Cover Story - Anne Dennington energizes the public art scene with Flux Projects

Barely seven months after public arts organization Flux Projects produced its first official event, it's hard to imagine the Atlanta art scene without it. While the recession has forced some arts organizations to cut back, executive director Anne Archer Dennington has helped the Louis Corrigan-founded organization set a new agenda for public art. In doing so, she has assumed an ambitious behind-the-scenes role as a champion of public art in a city that historically has underwhelmed in the public art sphere.

Dennington's not an artist, but describing her role as merely administrative is equally mistaken. One example of Dennington's finesse: She convinced the managers of Atlanta's busiest shopping mall to allow a conceptually minded choreographer to stage a troupe of contemporary dancers among mobs of shoppers on Valentine's Day weekend (Lauri Stallings' Bloom). Basically, Dennington's a master facilitator. Her skill lies in eloquently smoothing over the logistical difficulties of public art installations (the locations, the materials, the permits), which allow artists to spend more time on the actual art.

Under her and Corrigan's leadership, the organization will host its largest project yet, Flux, a mind-bending installation of mostly local artists, filmmakers, and dancers throughout the alleyways and art galleries of Castleberry Hill on Oct. 1. Flux follows in the footsteps of the superb Le Flash, Cathy Byrd and Stuart Keeler's light-based, fantastical public art event that took place in 2008 and 2009 in the same neighborhood

"I learn a lot just in sighting projects for artists. Those experiences let me know what projects work well in which places," Dennington says, explaining a day-to-day process that isn't necessarily glamorous. For Micah and Whitney Stansell's Between You and Me, a five-channel video projection that requires a large room for display, Dennington located an unoccupied building in Castleberry Hill that could accommodate the work for its premiere during Flux. To actually secure the location, though, Dennington coordinated months of queries, phone calls, and meetings to smooth out the idea of public art with the building's owners and parent corporation.

Flux Projects came onto the scene with a couple of large-scale events that demonstrated the broad scope of the organization's capabilities. Stallings' aforementioned inaugural Bloom at Lenox Square Mall was followed by artist collective John Q's Memory Flash, an evocation of Atlanta's queer history through installation and performance pieces, including the replication of a drag club's walk-in beer cooler and the staging of an entire softball game at Piedmont Park.

As the organization transitions toward more frequent, year-round programming, it's focusing on ways to engage a broader audience in Atlanta, to "evangelize" in a way that brings public art into the popular conversation. Smaller projects such as John Morse's controversial Roadside Haiku, which installs poetry placards in place of get-rich-quick and weight-loss road signs ("GO TO REAL BOOT CAMP! 6 Months Later — Exercise in Afghanistan," reads one), attempt to clandestinely plant art in front of an unsuspecting audience.

"It's great to fund artists to do new projects, but if all you do is give money, give money, give money, then we're really not serving them or our community to the fullest," Dennington says. "You have to provide 'funding' in a broader context."

Dennington and Corrigan hope to build Flux into something like Toronto's Nuit Blanche, an all-night cross-city contemporary art event, in part through programming that continues past a single evening. "That's a big, long-term goal, but I think it becomes easier to accomplish it if you're also doing things all the time," says Corrigan. Tristan Al-Haddad's "Cloud Cutting," a light-projection piece that manipulates the appearance of clouds at night, will begin during Flux but continue through December. Lee Walton's "Momentary Performances" will stage short performances, such as a woman drinking a Coke or a couple kissing, at signed locations throughout September and October.

Corrigan speaks about Flux in quixotic terms, about finding "a way for the event to evangelize for the art community here but also, in a more general way, for a creative spirit that I'd like to see permeating everything." Corrigan still works full time as an investment analyst, though, leaving Dennington, who met Corrigan while she was executive director of Atlanta Celebrates Photography, to become the public face for the organization and the visionary (but camera-shy) founder.

Dennington says the organization is already thinking in terms of five-, 10-, even 15-year plans for its investments in Atlanta arts. "I think the community needs people to say, 'We're here and, by the way, we want you to stay, too.'"

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