Art and the
BeltLine

Like an al fresco gallery,
the Atlanta BeltLine provides
a canvas for up-and-coming
and established artists
Sponsored by AT&T

Artist Kyle Brooks, also known as BlackCatTips, has been showing his work publicly since 2010. His now-iconic smiling bear and other characters have adorned walls, art festivals and street corners around the city, and Brooks is no stranger to the Atlanta BeltLine. While he often works with found objects like wood and cardboard, he now has three large murals and one installation on the trail.

“In 2011, a friend sent me a link to a Creative Loafing article about Art on the BeltLine,” Brooks says. “I applied and sent them two sketches. They chose me.”

His first wall went up later that year when the Westside Trail was still in progress. The 237-feet long retaining wall next to Langhorn Street is covered with hundreds of his iconic bears and sayings. “A time capsule of me at the time — written on stone,” Brooks says. Brooks gave the “BeltLine Bears” loop shapes in homage to the BeltLine loop that ties dozens of Atlanta neighborhoods together.

With the Art on the Atlanta BeltLine organization at the helm, the Atlanta BeltLine has become an unconventional gallery for established and up-and-coming artists alike. The organization manages one of the city’s largest temporary public art exhibitions along with a permanent collection that stays on the trail throughout the year.

Brooks’ piece “Faces, a.k.a. Eyes and Friends or &@^%@$#&^” went up in 2012 on the Eastside Trail, right underneath North Highland Avenue. It’s the most recognizable of his works, easily visible about halfway through the trail, near the Historic Fourth Ward Skatepark.

In 2013, Brooks teamed up with local artist Molly Rose Freeman for a freestanding wall mural on the corridor in southwest Atlanta near Napoleon Drive. Called “A Resting Place,” the piece combined both of the artists’ different styles into one installation, all while fitting seamlessly with its surroundings.

“Molly had just moved to town and I wanted to work with her,” Brooks says. “We worked with a carpenter named Jay Wilson to build the piece on the Westside trail. It had painted seats and a room with windows, a place where people could rest on the trail and enjoy some pretty visuals. She painted the outside and I painted the inside. We had great fun in the summer heat and kudzu. It stayed up for about four months.”

After being exposed to the BeltLine through her collaboration with Brooks, Freeman embarked on her own project for the trail in 2014, a mural titled “The Pigeon.”

“I painted a mural on both sides of a big tunnel that runs through Piedmont Park under Monroe,” Freeman says. “There are tons of pigeons that live under the bridge, and the piece was inspired by their colors — the greens, grays and whites — which I think are really soothing.”

Freeman took into account the history of the bridge along with its small, winged inhabitants. “I wanted to create a sanctuary for anyone spending time in the shade of the overpass,” Freeman says. “That tunnel has a lot of history. It was a well-established homeless camp for years, and I met some people who used to live under it.”

In that same vein, sculptor William Massey has literally incorporated parts of the city into his sculpture “Object of Wo(man),” in view on the Eastside trail since 2014. “Generally my work focuses on the brokenness of humanity and the pieces that come together to form who we are,” Massey says. “[The sculpture] is composed of scrap metal that I scavenged from around the city and undeveloped sections of the BeltLine. I wanted this one to be permanent and withstand the elements, so I used only welded metal.”

He sees the BeltLine as a chance for Atlanta residents to experience art in a casual and comfortable way while supporting local artists. “The BeltLine breaks down the barriers between art and mainstream society,” Massey says. “One doesn’t have to be an art enthusiast to walk down a sidewalk and witness and admire a sculpture or mural. The BeltLine makes appreciating art a comfortable and relaxed experience. No need to dress up and make small talk in a stiff gallery setting — just take a stroll.”

Massey’s sculpture, along with Freeman and Brooks’ murals, are part of Art on the Atlanta BeltLine’s growing roster of more than 50 artists.

Every fall season, Art on the Atlanta BeltLine accepts submissions for their annual exhibition. The art touches almost 20 intown communities, according to the organization, which received more than 200 proposals for last year’s show.

“The nature of the space allows for all disciplines to have an opportunity to exhibit, from performers and musicians to muralists, sculptors and craftsmen,” says Elan Buchen, Art and Culture Project Coordinator for Art on the Atlanta BeltLine. “Because the corridor passes through so many diverse neighborhoods, it is an easy jump to see diverse types of art represented throughout the corridor.”

The organization also tries to avoid any unauthorized artwork on the BeltLine through their submission process. “We get a great number of inquiries from people wanting to exhibit their work on the Atlanta BeltLine,” Buchen says. “However, we always encourage them to submit proposals so that it is a fair competition for all artists.”

As more of the trails open, Art on the Atlanta BeltLine hopes to expand and make more art proposals a reality. In the past, organizations such as #weloveatl, Atlanta Celebrates Photography, Atlanta Collage Society and Indie Craft Experience have joined the ranks of hundreds of artists that have shown their temporary installations on the Atlanta BeltLine.

“Every year, the Atlanta BeltLine changes and so, too, the art changes to reflect this nature,” Buchen says. “It’s a wonderful dialogue we get to see and experience.”

Insider tip

Looking for your favorite piece of art? Visit the Art on the Atlanta BeltLine website (art.beltline.org/artists) to search for BeltLine artwork by artist and year. While on the trail, you can locate pieces and access points via Art on the Atlanta BeltLine’s interactive ART MAP.

BeltLine people:

Molly Rose Freeman

After arriving in Atlanta in 2013, artist Molly Rose Freeman proceeded to quickly inject herself into the city’s arts community, creating such work as the Atlanta BeltLine mural “The Pigeon.” You can see her creations around the city thanks to Living Walls, and she has had several exhibitions as part of her Creatives Project residency and through galleries in town.

Living Intown: Many of your murals are temporary wall pieces, and the BeltLine can feel the same with its rotating artwork. How do you feel about the fleeting nature of your work?

Molly Rose Freeman: I think my mural will be up until it gets damaged or until the BeltLine runs out of walls to paint (which will take a while!). I have made peace with the temporary nature of my work. Once I finish, it’s not mine anymore — it belongs to the world, and I just hope it does its job of uplifting and giving pause to those who see it.

What other art initiatives would you like to see on the Atlanta BeltLine?

I would love to see some more high-quality interactive pieces along the BeltLine, in the vein of the [red houses with] hammocks and the trombos that the High Museum of Art has installed in Midtown. Those are great examples of temporary public artworks that are playful, engaging, site specific and thoughtful of their audience. I think we as a city could up our game in the realm of interactive public art, and I think the BeltLine is poised in a perfect position to be that venue.

What’s your favorite thing about the BeltLine?

Any excuse to be outside, explore your city and hang out with your friends is okay by me.

— Muriel Vega