Homegrown Art in Atlanta: A Closer Look at 4 of the City's Creative Powerhouses

From highbrow to raising eyebrows, these creative forces for good each play a role in the city's love affair with local art.

From awe-inspiring street murals hiding around the corner and adorning bridges along the Atlanta BeltLine, to local organizations gaining national recognition, art in the city today is as vibrant as ever. Get acquainted with four local creative powerhouses making their mark in bright and bold ways. Their works are worthy of any art lover’s radar—and by “art lover,” we really mean just about anyone. 

Kyle ”BlackCatTips” Brooks

Artist Kyle Brooks, also known as BlackCatTips, has a distinctive style that is at once recognizable—and once you can recognize it, you’ll start to notice his whimsical faces and poetic rambles popping up around Atlanta and beyond. “Maybe you will see some in a parking lot in Snellville,” Brooks said. “A fine art gallery in Buckhead. In the woods along a highway south of Fayetteville. A corporate lobby in Midtown or a boarded-up gas station about 50 miles south of Macon.“ That is a short list. Companies across the Southeast have courted partnerships with Brooks. Recently, he partnered with Xfinity at Suntrust Park to debut a new, limited-edition shirt for the Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta artist Kyle "BlackCatTips" Brooks

The Inspiration
“I am inspired by nature. I look for patterns in the world,” Brooks said. “I love to draw a funny face and it makes me feel good so I do a lot of that. I get some sort of power out of painting and watching the colors flow off the brush. Some of my best times in life are when I listen to a good song and I am painting and lost in the work.” When he’s not painting, Brooks said he enjoys tending to his orchids. This year I have created an outdoor hanging garden for them,” he said. “I am also crazy about things that fly—both birds and tracking commercial airline flights. Oddly enough, I worked with Delta Airlines over the last year and The Atlanta Audubon Society...I do like to write little poems and songs as well. I love to tell a good story.” Look out for his street poems, too.

Art by Kyle Brooks

What's New
“There are a lot of artists in Atlanta these days— and public art is everywhere in town and easily accessible," Brooks said. "People should realize a few things that are important. Look for an artist that is true to themselves. Look for someone who is true to their inner voice. Look for someone who is learning from the Spirit of Inspiration. There are lots of folks who are trying to be like everyone else. There are lots of people who are too scared to do their own thing. There are lots of talented people who are wanting to be like everyone else they deem to be cool and popular instead of doing what comes to them naturally. Look for the folks that are doing something unique and are nice enough to share that with the world. That is who you should seek out and watch. The talented ones. Them humble ones. The ones with a fire inside. They are the ones that will create true art.”

For those seeking an art experience that is unique to Atlanta, Brooks suggested a walk through the woods and the swamp at Constitution Lakes Park to see the Doll’s Head Trail. “My friend Joel created it,” Brooks said. “He is an Atlantan native and a true Southern character.”

Bike Rack by Kyle Brooks

What's Next
“I would like to work on some sculptural pieces,” he said. “I have plans and dreams for outdoor sculptures—Totem poles, stacked painted stone pieces, concrete work. I’m also learning how to build some moving parts, wind-driven items. Things I can paint on that also have a life of their own. Nature is full of powers we can’t see and I find it intriguing that we can build something that will capture unseen forces—the wind for example. A river that flows around us.”

The Art Farm at Serenbe

Thirty minutes southwest of the Atlanta airport, creativity is growing wild in Chattahoochee Hills.

Art Over Dinner at Serenbe

The Inspiration
Founded in 2004, The Serenbe Institute began to fulfill the New Urbanism neighborhood’s vision of community as a place where art, culture and environment are strong and steady pillars. The institute calls Serenbe’s Art Farm home, which also houses a wide range of arts initiatives, including AIR Serenbe, a high-caliber artists’ residency program, a professional theatre company known as Serenbe Playhouse, the new Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre and much more.

What's New
The Art Farm complex provides a place to bring people together in support of the arts, with the belief that “art in everyday life can create a greater understanding of the world.” The Art Farm also recently opened the Art Farm Studio, offering year-round programming for all skill levels, from first-timers to pros sharpening their skills artists. The Art Farm Studio offers one-day art workshops and creative retreats in a range of media (think textiles, photography, painting and drawing). The studio is also available for private corporate workshops, with curated teambuilding courses to meet needs of the visiting group. 

Performers on an open-air stage

Dedicated to producing artistically rich performances, the outdoor site and stage of each Serenebe Playhouse production is chosen and designed to amplify the beauty of nature. Add professional actors and you have an experience that even those who say “theatre isn’t really my thing” can get behind. This month, “Titanic: The Musical” runs through Aug. 12, 2018, and “Peter Pan” runs through Aug. 26, 2018.

