2011 was the inaugural year for ELEVATE programming. For 66 days, almost 30 artists presented 19 temporary installations and 26 live performances in the heart of downtown Atlanta, breathing new life into vacant storefronts and activating nearby public places. Elevate: Art Above Underground attempted to transform and connect underused sites in Underground Atlanta into an open-air, living art gallery that attracted more than 10,000 visitors and set the stage for future art initiatives downtown.
The entertainment and retail complex known as Underground Atlanta, with its rich history that predates the Civil War and its prime central location, continues to be an area in transition. Its wide pedestrian plazas, surrounded by Georgia State University, the hub of MARTA’s rapid transit system and all major government complexes, make the area active with people day and night. Yet many have rarely visited a formal art gallery setting. Our goal was to present art that was accessible and inviting for downtown’s many populations, as well as Atlanta’s art community. The idea was to continue the conversation about contemporary, often experimental approaches to art in a public setting.
Art was placed in full-length storefront windows, painted on walls many stories high, installed along sidewalks and in unexpected places throughout the Underground Atlanta complex and spaces nearby. Due to high vacancy rates, availability of empty space was plentiful. However, working closely with building owners to identify and reserve easily accessible sites became an ongoing exercise in flexibility due to an ever-changing real estate market.
Escif, Emergency Only
Escif is an internationally acclaimed street artist from Valencia, Spain known for his large-scale public murals. His work often draws connections between the image, the place around it and the actual surface where the mural is painted. In partnership with the 2011 Living Walls Conference, Escif was invited to Atlanta to produce his striking, six-story-tall mural especially for Elevate. The oversized red fire extinguisher with the caption “Emergency Only” brings color, unexpected scale and humor to the downtown environment.
Alice Lovelace & Lisa Tuttle, Harriet Rising
ALICE LOVELACE AND LISA TUTTLE of Atlanta created Harriet Rising, a tribute to the heroic courage of former slave Harriet Tubman who led 70 slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad. The piece also honors eight courageous women working in Atlanta today on behalf of minorities and women including Grandmothers for Peace, SisterSong, Women of Color, Reproductive Health Collective and the Refugee Women’s Network. Eight towering columns featured a different story about Tubman and a portrait and statement from each local leader. All of the women are dressed in white in response to a recurring dream Tubman had in the years before her escape to freedom. Drawing parallels between Underground Atlanta’s historical significance in the Civil War and Atlanta’s role in the civil rights movement, the site was also used for poetry readings and performances led by poet Alice Lovelace.