Today we hear from our Public Art Project Manager, Dorian McDuffie, on the process, development, and execution of a public art project at Broad Street and Poplar in Downtown Atlanta.
My first entrée back into the workforce after an extended leave was to work with the City of Atlanta Department of City Planning (DCP) to help fulfill a vision for Broad Street in Downtown Atlanta. A crosswalk mural was part of the plan for the enhancement of the intersection of Broad and Poplar Streets. What??!! Are you kidding me?? I get to work on the kind of project I LOVE with the coolest (yes, I said it) department in Atlanta City government?? Uuuuhhh YES!!!!!!!
Before I had the gig, I drove to said intersection and took a look. Ugly white stripes, uneven pavement. The upside: it was at the end of what has to be one of the best designed and most utilized public spaces in the city. Because of a collaboration between DCP, Central Atlanta Progress (CAP), Atlanta Downtown Improvement District (ADID), and FlatironCity, the plaza on Broad Street was completed in February 2018. Colorful tables and chairs adorn the space and are constantly full of people. Georgia State students flood the area along with Downtown residents and workers.
The other upside: on the opposite end of the plaza, there’s a great crosswalk that was designed by my colleague Vanessa Lira. It makes that whole end of the street pop and is also populated with tons of Downtown pedestrians.
So, I go down the path of what I know… how to do a public art process 101…
· Write a call for artists
· Pull together a public art committee
· Create a presentation for them
· Present it to them
Here’s the twist: the committee could pick the top three finalists but not the final winner. That lucky artist was going to be chosen during one of the five “Block Party on Broad Street” events that were scheduled. These events occurred monthly from June through October and were designed to get people on the plaza in the evening. It was also an excellent opportunity to engage the public in dialogue and activities that will inform the future design and programming of the plaza. Allowing the public to vote furthered the mission of having as much community input as possible. I didn’t come up with this brilliant idea, my colleagues did (love working with smart, fun people).
Luckily the decision was left to the public. I’m still hoping for crosswalks to install the two who didn’t get the commission.
Niki Zarrabi was the lucky winner. Beautiful right?
So now it’s time to work out logistics so that the artist could get started. I was extremely lucky to have a Public Works team who worked so well with me. And my colleagues, Simone Heath, Vanessa Lira, Bette Maloy, Quynh Pham, and studio director Kevin Bacon, (yes, THE Kevin Bacon) could not have been easier to work with nor more helpful.
One office we forgot to coordinate with is the City of Atlanta Office of Film & Entertainment. So, if you’re reading this and you plan events in Atlanta, ALWAYS check with them to see where and when they’re filming; failure to do so could completely derail your schedule. Once I called them though, they were extremely helpful and blocked off the entire month of October for filming on Broad. Thank you! Thank you
The site was even visited by Congressman John Lewis.
With some tweaks to the design we ended up with a beautiful installation. The neighborhood has embraced the artwork and the space has been beautifully enhanced.
So now it’s time to dedicate the artwork and acknowledge all the amazing people who made it happen. We did a dedication with a twist. Little did the audience know, we were going to activate AND dedicate the space.
Commissioner Tim Keane was our first speaker and host for the evening. Wilma Sothern, Vice President of Marketing at Central Atlanta Progress spoke, as did Adam Shumaker, Broad Street resident and public transportation advocate. We had a blast! But the best was yet to come…
gloATL, an amazing dance company whose work is moving public art, did a pop-up performance while Commissioner Keane was getting ready to give a “dissertation” on Atlanta City Design. They danced to the song Downtown by Petula Clark. It was great!!!
This project is the first of many that this serendipitous pairing of public realm design and public art will produce for the City of Atlanta. I’m excited to be a part of a team of smart, forward-thinking people who will shape what our city looks like. I would like to thank Commissioner Keane and studio director Kevin Bacon for trusting me with this great project. Thanks for allowing me to share this story. Look for more of these from our amazing team at the Atlanta City Studio.