please go to http://www.pba.org/programming/tale-two-murals/

Our thanks to Trevor Keller for the screenshots from the film used to illustrate Ms. Parrish’s essay.

 

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“The Sunrise of Edgewood”, GAIA & Nanook open Living Walls Atlanta 2012

“The Sunrise of Edgewood”, GAIA & Nanook open Living Walls Atlanta 2012

The 3rd Edition of Living Walls begins this spring and BSA is pleased to again partner with Monica Compana and her team to bring you the action in Atlanta for 2012. Supporting the ATL efforts since they popped in ’10, we’ll again bring you updates from the field as the artists converge in Atlanta to bring color, vibrancy and a dialogue with Street Art in the city.

Officially the 2012 conference begins in August but we’ll be bringing you a series of installations leading up to it. This years quality lineup will be a bit more international and focused with skillz on display from Gaia, Nanook, La Pandilla, Trek Matthews, Interesni Kazki, Everman, Neuzz, Pablo Gnecco, and Liqen.

So right now we want to give a huge shout out to our partners in non-crime, writer Alexandra Parrish, who is also Director of Communications for Living Walls, Charles Flemming, Living Walls Media team photographer and Albert Lebron, videographer who will all be BSA contributors to bring to you dispatches from the field. Thank you and welcome.

Gaia and Nanook

Text by Alexandra Parrish
Photos by Charles Flemming
Video by Albert Lebron

Gaia and Nanook (photo © Charles Flemming)

In terms of mural making, Gaia and Nanook believe public art has the ability to designate place. They are hardly strangers to the rich history layered in the gridded streets of Atlanta. Last weekend, Gaia and Nanook returned to the heart of the south to participate in Living Walls Concepts, a year-round conduit to the conference, which aims to create a more intimate relationship between the artist and the community.

The sketch came naturally – the wall, located on Edgewood Avenue in the heart of Old Fourth Ward sits firmly in the neighborhood Martin Luther King Jr. called home. Gaia and Nanook opted for an equivocal face to represent the street itself – and the passerby’s whom they interacted with regularly; Which is something I’m sure they revel, as Gaia took the time to explain what he was doing to anyone who cared to ask.

After three days and a stunted thunderstorm, Gaia and Nanook named their finished wall “The Sunrise of Edgewood.”

Gaia and Nanook (photo © Charles Flemming)

Gaia also sent us a description of the project:

“The collaboration that Nanook and I produced on Edgewood avenue is an observation on the neighborhood’s changing complexion. Historically, the Fourth Ward is considered in many regards as the epicenter of the Civil Rights movement so naturally creating Martin Luther King Jr’s face just down the block from the King Home seemed logical.

But rather we created a portrait that was more ambiguous, an everyman face that faded into a rising sun. This vibrant visage is surrounded by a turmoil of rope and vine forms that nanook created which is derived from one of his early street pieces. Now the mural is surrounded by a contentious area whose gentrification is imminent like the endless cycle of the sun.”

Gaia and Nanook (photo © Charles Flemming)

Gaia and Nanook (photo © Charles Flemming)

Gaia and Nanook (photo © Charles Flemming)

Gaia and Nanook (photo © Charles Flemming)

Gaia and Nanook (photo © Charles Flemming)

“The Sunrise of Edgewood” by Albert Lebron (VIDEO)

 

 

To learn more about Living Walls Altanta: The City Speaks and to make a donation to help this year’s conference click here. BSA thanks you for supporting this good work.

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Living Walls : Albany Roundup

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RECAP – BSA and Living Walls : Albany

This weekend in Albany very important Street Art presentations were made at the New York State Museum during “Living Walls: Albany”, including one from Street Art duo Broken Crow, pictured here in custom made aluminum foil head gear that reflected light rays all around the Clark Auditorium.

brooklyn-street-art-broken-crow-jaime-rojo-albany-living-walls-09-11-web-4Mike has the remote for the Powerpoint show in his right antenna. Broken Crow at the New York State Museum. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

There were so many moving parts in this large and easy going cultural festival this weekend, and we were really happy to meet so many people in the street, at the Marketplace encampment, in St. Joseph’s Church, at the tile factory, and during our keynote lecture at the New York State Museum Saturday. Thanks to Samson Contompasis for asking BSA to partner with him for LWAlbany and a quick shout out to other local partners James Shultis at Grand Street Community Arts, Sivan Shimoni, the staff at NYS Museum, and local blogger KC Orcutt at KeepAlbanyBoring.com along with photographers Andrew Franciosa, Bob Anderson, MC3, Frank Whitney, and Ken Jacobie.  Also big ups to Monica Compana, who c0-spearheaded Living Walls Atlanta, which we covered a lot when it began last year.  For all the locals mentioned, they are just the tip of the iceberg of a large committed creative and professional community in the Upstate New York region who helped to pull this thing off with almost zero dollars and tons of planning and hustling. For the first year, it is/was a major achievement.

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Broken Crow (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Of course our main focus is always the Street Artists and the creative spirit that is alive and well on the streets so it was a total honor to see the artists and see brand new stuff going up, like the last one before catching a train last night – Broken Crow’s ram under a bridge.  There are still some pieces being finished by NohJColey, Clown Soldier, Doodles, and one we missed from Michael DeFeo. Also coming up should be Hellbent and possibly some other artists this fall, so we’ll get back to you on that. Not all these pics are from Living Walls : Albany by the way — when you are combing the streets you find all kinds of stuff you didn’t expect.

Check out all BSA coverage on the archive page here.

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Broken Crow (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Broken Crow (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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White Cocoa (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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White Cocoa (photo © Jaime Rojo)brooklyn-street-art-artist-unknown-jaime-rojo-albany-living-walls-09-11-web

Artist Unknown (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Doodles at work on his wall. He explained to BSA that it will eventually contain 5 frames of a figure gradually being crushed under a backpack, which he will shake himself from and run into the wild. It’s meant to symbolize the fears and problems that can accumulate in life and our need to shake the “baggage” if possible.  — and some more esoteric descriptors that we can tell you about if you want to know.  Stay tuned for the finished piece. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Doodles at work on his wall (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Doodles wall in progress (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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NohJColey at work on his wall (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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NohJColey at work on his wall (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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NohJColey at work on his wall (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Cake, Infinity (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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(photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Overunder (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Overunder next to an old Radical! (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Overunder (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Veng RWK (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Clown Soldier (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Michael DeFeo (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Radical (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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N’DA (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Take your own tour this fall with the Living Walls : Albany MAP

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