Last summer, in the height of racial tension across our country, people took to the Atlanta BeltLine to express their frustration at the injustices faced by people of color. A temporary construction fence put up by New City Properties (across from New Realm Brewing) became an "open canvas" for artists and others, including Rastagraphy who painted a Black Lives Matter mural.
Now, a new mural is going up around the ad hoc Black Lives Matter messages. Commissioned by New City Properties and organized by Courtney Brooks, Art on the Atlanta BeltLine's first Curator-in-Residence, it is called "A Reflection of Change." The mural is being painted by 6 artists of color and diverse heritage and skills. Some are black or Puerto Rican or Asian. Some have experience painting public art. Some do not. One is a well-known tattoo artist. They are: Erica Chisolm, Eric Nine, Jiggy Korean, Lord Yatta, Michelle Kee and Ruby Chavez.
Courtney says she chose to keep the integrity of the BLM murals, including faces that dot the plywood fence, and complement them. "They left their hearts on the wall, with their concerns," she says of the BLM artists.
But she wanted to show a positive message. "I didn't want to promote grief or heartache. I wanted to bring joy. We know our lives matter. We don't always have to look at grief."
Instead, she brought in art to "celebrate our existence, to show youth that they can grow up and be artists too. There can be beautiful imagery out there."
Ruby Chavez' mural on the left side represents statues that were taken down over the summer, such as Robert E. Lee, and new ones going up, such as Rep. John Lewis in our nation's Capitol.
Ruby reimagines a historical monument as a horse with two children of color riding on top. Her mural is specifically designed for people who are blind, as well. The description will be in braille, and the painting is textured so someone can feel the shape of the images and letters.
Around the corner, panels by Eric Nine attempt to break down gender stereotypes with paintings like "He can cry" and "She can run the world." Meaning that men can cry, but they can also let their sons cry. "We do cry," he adds. And for girls, that they can grow up to be leaders. Other paintings show a boy practicing ballet and a girl as a superhero, in reverse roles. (Hear more from Eric in the video below).
Black Boy Joy, by Erica Chisolm, is intended to "bring smiles and joy to black lives," Courtney says. It represents mountain flowers that thrive in a harsh environment.
"We grow up in rough conditions, and we still bloom no matter what," Courtney says.
Each artist was given an equal number of fence panels to paint, and with some left over, Courtney joined in and painted the mural's name.
The mural should be completed in the next few weeks, and once the fence comes down, the art is intended to live permanently in the development being built by New City Properties, Courtney says.
The artists talk about the effects they want their paintings to have on kids who ride or walk by. They want them to feel joy, to be motivated.
"I want people to take away that we know we matter, and it's not up to us to convince anybody else. We do need systematic change, but if we choose to focus on the negative, where does that get us?" Courtney says.
February is Black History Month. Read, learn or contribute in some way. Here are some ideas.
An Atlanta native, Nicole Gustin is the Founder & CEO of BiteLines, which offers walking food tours on the Atlanta BeltLine. She considers the BeltLine her backyard, and is excited to see how Atlanta is reinventing itself. The BiteLines blog features art, restaurants, happenings and weirdness on the Atlanta BeltLine. Share story ideas and pics at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow on Instagram @bitelinesatl.
Note: We have paused our tours during the pandemic, but will ramp up again as soon as it’s safe.