Since 2015, the Art Farm signature program is Art Over Dinner, a monthly series of intimate gatherings with creatives and the organizations that support their work. The Aug. 19 edition brings three local artists, Shanequa Gay, Meredith Kooi and William Massey III, to the table to talk about how art and activism are shaping Atlanta. 

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival

The 2019 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (AJFF) might not be until February 2019, but with the deadline to submit on Aug. 17, 2018, it’s worth noting the tireless team working behind the scenes throughout the year to ensure the annual monthlong festival maintains a certain caliber that has developed since the first fest in 2000. Today, the AJFF is also working to bring together more film fans, in and out of theaters.

Atlanta Jewish Film Festival's Cinebash

The Inspiration
“My first connection with AJFF was as a volunteer, chairing a selection committee responsible for picking films for the annual festival,” said Executive Director Kenny Blank. “I was struck by the potential to grow the festival into a community-wide celebration of the film arts and culture, with resonance for Jewish and non-Jewish audiences alike.” 

What's New 
Earlier this summer, the AJFF hosted its first Cinebash, an evening celebrating the world of film and its unsung artists at the Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center. Coming up this fall is the second edition of AJFF On Campus, a mini-version of the festival aimed at students. Also, Blank said to watch out for the Selects series—screenings of new international and independent films—in addition to AJFF Connects, exploring the intersection of Jewish and non-Jewish lives. “AJFF has always stayed true to its mission to engage, educate and entertain diverse communities through a uniquely cinematic and Jewish lens, fostering new levels of social and cultural understanding,” Blank said.

Atlanta Jewish Film Festival's Cinebash

WonderRoot

Simply put, WonderRoot's mission is to “unite artists and community to inspire positive social change,” according to Jake Pardee, WonderRoot’s communications and development coordinator. "When WonderRoot first began in 2004, we were much more focused on building community and resources for artists to have thriving careers in Atlanta. We wanted to make our city’s arts ecosystem more robust,” Pardee said. That mission-oriented work, however, is taking root in diverse shapes and forms.

What's New 
“In the past 3 years or so, with the adoption of our new strategic plan, we have maintained this work of supporting emerging artists (through programs like the Hughley Fellowship and the WonderRoot Community Arts Center) while we have also been working more frequently with ‘non-arts’ entities to bring arts and culture strategies and solutions into their work.”

WonderRoot

Located in Reynoldstown, the Community Arts Center shelters resources for member artists, including a ceramics studio, dark room, library, recording studio and digital media lab, in addition to welcomes to the public to attend workshops and visit the Activist Screen Print Studio (ASPS).

“We work with various local artists to create prints that are burned onto screens by our generous ASPS sponsor: IS Studio,” Pardee said. “These prints address a specific social justice issue—past initiatives include immigration rights, housing affordability, anti-racism and more. People can come to the studio and learn more about whichever social justice issue is being highlighted at that time, then they themselves can learn how to make a screen print and they get to leave with a piece of original art.”

Art Installation at King Memorial MARTA Station

WonderRoot’s outreach continues to extend beyond the walls of its Community Arts Center, too. “In 2015 we began working with MARTA (through the TransFormation Alliance) on an initiative called ‘En Route’ which creates meaningful, aesthetically imaginative, high-quality, text-based murals that explore issues of access, mobility and public transportation. Not only did we install murals through community engagement at King Memorial, Oakland City, and Ashby Stations but two years into our partnership, MARTA created and hired a new position to manage their public art beyond the En Route initiative.”

Want more ways to get involved? Thanks to the hip food hall and shopping mecca’s location along the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, WonderRoot’s Artist & Maker Market is held one Sunday afternoon each month at The Shed at Ponce City Market and gives local artisans a prime opportunity to display and sell their work. Vendors apply for a table, and the application fees of accepted vendors directly fund WonderRoot’s Creative Youth Development programs with art students in Atlanta Public Schools. 

What's Next
In collaboration with the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee, WonderRoot is leading a city-wide initiative called Off the Wall. Through murals, media, and community conversations, the multi-disciplinary project aims to share elements of the city’s civil rights and social justice journey in pursuit of civil rights, human rights and a more equitable future for all Atlantans. More simply put, it’s pretty wonderful. This fall, Pardee added that there will be many opportunities for volunteers to lend a hand. Follow @wonderroot and #OfftheWallATL on Instagram to stay in the loop.

WonderRoot’s Artist & Maker Market

Colleen Ann McNally
About the author

Colleen Ann McNally is the Atlanta and Nashville editor for Where, and has called the South home for 20 years and cou...