A new generation of Atlanta artists takes center stage

Mass transit, mass art: How MARTA acts as a canvas

Photograph by Adam Shumaker

In June MARTA riders got a surprise on their way through Five Points station. Dancers from local company Moving in the Spirit performed throughout the space, accompanied by cellist Jenn Cornell and percussionist Emrah Kotan. The event was the official kickoff of Artbound, the most recent in a line of public art initiatives, including the multi-day fall event Elevate and mural project En Route, to focus on MARTA’s open spaces.

The program’s goal is to liven up MARTA stations with performance and visual art so that they “feel like destinations,” says Katherine Dirga, MARTA arts administrator. Dirga co-curated Hartsfield-Jackson’s Airport Art Program from 2007 to 2016.

“There are a number of options for people to consider when they plan their daily commutes. Any way we can make MARTA a more enjoyable experience and the preferred mode of transportation is a win,” says MARTA CEO and General Manager Keith Parker.

Courtney Hammond, a MARTA Advisory Council for the Arts board member and co-founder and creative director of Atlanta arts nonprofit Dashboard, says an initiative like Artbound is important for the transit system; Atlantans are simply demanding more art from their city. “Art is no longer an afterthought in Atlanta development. For the public to accept and embrace a project, it’s hands down a requirement,” Hammond says.

Artbound, which is funded by the one percent of MARTA’s $434.9 million capital budget tagged for arts initiatives and restoration efforts, has already completed a number of conservation projects, including cleaning and vibrantly restoring murals such as Gordon Anderson’s “Aerial Landscapes” at the North Avenue station and Lev Mills’ three murals at Ashby Station: “Phoenix,” “Echo I,” and “Echo II.”

Dirga says riders can expect to see plenty of works by Atlanta-based artists, although the art won’t be limited to locals. This summer Artbound put out a call for light-based work for the pedestrian access to King Memorial Station and held a public audition for musicians in mid-September at Five Points Station.

“Art and performance humanizes these spaces, warms them up, and makes them feel less imposing,” Dirga says. “Seeing a fantastic artwork or listening to live music redefines the transit experience.” —Jacinta Howard

Terracotta sculpture in Five Points Station

Photograph by Adam Shumaker

Did you know…?
The artwork in the Five Points Station is all about celebrating the past. Literally. One of the station’s artworks is part of a building facade featuring terracotta sculptures from the old Eiseman Building on Whitehall Street, a former haberdashery and clothing store built in 1901. Atlanta architect Jon Carlsten had the idea to preserve the sculptures, which feature two gargoyles and two female statuettes intertwined with flowers, leaves, fruits, and nuts. Dirga says starting in 1976, the piece, which stands 33 feet high and extends 67 feet wide, was removed brick by brick. The bricks were numbered and cataloged, and detailed drawings were created. It was then reassembled inside Five Points Station, where it has stood since 1981.