By Isadora Pennington
The pale, drab walls of the DeKalb Avenue underpass on Moreland Avenue in Little Five Points are set to become a lot more colorful thanks to the work of two women and the collaboration of 22 others.
Artist Lauren Stumberg and art-lover Carly Berg are the driving force behind the Moreland Mural Project, which seeks to commission a large and complex mural featuring work by 22 female artists on the walls of the underpass.
With its close proximity to edgy Little Five Points, the underpass is a perfect canvas for a new project, and it was a conscious effort from the outset to actively seek out unfamiliar or underrepresented voices for this project, most notably women. “There is not a lot of gender equality in street art,” explained Stumberg.
Save for one international artist, all of the participating artists are local and nearly half are women of color. Many of these artists are also more likely to show in a gallery than on a wall, and for some this would be their first mural ever, a fact that does not deter Stumberg from her enthusiasm for the project. “I like the idea of blurring that line between gallery and street art.”
Stumberg’s own murals can be seen at a few spots around town, most notably the dancer across from Estoria, and the mural of legs just down the way in Cabbagetown. Common themes for Stumberg include symbols and portraits, plus an affinity for Magpies. They often show up, abstracted, as little stick figure birds in her work, and represent positive omens or change.
Berg, on the other hand, is perhaps more focused on the community-building elements of this endeavor. Having grown up in Atlanta, Berg remembers clearly a Little Five Points that was a little rougher around the edges than the one that we know today. “This is where you go to do sketchy things,” Berg said with a laugh, noting that she even got her fake ID there back in the day.
In the years since, the area has managed to retain plenty of its counter-cultural roots, but there are some notable differences if you look closely enough. Though some of the area’s original standbys like Junkman’s Daughter remain, the encroaching influx of popular chains like Starbucks and American Apparel have at times threatened the sanctity of the existing independent shops and culture.
Fortunately for the area, and also for Berg who calls Candler Park home, the community in Little Five Points is a vocal and loyal one. By upholding zoning standards established years ago, the neighbors have effectively maintained a no-box-store haven in a city that is quickly being taken over by mixed-use shopping complexes. As an example, the always bustling Edgewood Shopping Center sits just on the other side of the underpass, and Stumberg theorizes that socially engaged art in the area could also serve to unite the nearby communities.
In contrast to the vibrant culture around it, the underpass in question sits painfully pale. “I just felt like something needed to change,” said Berg. Not one to sit idly by, she is now President for Little Five Alive (littlefivealive.org), and has also gotten involved with Little Five Arts Alive, where she holds a position on the steering committee. Little Five Arts Alive is formed from a partnership between Horizon Theatre Company and the Little Five Points Community Improvement District, and seeks to provide arts programming that connects the community.
By getting involved with these organizations, Berg found an outlet for her passions and a good use for her business skills. It was a fortuitous introduction by Little Five Arts Alive director Rachel Parish that brought Berg and Stumberg together, and there was an instant connection. They began talking about the blank underpass, and they decided it was high time to do something about it. “When I met Lauren, I thought – this is my opportunity to do something creative,” and the Moreland Mural Project began.
Another big factor, beyond getting the neighborhood on board, Georgia Department of Transportation regulations met, and artists lined up, is finding the funding to put this whole idea in action. Stumberg feels strongly that artists deserve to be fairly paid, and she has set specific financial goals in the execution of this mural. “For some reason artists are one of the vocations where people are expected to work for free, so part of the funding from the grant will go towards paying the artists for the sketches that they generated.”
When Stumberg learned that the city of Atlanta pays individuals $4,000 for an artist project, she decided that’s what she wanted to do for each of her 22 artists. All told, the two are seeking to raise around $100,000 to pay for materials, artist pay, legal fees, paying for traffic calming per DOT regulations, and rent the necessary equipment.
“We are kinda crazy,” Stumberg said with a laugh, “but we really want to amplify the voices of these artists and to show how art lends value to the community.”
Though there are many more pieces yet to fall into place before this project can come together, Berg and Stumberg are tentatively hoping to launch the project in spring of 2017.