Sunday, April 14, 2013

Living Walls Atlanta: Community Engagement Through Art but Ask the Community First

Posted by Chandra Ward, ATLANTA, GA -- On March 9th the East Atlanta Village, in conjunction with Living Walls Atlanta (LWA), hosted a block party which turned the village into an open art gallery for the public's viewing enjoyment.  The works on display ranged from knitted bicycles draped along the sidewalk from Knitterati, to large murals splayed against walls behind businesses and tucked away clandestinely between alleyways.  Local vendors were also present along the streets. As a matter of fact, in an outside market area these vendors were peddling anything from homemade soaps and natural beauty products, to clothing constructed from multiple pieces of recycled clothing.

LWA is responsible for a number of murals and street art that has garnered a lot of attention, both positive and negative, around the city.  One of the more controversial projects was a mural, which some of the residents interpreted as “demonic,” located in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Atlanta.  The mural, work of  Living Walls' artist Roti of France, sparked a firestorm of public debate which ultimately resulted in some residents painting over the mural with thick gray paint.

A member of LWA told me that the organization's purpose is to facilitate community engagement through art as opposed to outsiders inserting art into the community without community involvement.  Her take on the organization's purpose is perhaps an attempt to avoid the Pittsburgh “demonic” mural debacle.   The East Atlanta Village Block Party was a great vehicle for the vision presented by that member. It was a collaboration between LWA and  neighborhood businesses to create an event for the community. And, at least in part involved the community.

A project such as LWA is one which ignites the debate over how and by whom public space should be utilized.  As an artistic community intervention of public space LWA, I believe, helps to keep communities unique and people driven.  LWA helps to take a space or wall that would otherwise be ignored and forgotten, and replaces it with art that can spark social commentary or evoke a sense of awe that only nature and art can bring about in the public imaginary.  However, as LWA has learned, without community involvement despite the best of intentions, the same endeavors can spark animosity and distrust.


Chandra D. Ward is a Doctoral student in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. She is also Social Shutter’s Assistant Editor. You can contact her at

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