Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mural, Mural on the Wall...

Posted by Alejandro Casillas, ATLANTA, GA --  The following pictures are a collection of murals on a small stretch of Edgewood Avenue in the Old Fourth Ward District of Atlanta.  Edgewood parallels Auburn Avenue in downtown Atlanta. This area was once one of the most affluent black neighborhoods in the United States. But it fell into decline beginning in the 1960s as urban renewal, disinvestment, and suburbanization eviscerated central urban districts around the country. I have driven through Edgewood for the past six years now, watching the gradual change of this once declining neighborhood. Some of the buildings have been repainted with fresh vibrant colors. New businesses, such as a "fixie" bicycle shop, a pizza place, and several taverns serving IPA brews are trying to appeal to a younger hipster crowd. A new gas station sprung up after they razed the old abandoned one about a year ago. And then came the murals.

This new push for murals by Living Walls has certainly created an arty feel. But was the graffiti there previously not art? Most of the mural artists are not from the neighborhood. So is this art for the people already living and working in the community, or art to attract outsiders? Perhaps these murals are a way for the new businesses to attract new outside revenue. 

Don't get me wrong, the murals are beautiful. However, they are also clearly an attempt to decrease perceptions of disorder, and therefore tie into the assumptions “broken windows” theory. The theory in simple terms says that broken windows (and other signs of dereliction) create a perception of lawlessness, disorder, and disrepair, which in turn leads to increasing crime, more disorder, and more disrepair. The vicious cycle continues until, as Sociologist Robert Sampson says in his new book Great American City, that perception becomes durable even when the neighborhood changes. These murals aim to preempt this trajectory. And they certainly do grab one’s attention and perhaps attract hipster businesses. 

Yet, for every one of these of trendy businesses that goes up, a black-owned business has been shut down. If these murals do attract more beautification projects and businesses they probably won't benefit members of the community. The jobs may not be for them, and they may not have the money to shop at the trendy bicycle stores or frufru pizza places. So while the murals may be a well-intentioned program to beautify Edgewood, we have to be aware of the potential pitfalls. Sampson provided the evidence that the historically black neighborhoods of Chicago were more likely to become all-white neighborhoods rather than all white neighborhoods becoming integrated both racially and economically.  Hopefully Edgewood will defy this trend. 

Alejandro Casillas is a Georgia State University student and amateur photographer. He is working towards his Masters in Arts of Teaching major in Social Studies Education. He can be reached at

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Welcome to DragonCon!

Posted by Debby Yoder, ATLANTA, GA -- Atlanta's Labor Day weekends are filled with interesting things to do around the city. But perhaps the most popular and famous event is DragonCon. Founded in 1987, DragonCon is now the largest parade and convention dedicated to all things science fiction around (DragonCon officials will tell you it's the largest in the universe). The Con is well-known for the extreme costumes and occasionally outlandish behavior of some of the participants. All descriptions are understated compared to the sheer joy of being at the parade and convention. This year some 52,000 people attended. Over the years, Con has expanded to include comics, gaming, film and pretty much anything found in pop culture. Zombies continue to grow in popularity and this year’s parade included a Zombie Boy Scout troop and an oversized float from Netherworld Haunted House.  Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games series made an appearance, alongside classics like the Batmobile and a large contingent of Star Wars characters.

Lesser known about DragonCon is the annual charity auction and blood drive. For example, last year’s auction raised about $40,000 for the National Inclusion Project to assist children with disabilities, and collected 3,500 units of blood. Stay away vampires. By the way, you can "like" DragonCon on Facebook and keep up with all of its other events and activities.

Debby Yoder is a contributor to Social Shutter and a student at Georgia State University She can be contacts at

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Park in the Sky

Posted by Angie Luvara, NEW YORK, NY --On a recent trip to New York City, at the suggestion of a friend, I visited the Highline Park on Manhattan’s West Side. Typical of many attractions in New York City, this park was anything but ordinary. For starters, it’s in the sky.

Created on top of an old elevated train line, the Highline Park weaves between skyscrapers and along the waterfront from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District all the way up to West 34th street. Also typical of many attractions in New York City, there are a wide variety of things packed into this long, very narrow park. From sunbathing benches, to a water fountain for children (and adults!) to play in, to food “trucks”, to a lawn that hosts games and activities, to a ton of greenery, to window gazing straight into people’s apartments, the Highline Park has just about everything a visitor could ever wish to see.

As a friend and I walked the entire length of the park and back, I wondered, perhaps inspired by living in the sprawling metropolis of Atlanta for the past year, do we only create these types of innovative, amazing uses of space when we have to? Manhattan is bound by water. It’s very restricted in the ways in which it can handle urban sprawl. I couldn’t help but think, could Atlanta implement more innovative spaces like this? Will we, without having to? After all, we are one of the few completely landlocked large cities in the country. We can sprawl as far as we please. But, will we?

Angie Luvara is a photographer and Managing Editor of Social Shutter. She is also a Doctoral Student at Georgia State University. To view more of her photography, go to her blog at,

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Overlapping Geographies of Occupy and the Arts

Posted by Demetra Pappas and Doug Singer, OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA/FRANKFURT AND KASSEL GERMANY -- One year ago, the word “occupy” was largely used to reference landlord tenant matters, rather than politics (and certainly was not used to reference art).  Then last autumn, Occupy Wall Street began, precipitating a movement that reached across the country to the Pacific, and across the Atlantic to Europe. 

