Off the Wall: Graffiti

Street art goes mainstream
Except for the Krog Street Tunnel, Atlanta has never been a haven for street artists. Even there, Cabbagetown neighbors have fought over stray tags. But the city’s urban cred inches forward this month as local galleries bring the paint-wielding rabble-rousers inside. Through May 14, Westside’s Sandler Hudson Gallery is featuring “all city” writer (graffiti slang for an artist whose work shows up all over town) Alex Brewer, aka Hense. And Get This! Gallery will host the highly original, female street art team Paper Twins from May 21 to July 2.

Untitled work by Alex Brewer (Hense), 2010,
silkscreen on wood, 48×48 inches

Other signs that Atlanta is beginning to recognize legitimate graffitists: This August local artist Monica Campana will invite international street art’s top dogs to throw up their best work for Living Walls, a grassroots conference that last year drew 1,000 attendees on its opening night and has earned $10,000 in funding from nonprofit Flux Projects for its 2011 run. Also, the annual Art on the Atlanta BeltLine exhibition re-ups in September with another round of temporary pieces installed along the twenty-two-mile BeltLine route.

>> Gallery: More street art

Even “the man” (aka the City of Atlanta) is getting in on the action. Helmed by Camille Love, Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs is providing funds for Hense to create a mural at Arizona and DeKalb avenues this month as well as a budget for four murals by other artists adjacent to the Marcia Wood, Beep Beep, Whitespace, and Get This! galleries. In August OCA will debut Elevate, a three-month-long event that organizers hope will transform the Alabama Avenue streetscape above Underground Atlanta into a dynamic urban gallery. The city’s parks commissioner, George Dusenbury, says a nonprofit project modeled after Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program is in the works.

On the other hand, Dusenbury also resurrected the city’s antigraffiti task force. Love’s office has been tasked with “identifying pieces that would qualify as art so we don’t paint over or otherwise remove those pieces,” he says. But the line between vandalism and creative expression can be highly subjective.
Of the city’s good cop/bad cop routine, Campana says, “If you’re going to put this much money towards buffing graffiti, then you should also put this much money towards school art programs or mural projects.”