By Kristin Halloran
As part of the second annual Elevate arts festival, the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs has brought internationally-recognized muralists Hense, Sever, Push, Tilt and Born to South Broad Street to brighten up a once-vibrant block in south downtown. The artists started work Monday Oct. 22 on the large-scale works of art intended to enliven the street and the neighborhood. Come check them out in person this Saturday from 4-8 p.m. at the Elevate South Broad Mural Festival, featuring performances by Pierre Rigal and Atlanta Music Project as well as music by award winner DJ Kemit.
The street will be closed to cars and other fun will include sidewalk chalk art, paint-your-own graffiti, and food from Munch food truck, which is headquartered just around the corner on Mitchell Street. Mitchell Street’s Hotel Row Historic District is well worth a peek if you have any interest in the glory days of Atlanta as a main crossroads for rail travel, when the spectacular Beaux-Arts style Terminal Station still stood just blocks away. In addition, the corner of the district hosts a mural that was created by another French street artist for the 2011 Living Walls Conference – go give the croc a belly rub and see if he purrs!
Formerly known by a variety of names, including Bridge Row and Market Street, this section of Broad Street was the 19th-century home of the city’s first market, fire station and cotton warehouses. In the early 20th century, it was known as Produce Row, and when Rich’s department store relocated to the corner of Broad and Alabama Streets, South Broad Street seemed destined to grow into one of the south’s great retail streets.
The buildings still standing today on South Broad Street reflect the area’s history as one of the original “mixed-use” districts; they’re mostly late 19th- and early 20th-century brick buildings constructed with retail storefronts at the ground level and offices or residential space above. But the growth was slowed in the ’50s and ’60s and reversed in the ’70s and ’80s by a cascade of factors. Among them were the decline of rail travel, the end of Atlanta’s streetcar system, bus rerouting that eliminated a large portion of the pedestrian traffic and the national trend of “urban renewal” in inner cities across the country.
Most of the buildings on this block are vacant now, but that doesn’t make them any less fascinating. One has been the home of Miller’s Rexall – the store that provided the inspiration and cover image for Paul McCartney‘s album “Run Devil Run” – since 1965. Hense’s brightly-colored mural is going up on a building that is currently empty but was occupied by the Lewis H. Cottongim Seed Company from the 1930s to the 1980s. Built in 1895, it’s been boarded up for years, but features beautiful original brick detailing, as do several of the (even older) buildings across the street – the ones that are now emblazoned with enormous orange and yellow lettering.
The hope of Elevate organizers, area residents and business owners, and others who have been working together to revitalize the area is that the presence of this high-profile art in a setting that’s accessible to anyone will draw much-needed positive attention to South Broad Street. Despite the vacant spaces, a tightly-knit community exists here – one that understands the potential of the area and wants to see it fulfilled.
Courtney Hammond, project supervisor with the Office of Cultural Affairs, notes that Tilt’s flag mural incorporates the names of many of the people he has met on Broad Street, demonstrating his shared ownership of the piece with the members of this community. Hammond hopes Elevate brings people to the area who may not have visited before, showing them a piece of Atlanta that could someday soon become a new and exciting arts district. Come and experience it on Saturday!
Editor’s Note: All photos are provided by and copyright Kristin Halloran, 2012.