In the 1990s, Halpern Enterprises-owned Pinetree Plaza, a shopping center in the Doraville stretch of Buford Highway, became the pioneering hub for the first immigrant-owned businesses in the area. As the corridor has become famous for its international food offerings, Marian Liou, the founder and executive director of nonprofit We Love BuHi, wants to expand the lens to highlight its culturally diverse immigrant communities and give them a space in the conversation.
Liou applied and won a grant from KaBOOM! Play Everywhere Challenge, an organization that funds the creation of play spaces for children, as a way to bring playgrounds to an area that lacks any open spaces. “The grant was for us to do a project that would get kids moving and be active. Buford Highway doesn’t have a lot of parks and places to gather and play safely,” says Liou.
The result was BuHi Lights, a temporary art installation in Pinetree Plaza featuring large-scale illuminated inflatables with printed work by four female artists of color that will open on Saturday, November 3.
The month-long art installation is a follow-up to last year’s Living Walls Conference in Chamblee, when Liou collaborated with executive director Monica Campana, now a participating artist in this project, to bring awareness to the corridor’s identity beyond food and highlight its immigrant community through public art.
“We’re using art that really captures and reflects the immigrant experience and shines a light on their communities here on Buford Highway to show how special they are,” says Liou. “[We’re] capturing those stories and experiences, and then placing them in strategic locations along the corridor so that people will get out of their car and actually walk around.”
The BuHi Lights installation, same as the Living Walls project, was a recommendation out of the Buford Highway Master Plan, a joint initiative between Chamblee and Doraville to help envision and fund sustainable growth for the communities, in partnership with the Atlanta Regional Commission.
BuHi Lights complements the BuHi Walk, another program from the Master Plan to support safer streets by encouraging more pedestrian activity. Buford Highway has been named “most dangerous street for pedestrians” numerous times, and this initiative aims to make a safer crossing.
For this project, Liou tapped another local art organization known for its immersive installations and experiences, most recently seen in Oakland Cemetery’s Golden Hour—Dashboard. Liou has been working with their executive director, Beth Malone, to create the giant illuminated inflatable sculptures.
“One of Dashboard’s biggest goals is create free access to art of the highest quality. It just so happens that one of our other goals has always been to do something crazy with inflatables,” says Malone. “So, success on all fronts.”
The project will feature patterns, inspired by the theme of fabric, from four immigrant women artists overlaid on the inflatables: Campana, Korean-American artist Kyoung Chun, Hi-Lo Press cofounder Dianna Settles, and Birmingham, Alabama-based Chintia Kirana.
“I’m thrilled we’re able to be a platform for four artists who I adore and who aren’t afraid to experiment and trust an uncertain process,” says Malone.
The inflatable sculptures, fabricated by Rhode Island design collective Pneuhaus, will live on the Pinetree Plaza parking lot for four weeks and serve as the centerpiece for upcoming events.
“My favorite partners are the ones who are meticulous about their work, but don’t take themselves too seriously,” says Malone. “Everyone involved in this process has been mission-driven to create something for the youth in this community while remaining flexible and visionary to imagine something less traditional and magical.”
On Saturday, November 3, during the opening celebration, WeLoveBuhi will host a children’s fair from 4-6 p.m., leading up to the lighting ceremony at sunset. Liou hopes to end the month-long installation with a closing ceremony and artists’ talk in early December.
“We’re activating the space in different way just to get people excited about Buford Highway and see it evolve into a safe but lively, diverse street,” says Liou. “This is a way to try to connect all of those immigrant stories together.”