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How Elevate helped change Atlanta

City's art commissioning program encourages cultural growth

A lot can happen in three years. Courtney Hammond, Dashboard Co-op's creative director and co-founder, remembers 2011, when convincing Downtown building owners to let her and the Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs put art on their often-dilapidated structures wasn't an easy task.

"I used to have to beg, borrow, and steal to get locations and property owners to allow artwork on their buildings. It was like I was speaking a totally different language from them," says Hammond, who is largely credited with leading the charge behind Elevate, the OCA's performance and art commissioning event that aims to bring attention to oft-forgotten areas of Atlanta by showcasing new works by local, national, and internationally known artists and performers in different locations of the city.

Today, Hammond is busy prepping for Elevate's 2014 event dubbed "Social City," which puts a focus on Downtown, and features collaborations from the Goat Farm Arts Center, Dance Truck, and the Fringe Festival, as well as individual works from artists Branden Collins, Joanie Lemercier, and others.

Whether it was Elevate's South Broad Mural Project leading organizations such as Mammal Gallery and Eyedrum to bring some life to the once-historic business strip, or giving artists a seat at the same table as local policymakers, the event's reach has extended far beyond the walls on which the pieces are painted. Ahead of this year's event, Hammond spoke to Creative Loafing about what Elevate has done to change Atlanta for the better.

Art and politics

"I think we encouraged the conversations that happen with politicians and the government; bringing the Urban Design Commission along with a commissioner for planning, along with OCA Executive Director Camille Russell Love to South Broad Street to talk about a cultural district seriously is something only Elevate has the ability to do because it has a voice on the inside. The Goat Farm and other organizations get to get their names in front of politicians a lot easier through this artery into the system. I think that government speaking with arts organizations is important."

MARTA

"MARTA has been broken in laughs! A couple of years ago it would have been virtually impossible to exhibit performances and artwork within those locations because of security issues, and that conversation wasn't being had before, or in my time in the city. There's an amphitheater on top of Five Points MARTA station that people who have been with MARTA for 10 years have never even seen. Last year we put loads of French tiles and hundreds of people up there for a performance. Now, going back to them, we're saying, 'Oh we want to do poetry or the Fringe Festival or this artwork by Dustin Chambers,' they're like, 'OK.' I think Elevate and a handful of other things have impacted that."

Money for creativity

"If it was the same city that I was in five years ago I wouldn't be here, which was the reason that Beth and I started Dashboard Co-op. She was an arts journalist and I was a sculptor, and neither of us had any idea where to go from there, but we were social people without a platform to express what we do. Now, financially, these cool projects are getting supported. One of the things that I'm so proud about with Elevate is that it's an opportunity to fund organizations. We actually pay them the amount of money that the project is worth. I'm really proud to be running a program that means I can tell Dance Truck, "No, you can actually pay all of your dancers." And that makes everyone really happy to be a part of it and supportive of it as a whole. I'm stoked this year because we have a couple of individual artist projects, but the majority of them are organization-based. We commissioned the Goat Farm to commission 20 artists with 10 projects. We commissioned Dance Truck to commission six choreographers, locally and nationally. And we commissioned the Fringe Festival for theater. I think it makes it a lot more powerful when the organizations feel the support of the OCA because ultimately, OCA needs and wants to be serving as a Mothership to organizations that, in turn, support artists.

Putting ATL on the world's map

"I think Atlanta's beginning to get some national and international focus. You know Robert Rauschenberg Foundation giving Dashboard the SEED grant, along with Living Walls and gloATL, the Lucky Penny, and Eyedrum Art and Music Gallery, picking Atlanta as a SEED city was definitely like, all eyes on us. We've been winning, as a city, so many awards for culture. Think about four years ago: It was nada. We're pretty awesome right now. I don't ever want to align Atlanta with any other city because we are our own city, and we're going to do some cool stuff in our own voice. I'd like for us to have a tagline that was cooler than, "Every day is opening day."



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