Taking action

Coalition strives to preserve, promote public art

From south Fulton to north Gwinnett, from east DeKalb to west Cobb, public art in metro Atlanta takes shape in mosaics, bas reliefs, statues and contemporary environments. Embedded in the urban landscape, these artworks establish our cultural identity. You may wonder who created them. Who placed them on the street corners, in public gardens and buildings? Who preserves their beauty? The Metropolitan Public Art Coalition, a fledgling collective of arts advocates organized last spring, wants to find ways for Atlantans to answer those questions and to learn more about our public art landscape. MPAC members also want to expand public art possibilities and help preserve the public art that already inhabits the metro area.

Bill Gignilliat, one of the founders, explains, "We're engaging people with energy and experience to make a positive impact on public art, to advocate for the public and to collaborate with existing public art programming. We want to make it easy for everyone in the community to be involved."

Another MPAC member, artist Amalia Amaki, is just now completing a commission for the Sam Nunn Federal Center downtown. "Naturally, I'm interested in what's happening with art in public spaces because I'm an artist. This will be my fourth commission for a public space," she says. Amaki became involved a few years ago, when Fulton Country had a public art initiative that engaged locals in recommending areas of the city for public art. That volunteer project heightened her interest. "It forced you to look at the layout of the city differently," she remembers. "There were areas you could imagine transformed by the presence of a public artwork. Public art really does something for the city."

Gignilliat, Amaki and other initiators — Maria Artemis, Evan Levy, Amy Landesberg, Robin Sandler, Ed Spriggs, Lisa Tuttle, Laura Lieberman, Doug Macon and Gregor Turk — are in the process of creating a network of community support. This fall, the grass roots organization intends to schedule city site tours, starting with a look at the historic statues that surround the capitol building and a trek through Centennial Olympic Park.

Besides designing catchy come-ons like "Putting the Public in Public Art" and "Get Monumental — Support Public Art," they've developed a logo and a brochure to introduce the new organization. Also in the works, an MPAC website and list serve, and an easy-access inventory of existing public art. There are plans afoot for encouraging the creation of temporary siteworks along public passageways like Freedom Park. And the group is planning seminars on maintenance and preservation.

Improving the care of public art is one of the most important missions of MPAC, says Gignilliat. Like any art collection, Atlanta's public art comes with community responsibility. Once installed, the works must be attended to. An unfortunate example of neglect is "27 Torchscape" by Atlanta architect Harry Dimitropoulos on the North Avenue pedestrian walkway. Created to embellish the entrance to the Centennial Olympic Village four years ago, the sculptural installation is seriously deteriorating. "Here we are two weeks away from the torch lighting in Sydney and elements of the Atlanta Olympic legacy are falling apart," notes Gignilliat.

One way to reverse the crumbling state of some of our public art will be to follow through with the Master Plan for Public Art that was initiated by city officials years ago. In the meantime, the ambitious MPAC wants to see the community become involved in exhibitions, education and stewardship. Levy is pleased to be part of that process. "I think that art has an important place in the built environment," he says. "Bringing a level of grass- roots commitment to public art is a positive move for Atlanta."

For information visit www.mpacAtlanta.org.

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