ARTS AGENDA: Dechant plans a new art gallery

Something’s happening in Cabbagetown

#0 Gallery Space X Karasek
Photo credit: Daniel Karasek
HOLY GROUND: A new art gallery is planned on Memorial Drive.

OG Atlantans may feel nostalgic when they hear the phrases Chomp and Stomp, Little’s Food Store, and 97 Estoria. Of course, this jumble of words refers to Cabbagetown, a historied area of Atlanta that embodies the iconic rags-to-riches vibe as so many other intown neighborhoods. Yet for all the gentrification that has taken place elsewhere, Cabbagetown remains a haven for creatives, the original cool kids who shaped the once-impoverished factory town into a thriving community. Just recently musician Faye Webster moved into the neighborhood, joining the ranks of David Harbour of Stranger Things fame and Amber Nash, who voices the cartoon character Pam on Archer, and others who’ve followed the lead of early Cabbagetown pioneers like Cat Power, the Chowder Shouters, and Slim Chance & the Convicts. If you want to understand why these talents are drawn to such a quirky part of our city, you really have to dig into the roots of the neighborhood. What better way than to talk up local artist Reverend David Dechant.

A reverend of the Cabbagetown Church of Art — and your potential future wedding officiant — Dechant owns the corner lot off of the Estoria Street dogleg that forces you to slow down and admire the whimsical art found in his yard. A resident since the ‘90s, he welcomes guests to explore his outdoor art space at their leisure in an effort to share his creations with the world. A sculptor by trade, primarily filling his coffers by creating gravestones and high-end hardscaping, Dechant fills his free time transforming found materials into works of art. You can discover everything from a huge, 12,000-pound stone shark to hanging claw-tub wind chimes to a tile picture of Sid Vicious that can be seen from space.

YARD SCULPTURE #1: The artist has wings. PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Rev. David Dechant

Dechant has the vision to expand into a new gallery off Memorial Drive next to The Livery in what was once the Omega Holiness Church at 621 Memorial Drive SE. The building will be a communal studio space where he can sell his crafty wares as well as offer a place for creatives to make art and their own memories. After first learning about the new gallery space during this past December’s Cabbagetown Crawl, I connected with Dechant to share his story. Below are excerpts from that conversation.

Daniel Karasek (Creative Loafing): Let’s start off with what is in your yard. Why do you make all of this stuff?

David Dechant: Folks suddenly see a picture in a magazine and they have to have that. I never understood why you would pay a designer to tell you what things to own. What? Don’t you just walk through the world and find things you like and try to acquire them? My stuff isn’t very collectible. It’s hard to get it there. This is a 12,000-pound shark. I make it because I want to have it … it’s all for sale. I don’t have price tags in my yard, but will in the new store.

Karasek: I agree with you on just collecting stuff. It’s how I operate. If I see something cool, I’ll put it up on the wall in my room.

Dechant: Yeah, it’s strange to me that people lineup in front of a store to buy shoes. Do you have to get that shoe tomorrow where you have to sleep on the sidewalk in Little Five Points? That’s not me, man.

Karasek: Agreed. Get something that you want, don’t just follow the fad. What’s this underground space you have on your property?

Dechant: So over here is my underground lair. It says “Church of Art” above the door. I don’t know if you saw it, but there is another sign that says “Clothing Optional” that used to live on the ledge there. It was part of it. But I had two women who were walking down the street. They had questions about the space. They saw the “Clothing Optional” sign and thought it was some kind of evil dungeon.

Karasek: Makes sense to take down the sign. Looking around, how did you end up with the largest land plot in Cabbagetown?

