Art on the Atlanta BeltLine kicked off September 6 with a record-breaking Lantern Parade. Despite late-afternoon rainstorms, some 23,000 participants and tailgaters gathered along the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail for the display of homemade lanterns and giant lighted puppets. That attendance was more than double the tally for 2013, and according to Elan Buchen, the BeltLine’s coordinator for art and design, more people attended pre-event, make-your-own-lantern workshops than took part in the first year’s parade.
But the Lantern Parade, is, of course, just the beginning. Now in its fifth year, Art on the Atlanta BeltLine is the largest temporary public art exhibition in the Southeast, according to Buchen. This year, visual arts installations stretch not only along the Eastside Trail—the BeltLine’s first two paved miles—but also along six more miles of future BeltLine trails along the southeast and westside corridors. Performances spill over into neighboring spaces like Historic Fourth Ward Park and Gordon White Park. Literally hundreds of artists, most of them local, have created visual art or are performing during the exhibition’s run through November 15.
Over the years, the program has included the installation of permanent pieces, including fantastic murals like the giant koi by Brandon Sandler and multiple works by Alex Brewer, the Atlanta graffitist better known as HENSE. (Both Sandler and Brewer have exhibited at the High Museum.) But what’s most impressive about the temporary projects is how so many of them are interactive, both with the surrounding environment and with passersby. The kinetic and participatory elements lure visitors from one piece to the next, until you find yourself traversing miles of the trail—which is, indeed, the original purpose of the event.
Standing like sentries near Piedmont Park are two rows of hinged, vertical wooden poles that bob with the wind or a little push. This is “Timbre” by Nathan Koskovich and Nghi Duongare. Other sculptures whirl, spin, and sway with the breeze. Even more fascinating are those that require human propulsion. Step into a little open-air shed and crank the wooden gears to make Dorothy O’Connor and Craig Appel’s “tornado” of origami paper birds twirl. Look more closely and you’ll see that some of the birds clutch tiny plastic terriers, perhaps a nod to the homeless pets that inspired the installation (the 365 birds each represent 25 dogs, totaling the average annual intake by Fulton County Animal Services). “There’s a lot of art happening that you don’t even immediately see,” notes Buchen.
Despite the ambitious works, the mix still feels spontaneous. A giant map labeled “Tell Us Your Beltline Stories” was almost immediately covered with bits like: “I was filmed by two guys in gorilla masks on skateboards” or “I hate beans,” followed by “I love beans.” A bicycle-powered cart called “Paying Your Dues” carries two artists at a time—one to pedal and one to sing, then they switch.
Visit more than once to get the full experience. Some of the sculptures show best when sunlight dances off their surfaces, others light up at night. And don’t miss the daylong musical and dance performances that will be held October 18 at Gordon White Park on the Westside and October 19 at Historic Fourth Ward Park off of the Eastside Trail.