To an unaware passerby, the warehouse complex where the 44 Murals Project has taken shape over the last several months is easy to write off. Located at 1060 Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway in Bankhead, most of the murals aren’t immediately visible from the road. And, unlike the trendier hotspots along the BeltLine where murals have become a popular and abundant sight, there’s next to no foot traffic.
But that’s what makes the complex so astounding. As you walk the concrete expanse surrounded by barbed wire fencing and peppered with orange traffic cones, you’re greeted by a fully realized outdoor gallery, stretching as far down the gravel path as you can see: grinning skulls, giant arachnids, a painted throne In such a way that you can pose for pictures as if you’re sitting atop it, a woman whose flowing, flowering hair descends an external staircase.
The complex already serves a variety of functions. There’s a skatepark, a free food distribution program through the Atlanta Survival Program, and BonfireATL, which hosts events with live music, dancing, food and more Tuesday and Sunday nights.
Property manager Pedro Phillips envisions the project as a means to connect emerging local artists with open canvas space to help further their craft, while turning an underutilized expanse of cold gray walls into a vibrant outdoor gallery.
Like the widely varied murals themselves, each artist differs in experience level, style, work routine and reason for getting involved.
Forty four has always been Melody Thomas’ lucky number and this project presented the Fayetteville-based artist with her first opportunity to create a mural. Now, after working side by side with other artists, swapping tips on everything from spray paint technique to drip work, she’s hooked. “I wanted to push myself to do something really big. I’m beyond ecstatic that it happened the way it did.”
Drew Borders, who has worked on murals in College Park, Atlanta University Center and Grant Park, said it was “super relaxed. They said, it’s first come, first serve, just tag your spot, and you can paint anything as long as it’s not offensive.”
“My style is very anime-inspired,” Borders said. “I started drawing from a lot of shōjo (manga) drawings, so the sparkles and the lines came from that. I’m drawn to eyes because you can tell so much from them.”
Even though her degree from Savannah College of Art and Design is in animation, Borders said mural work has been “a valuable lesson for me — it says that I’m not a failure for trying something different from what I went to school for. I realized I don’t have to just do one thing. I can experiment and if it doesn’t work at least I put myself out there.”
Like Borders, seasoned muralist Cameron Moore appreciated how open the 44 Murals process was to all artists, compared with the typical calls for public art, which make applicants go through a rigorous vetting process. “They let in just about anybody who wanted to do a mural, which I thought was pretty cool,” he said.
Last fall, after the first call went out for artists, Moore got together with artist 3 Kilo, who has also done recognizable work across town under the name The Killamari, to finally collaborate on a mural. They met in 2017 during the Cabbagetown street art festival Forward Warrior and chatted about potentially joining forces but never got the chance until 44 Murals. They completed the mural in one swing, from sunrise to sunset in a single day, while listening to one of 3 Kilo’s patented playlists.
As someone who works both in fine art and public art, Moore appreciates how the public appreciation of street art has shifted in recent years. “For a long time, [it] was kind of synonymous with graffiti and vandalism, and a lot of people were trying to keep those things away,” he said. “But [street art] helps enhance and transform the space, and I think that’s really good for the city.”
Of course, that appreciation comes with a caveat. While murals can enliven a city street, they can also signal gentrification. For artist Geoffrey Solomon, a Decatur native who has been a muralist for the last five years, the influx of public art in the city can be a double-edged sword, especially when real estate starts getting in on the game.
“Unfortunately, murals are tied inextricably to property values,” he said. “That’s one thing I don’t particularly enjoy. If you have a beautiful wall, that’s a sign that rent is probably going up. It’s the most publicly accessible art form, but it also has the ability to gentrify a neighborhood and kick out the locals.”
About the 44 Murals property he says: “I think it’s beautiful that they kept the space the way they did. It’s very gritty, it’s very grimy, it’s not posh.”
Development is on the way, however. Tenth Street Ventures purchased the property at 1060 Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway for approximately $20 million in December 2020. Reports are that the company plans to build up to 2,000 apartments and townhomes as well as office and commercial space. Company principal Brian McCarthy says his team has been partnering on the murals project “to bring artists from the area there, to beautify the property and make it theirs.” No word yet if any of the murals will stay once construction begins. Stay tuned.
Alexis Hauk has written and edited for numerous newspapers, alt-weeklies, trade publications and national magazines including Timethe Atlantic, Mental Floss, Uproxx and Washingtonian magazine. Having grown up in Decatur, Alexis returned to Atlanta in 2018 after a living in Boston, Washington, DC, New York City and Los Angeles. By day, she works in health communications. By night, she enjoys covering the arts and being Batman.
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