Dechant: I don’t know if you heard this story but the land next to my house was a commercial lot owned by a church. They thought they could build a church but permitting stopped them because there had never been a church there before. They would have revivals, and there was this nasty pink carpet with weeds growing through it where they would pitch a tent. The land was owned by Bishop Michael Toles who was murdered by a man dressed as Santa Claus. It was December, and there was a Santa Claus hired in a department store who was drunk and got fired. He got mad, drunk, and went out in his Santa suit with a 2x4. He killed the late Bishop Michael Toles. She technically didn’t die until 18 days later after being in a coma. This must have been around 2005. She had a conversation with her daughter, Miss Jennings, who is still alive, that she wanted ‘that guy’ in Cabbagetown to have the land. After the murder, they showed up at my front door and Miss Jennings said, “My mom wanted you to have it at fair market value.” Within thirty days, I bought the property at fair market value. That price went up twice in those thirty days as she kept getting offers. I had to jump through some hoops, but ended up with these three lots that just happened to be next to my house.

And this house has its own weird story. We were leasing to own when the landlord went bankrupt. We had to buy it on the steps of the courthouse right then and there. We were going to lease-to-own but had to come up with the money to buy the house, and soon after that, we had Miss Jennings come knocking on the door about buying the church’s property. I say namaste to Bishop Michael Toles all the time for having this property, and, in my opinion, I’ve kept it a church.

Karasek: So how will the new gallery space differ from what you have here?

UNBOUND: Does David Dechant hold the key? PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Rev. David Dechant

Dechant: The store will be different. I will call it a studio, but I don’t know what I will be able to make there. I can’t have chemicals and sawdust in there. I’ll make things here and sell them there, whatever. I want to carry other artists’ things and let people use the space for photography or just rent it out for a Friday night show. I’ll have events and things there. It’s going to be an old-fashioned store. Now that Paris on Ponce is gone and Desperate Housewares, another place I loved to visit to feel the vibe, is gone, I just order from Amazon with next-day delivery. I miss stores. So my studio gallery space will be called the Sanctuary of Art. I wanted to call it the Church of Art, but I’m trying to get these grants for improving the Memorial Drive corridor. You’re not eligible if you are a church. Just to confuse the city, I don’t want to use the word church. I will refer to it as the Church of Art but it will be called the Art Sanctuary. I like the idea of people taking their art there to protect it. I doubt it will support itself, so I will have my kids run the store while I’m out working. All these things I have out here for sale now aren’t keeping me afloat.

Karasek: What do you do to pay the bills? I know last time we talked you mentioned doing tombstones.

Dechant: Yeah, as a stoneworker I’ll do anything out of stone that you want it made. I’ve made signs for businesses and markers for pets. If Rover died, I’ll make a block of granite with just his name. Stonework I like because it’s not unlike tattooing. I make anything people pay me to make. I do decks, fences, and also high-end design landscaping. It’s marketable, lucrative, and I enjoy it. Beautifying the earth is my whole goal in life. That’s my mission. In my opinion, to beautify the earth is to pray. My work is prayer to me. Art is prayer to me. Whatever powers that be I communicate with them when I do my art. I can’t say that it turns into fine art. I can’t say it has value in the marketplace. But I made it.

Karasek: I like that a lot. For creatives, it’s a struggle to make money only from your art.

Dechant: Most of my artist friends have a day gig. They are travel agents, computer programmers, or whatever, but they are in a band or do art. Then there are my friends who have their own home studio in the Met. They have to pay that $2,500 a month note for rent. They have to do whatever it takes to make their art pay for their space. I’m lucky if my art has ever paid for a vehicle. I doubt it has. One day I hope to have a cool place where people come to me and just create. It would be nice to include my yard. I can’t drag my shark to the new space, but maybe I will include a map and tell people to come to check out my yard.

YARD SCULPTURE #2: Total submission. PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Rev. David Dechant

Karasek: That’s a cool idea. You can give them a map so they tour Cabbagetown and see your lovely yard — where it all started. When are you planning to open your new space? When can fellow artisans check out the Art Sanctuary?

Dechant: I’m still working on some permits. I plan to have the space open in May of 2023. Keep an eye out for signs outside the building. —CL—

If you want to chat up Rev David Dechant yourself, you can add him on Facebook or look up @David9dechant on Instagram. You may also visit his current gallery space at his Cabbagetown property,186 Estoria Street S.E., Atlanta, 30316.

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