Art is an opportunity to open the eyes of its audience to perspectives and ideas they can’t envision without the creative experience. Atlanta may be a city that is known for tearing down and rebuilding, but it is also becoming known for its outdoor art. Whether you’re in a park or just outside of a building, or even along the side of a street or walking path, you’ll be sure to run into something beautiful that will open your eyes and imagination.Outdoor art can be found in a number of places: playgrounds, cemeteries, public parks, walls, sidewalks, and even the streets. There is no limit to the size or breadth as there would be in museums or framed art.
I love going to the High Museum to see fine art and collections like Infinity Mirrors, the Rings Collection, European Masters, and the Rembrandt Perspective. On a beautiful day though, nothing beats a stroll outside to take in the outdoor art all over the city. Some are permanent, like Rodin’s “The Shade,” a gift from France to the people of Atlanta following the tragic plane crash at Orly in 1962, and some temporary, like the installations at at Georgia Tech.
From murals and cemeteries to campus art and the world-famous Tiny Doors project, Atlanta is filled with opportunities that you can explore on your own, and all are free of charge.
Parks are the first introduction to art for many people, although they may not realize it. Many think enjoying art must be an intentional act, like paying admission to a museum, or attending a concert or play. Art may be consumed just be being surrounded by the beauty in its natural setting, and parks allow for this interactive experience. Public parks provide the chance for persons of any economic stature, race, religion, or nationality to enjoy both man-made art and nature’s own beauty. Within the perimeter, you can explore Piedmont Park, Olmstead Linear Parks, Old Fourth Ward Park and Grant Park.
Piedmont Park was designed by the sons of Robert Olmsted, and Olmsted Linear Parks were designed by Olmsted and his sons as part of the Druid Hills neighborhood. The connection of the linear parks provides a tranquil setting in the middle of the city. Even in Piedmont Park, in the middle of Midtown’s skyscrapers and traffic snarls, all of the bustle of the city fades to the background sitting on a park bench with Lake Clara Meer in front of you, or playing with friends in the Active Oval. Throughout the parks, playgrounds and outdoor sculptures dot the landscape to remind park goers that you are still in a major metropolitan city.
Olmsted Linear Parks run along Ponce de Leon Avenue from Moreland Avenue / Briarcliff Road to Lullwater Creek. The connection of the linear parks provides a tranquil setting in the middle of the city, and is in the middle of some of the most beautiful residential architecture in Atlanta, including several homes of the Candler family of Coca-Cola wealth and fame.
Old Fourth Ward Park, in its existing state, is a newer addition to Atlanta’s public parks. Previously, the space was an amusement park (1903), but sat largely unused as sewer issues troubled the area until the development of The BeltLine began in 2006. In 2011, the 2.5 acre Clear Creek Basin and amphitheater, along with the first section of The BeltLine opened. By 2012, the entire 17.5 acre Historic Fourth Ward Park, including a splashpad, playscape and skate park, and the second section of the BeltLine were completed.
In the five years I worked at Georgia Tech, my favorite places to eat lunch or work were outside. It wasn’t just the sunshine or the green spaces in the middle of an ever changing skyline. It was being surrounded by so much creativity. Who would have thought you could find so much thought provoking art at a STEM school? During my first year working at Tech, a 16-foot sculpture of Albert Einstein joined the permanent collection which already housed the Campanile (installed before the Olympics), “Ovation” (sculpture by Barbara Rowlett-Rheingrover, often referred to as the ice cream sculpture), and a statue of former Dean George Griffin. In 2018, Continuing the Conversation, a tribute to Rosa Parks, was installed in Harrison Square in the shadows of Tech Tower. This interactive installation allows you to sit between the two Rosa Parks, aged 42 and 92 (the age when Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus and the age that she died) and have a conversation.
Arts@Tech also includes many temporary outdoor installations, as seen below.
No conversation about outdoor art in Atlanta is complete without mentioning The BeltLine and its murals and sculptures. As of December 2019, Art on the Atlanta BeltLine can be found on the East and West trails, currently the only completed sections of the proposed 22-mile loop. After the rails were removed from the East and West trails, but before the concrete was poured, the art provided a welcome view for the public while they enjoyed the interim trails. I cannot wait to see what will come to the Southside and Northside trails in the interim periods, and when they are completed.
Not only do the murals and sculptures create an enjoyable experience for the public walking, biking and cruising down The BeltLine, but they are also an opportunity for up-and-coming artists to showcase their work.
