Eyedrum hopes to drum up support

Faced with a heavy financial burden, the nonprofit looks to the community for help

Eyedrum, Atlanta’s flagship venue for experimental art, music, and theater, will close or relocate this year if emergency financial support doesn’t cover a growing budget deficit. In an effort to stave off rising overhead debt, a massive art auction featuring works donated from more than 100 local artists, including Kojo Griffin, Lilian Blades and Angus Galloway, will be held Fri., Aug. 14. Robert Cheatham, Eyedrum’s executive director, points out that the scramble for funding is nothing new. “We’ve been in dire need since the minute we moved in,” he says with a laugh.

While operating on a tight budget for the last 10 years, the nonprofit has never missed a rent payment on its Grant Park warehouse space until two months ago. Cheatham says landlord Braden Fellman has been negotiable and easy to work with, but the late fees are pushing operating costs to an unsustainable level. “We want to work with them. We don’t want to leave our space,” stresses Woody Cornwell, who founded the group with Marshall Avett in 1998. How an agreement or solution may be reached is still unclear, especially considering the current economic climate and Eyedrum's declining income from event rentals and attendance in the last year.

Eyedrum occupies a sprawling 6,000-square-foot portion of the mattress factory once operated by Southern Spring Bedding Company. The raw, unadorned style and massive floor plan encourage an unencumbered vitality the organization has sought to foster. “People can do anything they want there. They understand that this is art and they don’t ask questions,” says April Leigh, who performed in an improvisational circus-theater piece, Buffoonicus, at the space last month.

The scope of programming is unparalleled, says Andy Ditzler of the Film Love series. “If you took a night at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, a show at Les Instants Chavires in Paris, and a screening at San Francisco Cinematheque and you made the staff all-volunteer and cut all the funding, that’s Eyedrum. They’re unique — not in the Southeast, not in the country — they’re unique internationally.”

The venue is run entirely by a volunteer board of directors who handle every level of need, from booking artists to sweeping the floor. “The way we structured ourself was experimental. That was intentional,” Cheatham says. “We like a certain amount of confusion.”

Omar Khalid, another board member, puts the organizational structure in a less positive light. “We just don't have enough people writing grant proposals, handling legal matters, doing effective PR, and so on. We used to, but apparently we've driven them off.”

The group has received some grants, including an impressive $30,000 contribution from the Warhol Foundation in 2006, but Cheatham thinks the lack of paid employees may discourage some arts organizations from supporting Eyedrum’s efforts. The Warhol Foundation grant was strictly limited for use on exhibitions and couldn’t be put toward operating costs.

Cornwell remembers his life before Eyedrum, when he was a young SCAD graduate trying to find a place to show his artwork, “I went to every gallery in Atlanta and nobody liked it. I couldn’t get a gig.” Fed up with trying to convince someone to show his work, he and his roommate Avett cleared the common area of their apartment in Castleberry Hill and started inviting their friends over for events. They quickly realized that the apartment wasn’t going to cut it. “When there are like 350 people trying to pack in your house, you realize you’re hitting a note,” he says.

Eyedrum has grown into a place of vital prominence in the decade since, and closing the venue now could seriously stifle access to art in the Atlanta community. As Cornwell tells it, though, that was never his plan. “We didn’t expect anyone to pay attention, not newspapers, not anyone. I never expected it to be like this.”

More By This Writer


Thursday May 15, 2014 04:00 am EDT
You can do it, but I'm not quite sure that you should | more...


Tuesday April 29, 2014 11:55 am EDT

  • Chris Appleton

Americans for the Arts, the national arts nonprofit, has recognized WonderRoot executive director Chris Appleton with the 2014 Emerging Leaders Award. Since 2006, the award has been awarded for "visionary leadership by an individual who is a new and/or young arts leader who demonstrates an ability to engage and impact his or her community." Appleton...

| more...


Tuesday April 29, 2014 10:00 am EDT

The latest episode of Atlanta's newest talk show features local poet and newspaper man Daniel Beauregard discussing Africa and news with host Gavin Bernard. If you can't stop watching this thing, either, there is also a short episode about pizza bites.

| more...


Friday April 25, 2014 10:47 am EDT



Last night, the 2014 Townsend Prize for Fiction was awarded to Anthony Winkler for his 2012 novel God Carlos. The novel, which tells of Spanish brutalities against native peoples in 16th-century Jamaica, is Winkler's ninth book of fiction. He...

| more...


Tuesday April 22, 2014 02:05 pm EDT


  • Michael Tavani

While working on last month's cover story about email marketing company MailChimp, I noticed that Scoutmob founder Michael Tavani announced that he would stepping back from his day to day role at the company he helped found. To accompany that...

| more...
Search for more by Wyatt Williams

[Admin link: Eyedrum hopes to drum up support]