Atlanta artists and patrons alike have yearned for an arts nexus — a neighborhood or part of town where galleries, artist studios and performance venues aggregate.
At various points in Atlanta’s history, the Westside and the Castleberry Hill neighborhoods have promised an epicenter of art activity. But no one neighborhood in a fractured, sprawling Atlanta has ever lived up to the dream of a thriving creative locus.That could all change as arts groups, galleries and artists increasingly flock to Atlanta’s southside.
What the Gowanus, Bushwick and Greenpoint neighborhoods in Brooklyn represent for New York City — relatively affordable-living magnets for artists and creatives — Atlanta’s exploding southside has become for this city’s creative class. The southside has long been celebrated as a creative incubator for hip hop artists like Ludacris, 2 Chainz, Outkast, Lil Thony and Janelle Monae. But it is increasingly also a nexus for visual artists, performers, musicians and dancers who have created an arts community where racial, economic and gender diversity are as much a part of the zeitgeist as creativity and innovation. Thanks to organizations like Windmill Arts Center, ArtsXchange, TILA Studios, the B Complex, the Bakery and more, the southside communities of East Point, College Park, Hapeville and the West End are becoming a center for arts spaces and artists. Many of these neighborhoods are home to hybrid, multi-purpose complexes where exhibition space, studios and performance venues share close quarters.
Last year, Atlanta developer Carter purchased and rebranded a 1.1 million-square-foot warehouse complex built by Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler in 1914. Situated in Adair Park close to the West End MARTA station and the Beltline’s Westside Trail, the MET is now a mixed-use space for more than 140 tenants and includes in its mission fostering creative, artistic, entrepreneurial and digital communities. In August, Mint Gallery, which focuses on emerging artists and features regular exhibitions, moved from downtown Atlanta to its new space at the MET. The organization’s brand-new 7,300-square-foot space has enough real estate for artist studios, multiple galleries and ample room for the artists working in the gallery’s fellowship program. Its neighbors at the MET include screen printing company Danger Press, Atlanta Printmakers Studio, former Atlanta gallery owner Lloyd Benjamin’s art framing business, and is the future home of Mammal Gallery. Food trucks, pop-up restaurants, the Lee + White complex of breweries, distilleries and restaurants and nearby home prices even a starving artist can afford provide a foundation for the development of a rich, livable creative scene. “Space is less expensive, larger, and the neighborhoods are historic and tight-knit, each with their own flair and vibe,” says Mint Gallery executive director Cory Klose, “all of which are reasons we decided to make our permanent home here.” The MET joins an already vibrant West End arts community that includes Westview Studios, Hammonds House Museum and the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art.
In many ways the southside, despite its proximity to the city center, can feel like uncharted territory. Historically, money for residential and commercial development has poured into Atlanta’s intown and northern suburbs but has not flowed with the same vigor into south Atlanta. That appears to be changing. A feeling of forging new territory is part of the southside’s appeal. And places like the MET or Murphy Rail Studios are looking like the germs of a community. “I think that the arts scene in this part of town will be the art scene in Atlanta,” says Klose, of Mint Gallery. “It’s vibrant, diverse and thriving. The arts are exploding here — both in these neighborhoods and, more specifically, at the MET and it’s really exciting to be a part of that. We hope that many more arts organizations will call this part of town home.”
The Met. “Third Thursdays” open studios at Mutiny Artwrx, third Thursday each month, 6-11 p.m. 680 Murphy Ave. SW, Atlanta. 404-758-8800, www.metatl.com
Mint Gallery @The MET. 680 Murphy Ave., Unit 2095, Atlanta. 404-680-8728, www.mintatl.org
By Felicia Feaster, For the AJC
Photo by Luke Beard