Mural on Westside BeltLineBoth permanent and temporary sculptures are featured along The BeltLine. These are some of my favorites that I’ve seen throughout the years:
Oakland Historic Cemetery & Westview Cemetery
I haven’t been to Westview Cemetery yet, but I go to Oakland Cemetery often. The grounds, tombs, headstones and inscriptions are all pieces of art that date back to the very beginnings of Atlanta – 1850. Like many parts of Atlanta, there are reminders of an ugly past – a segregated cemetery and statues to honor the Confederate dead. There are also reminders of hope, beauty and forward progress, like the graves of author Margaret Mitchell, Julia Collier Harris, Maynard Jackson and Ivan Allen.
Old Fourth Ward
The historic intown neighborhood is home to murals, sculptures, and outdoor parks, but it is even more famously home to perhaps Atlanta’s most famous citizen, Martin Luther King, Jr. You can see Dr. King around the neighborhood in sculpture, words and murals.
Cabbagetown has gone through a few mutations, from its start as a mill community to a haven for artists and creatives, and now, a unique mix of the artists, and a gentrified population thanks to its proximity to The Beltline. The Cabbagetown murals started as a way for local artists to express themselves, and has become a destination for those who appreciate art for all.The majority of the murals can be found on Wylie Street through the Forward Warrior project, with more on Memorial Drive and Carroll Street. Forward Warrior gives artists 48 hours to paint their creations, and will celebrate its 10th year of murals on Wylie St in 2020.My favorite is the hero image for the article by Joe Dreher, aka JOEKINGATL.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ferro and his wife, Kristin, at the Fox Theatre when he was commissioned to create a one-of-a-kind caricature of everyone in attendance for the grand opening of The Marquee Club in May 2018. A rarity for an artist, Ferro understands that funding is as essential as creativity to get his murals on Atlanta’s walls, but he also strives to make art affordable for everyone and maintain creativity and control of his art. The murals below are on Wylie Street in Cabbagetown.
His murals all over metro Atlanta are obviously free for anyone to view (I told him he needs a Google map of all of his work on his web site!), but you can also buy his prints online, and even his original work for much less than most artists.
Ferro took an innovative approach to make his art affordable to the public. Instead of going through a gallery (and giving the gallery a hefty commission), he took initiative and did a show of his own this month at Ponce City Market. The show was the brainchild of the Ferros, and they sought sponsorship from corporations and local businesses, as well as individual patrons. Within a week, the majority of his pieces were sold, and I’m sure quite a few people walked away with a packet of stickers, a pencil or one of the smaller prints without having to break open a piggy bank.
For many, school trips to museums may be the only exposure to the arts in an entire lifetime. Outdoor art opens doors to children and adults like, literally, because of Tiny Doors of Atlanta. Since Tiny Doors’ inception in 2011, Karen Anderson Singer has strategically placed these 7-inch doors in publicly-accessible attractions around Atlanta. Whether resting on a column, bridge or wall, these doors to creativity and imagination are free to visit, and have led to many scavenger hunts for all ages. Tiny Doors made its mark on the world when it was featured as the account of the day on Instagram in August 2018, and was then spotlighted by CBS Sunday Morning in October 2018.
Singer only puts doors where they are requested – by the neighborhood or a specific business. Like fellow Atlanta artist YoYo Ferro, Singer understands the balance of art and business, and that while businesses can help fund the projects, it also allows the business to open their customers eyes to a world of art they may have never imagined. Commissioned doors include The Fox Theatre, The Georgia Aquarium, Draper James and The Swan House at The Atlanta History Center. Some people like to do the scavenger hunt and follow the map. Me? I love finding them “in the wild” and look forward to the Tiny Doors truck in the Pride Parade every year!
Jackson Street Bridge & Atlanta Skyline
How can a bridge be art? When it becomes the literal platform for people to use the city of Atlanta’s skyline as the backdrop for selfies, engagements and post-celebration pics. I can’t remember many crowds at the bridge before Walking Dead memorialized it in the haunting intro sequence, but it has definitely earned its way into the hearts of Atlantans and tourists alike, and is even a catalyst for making this bridge more pedestrian friendly and a destination, and less like a temporary parking spot for selfie hounds.
Krog Street Tunnel
Again, another structural object that becomes a platform for the amateur artist. Krog Street Tunnel is open for anyone to graffiti, so who knows how many hundreds or thousands of layers of spray paint there are there by now. This may be the truest form of public art since it is created by all, and open to all. I love seeing kids taking chances with their creativity, and new artists emerging.
Art encourages thought, freedom, expression, emotions and experiences. Outdoor art goes a little bit further – it is available to anyone, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, economic status, age or disability. It encourages you to think outside of the box, or the building, as the case may be.