In early August, I went to the Oakland Art and Soul, which took place in the infamous Occupy city of  Oakland, California.  The next day, The New York Times Magazine had a lengthy article by  Jonathan Mahler, “The World Capital of Anti-Capitalism,” depicting a very different place than the peaceful, music (blues to indy) and food filled (including the best pulled chicken I have ever had in my life) locale which I had spent a sunny August afternoon.  Travelling with me was Barry T. Bassis, who wrote up the festival for The New York Resident glossy monthly review of “Summer Musical Highlights” (, September 2012, p.  97). The next day, reading reports of lawlessness and looting, Bassis commented that he was glad to have read the piece the day after the visit, which he might not have made had he read the piece the day before.
So it was that I read, with particular interest, an article barely 48 hours later, in the New York Times, by Jack Ewing, “Occupy Frankfurt Camp is Closed as Health Hazard,” (Tuesday, August 7, 2012, p. A6), regarding the clearing of Occupy in Frankfurt, a city I was scheduled to – and did -- visit later the same month.  The article pointedly reported that the tent city, at the doorstep of the European Central Bank (which I thought to be fascinating living visual symbolism of marginalization by members of the 99% relating to the 1%) was closed only after months of tolerance and court litigation by protesters, who “argued with police, beat drums and played loud rap music, but there appeared to be no physical confrontation” (Id.).  Ewing’s article compared Frankfurt’s camp – and its clearing for reasons of hygiene and health hazard – favorably with the clearing earlier in the year in New York (and let us not even discuss the Oakland Occupy clearing efforts, notoriously mishandled).  During my visit to Frankfurt, I pointedly asked to see the Occupy site. What one local businessman told me was that Occupy Frankfurt had rules, which it well-enforced, with Occupy equivalents of Neighborhood Watch.  Again, the German businessman – who had not read the NYT piece, articulated that the central reason for the clear out was hygienic, with a secondary reason that some non-political miscreants had gravitated to the site to engage in unlawful drug use and similar conduct.  As something of an irony, on the day we drove past, en route to another city, there were still some Occupy tents and citizenry, seemingly peaceably assembled.  Perhaps even more instructive was that this was in the midst of Frankfurt’s Museum Embankment Festival (which I likened to New York’s Museum Mile having been placed on the banks of the East River, with music stations, culinary eateries and artisanal stalls set up a mile on either side of the river, with mansion and museum gardens also opened to the pubic for the purpose), though some distance from the embankment arts and museums sites.

The German city of Kassel, which hosts the experimental arts festival dOCUMENTA from June through September every fifth year, since 1955, was a location where Occupy and art merged.  A docent told me that one of the primary questions sought to be presented in dOCUMENTA (perhaps the biggest art festival in the world) is whether something is art.  In Friedrichsplatz, the main square, where the infamous “hole in the ground” (not visible as anything other than a small circle within the concrete of the square) is located, there were Occupy tents.  In addition, there was a series of small (knee high, two five year old child-wide), perfectly constructed tents with single words or phrases on them (my particular favorite, perhaps as a former criminal lawyer, was “abuse of power"). Virgilio Pelayo, Jr., of dOCUMENTA 13, confirmed that the miniature Occupy Art tents were created by the Occupy Camp. Of import here is that Kassel and dOCUMENTA 13 not only showed tolerance but also innovation in embracing what I call "Occupy Art".  

Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD, prepared the text used in this piece following visits this summer to California and Germany and she teaches in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, New York, where she was named the SGA Faculty Member of the Year for 2011/2012. Her first book, “Historical Guides to Controversial Issues in America:  The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate,”  (Greenwood Press) is due out in September 2012.  She can be reached at and followed on Twitter @DemetraPappas. Doug Singer, the CEO of Daily Food & Wine,, created the images used in this piece during a recent trip to Frankfurt, Germany and Kassel, Germany.  He can be reached at

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Spare Some Change and Park a 'Bum'

Posted by Deirdre Oakley, DENVER, CO -- In an effort to curb panhandling, particularly in areas frequented by tourists, many cities  -- including Denver -- have installed 'donation meters'. Typically these meters are brightly colored with some information about why donating to the meter is a much better way to help homeless people than simply giving them money or even food. City officials say that the donations go to local organizations that provide shelter, meals, counseling, and job training. But homeless advocates have criticized donation meter programs as just another way to bar panhandling and question where the money from the meters actually goes. Another issue is whether or not people passing by feel motivated enough to put money in these meters. For example, Cleveland installed 12 donation meters in 2009. During the first year the meters made about $100 a week but since then this total has dropped to $20. Denver has installed 80 donation meters since 2007 and raises about $100,000 a year. However $70,000 of this comes from local businesses and residents who sponsor a meter for an annual price tag of $1,000. While city officials claim that the number of panhandlers in downtown Denver has been reduced by 80 percent, it's unclear whether this is because of the meters or because of the police. I suspect the latter has more to due with it.

Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor in Sociology as Georgia State University. She can be reached at