Sixteen artists from various backgrounds, styles, and cultures have converged in Atlanta this week for the fourth-annual OuterSpace Project, a public art series that aims to “explore the creative unknown” via public mural paintings, creative meet-ups, and the Big Bang Block Party grand finale, which takes place at Terminal West this Saturday, September 29 and features a mini-skate park, live painting from popular artists such as Catlanta and Chris Veal, live music, food, and more.
Atlanta street artist Greg Mike, best known for his blue Larry Loudmouf character that has appeared on billboards and murals across the city, has curated the artistic direction of the OuterSpace Project since its inception. That includes recruiting artists from all over the world (Netherlands, Canada, and Mexico are all represented this year), as well as several artists from Atlanta to participate, in addition to coordinating logistics, wall space, and art supplies for each artist.
Mike chatted with us on Wednesday morning to tell us more about this year’s OuterSpace Project, how he landed Atlanta-based Home Depot as a sponsor, what people can expect from Saturday’s party, and what the future of OSP looks like. [Interview has been edited for length and clarity.]
Tell us about your inspiration for the OuterSpace Project and how it got started.
I watched street art festivals all over the world begin to pop up within the last 10 years, but Atlanta didn’t have much like that when we started the OuterSpace Project [in 2015]. I also just felt like there needed to be something in tune with what we [as street artists] were interested in: the merging of street art, public art, music, and action sports. Every artist that you see painting is probably listening to music in their headphones, and a lot grew up skateboarding—myself included—so those are all elements we’re inspired by. We also wanted to beautify the city of Atlanta, bring art to blank walls, and make traveling more exciting—to make people get out of the house and head out to different neighborhoods.
That was really the goal: To get people off their phones, out of their houses, and get them to explore what we call “the creative unknown.” That might be [visiting] a mural painted in an area you’ve never been to, or maybe you’re sitting in a car bored on your way to work, and you look out your window and your day is brightened by a once-blank, mundane wall brought to life [by a mural] that gives you something to think about.
16 murals are painted during OuterSpace Project. How did you get people to donate blank walls and warm up to the idea initially?
In the beginning it was definitely challenging because we didn’t really have much to show for [the project itself]. Luckily, both myself and other artists in my agency and studio [ABV Gallery] had painted a bunch of walls in the city independently, so we had a portfolio and a nice track record of things we’d done in the past. I think that made people more understanding than if we were just going to them having never painted a wall before. As our mural portfolio continued to grow, more people were receptive to the idea and saw the value behind it. A lot of these property owners are now getting tons of foot traffic because people go there on the weekends to take photos and interact with the art, and people are traveling the rest of the city to check out different walls, so [the business owners] acknowledge and understand what it does for the community.
In four years, I think we’ve done 65 to 70 murals for just this project alone, and it’s going to continue to grow.
How do you curate the artists each year?
I always try to keep a balanced roster in terms of style: some stuff that’s maybe a little more geometric and has clean lines, some that’s a little bit more figurative and realistic, some stuff that might be a little bit more pop-art and cartoony. It’s not heavier in one direction over another. We work with a lot of the local artists on the regular through ABV Gallery. And traveling the world to paint and attend different mural festivals has opened a lot of doors in terms of finding the international artists. The internet is also a great tool—I was a fan of Dutch artist Joram-Roukes, and while we’d never met in person, we talked a lot online. He’s one of those guys that gets really immersed in the local culture and spends the night before he arrives doing research on all the hot spots. He went and ate at Fox Bros. by himself and went to Revolution Doughnuts to get coffee before he started painting. It’s always cool to see that we’re bringing artists who really want to feel what Atlanta’s all about. Hopefully they’re inspired by what they see here [while they’re painting].
What are you doing differently or better this year?
Artist experience is a big thing for us: making sure the artists are taken care of, have a great time in Atlanta, and leave the city with a smile. We work with local partners, such as restaurants, to make sure these people get well-fed and get the right accommodations. We try not to make an artist wait more than an hour if they need something, so if somebody runs out of paint, we shoot up to Sam Flax, who’s our paint supplier, to get them a new Montana can [a German spray paint specifically designed for public art].
Acquiring the walls is also obviously one of the most important parts. As people better understand the project and have seen what we’ve done for the communities, they’ve been more open to donating walls. We’re getting bigger and better walls and better locations.
And this year Home Depot is also providing supplies around the clock?
Yeah, they’re one of our new partners. When most people think Home Depot, they think home renovation, but for us as artists, its one of those places we frequent more than anything to get roller trays, paint brushes, paint, gloves, masks—most of our tools.
How did that collaboration come about?
I reached out to them and explained the project, and they were really excited about it. That’s one of those dream partnerships where we were both like, “Hey, this makes perfect sense.” We’ve been utilizing their products and shopping there, so for them to support it would really help us out. With all of our partners, you want to make sure it’s an organic fit that makes sense with what we do. That one was definitely a no-brainer, and being Atlanta-based, too, I feel like that’s a good sign.
What are some of your goals for the the future of OuterSpace Project?
The goal is to continue to grow the event in terms of murals, locations, artists, and expanding the community side as well. I definitely want to do some stuff for kids in the future, and really grow the weekly events. Right now, we have events on Wednesday (a Drink ‘n Doodle and a pop-up art show) at my gallery. On Thursday, we’ll have an artist talk at Sound Table. We’d like to expand the footprint for the Big Bang Block Party, too, since it’s been hitting capacity every year.
Tell us more about the block party.
It’s unlike any other event in Atlanta—there’s tons of live art happening, massive panels being painted, a halfpipe being skated. There are over 30 skateboarders riding the halfpipe throughout the day. There’s a Secret Walls live illustration battle, which is like the Fight Club of the art world. There are eight artists on stage, four versus four, battling each other out. There’s an indoor and outdoor music stage featuring a mix of music: rock, electronic, some party stuff.
It’s an experience. It’s not like going to a typical show; you’re going to be inspired by what you’re seeing visually, but you’re also going to be inspired by what you hear. It’s a multisensory experience, which is definitely unique.