The Secret Spot: Abandoned building in EAV becomes art space

Carl Janes at The Secret Spot in East Atlanta Village. (Photos by Isadora Pennington)
Carl Janes at The Secret Spot in East Atlanta Village. (Photos by Isadora Pennington)

By Isadora Pennington

This is the story of an odd little building. More than that, it’s the story of the man inside – an artist by the name of Carl Janes. Tucked away on a mostly vacant lot in East Atlanta sits The Secret Spot, a charming and inconspicuous building that seems a little out of place among the bars and neighborhoods nearby.

The building at 538 Flat Shoals Ave. has had an interesting evolution throughout the years. It was originally built to be a barbecue joint in the 1950s, before being converted to a locksmith shop. The building still has remnants from those prior establishments, like the barbecue pit and counter, but the space now has a new life as an art space. These days, The Secret Spot, as it’s been dubbed, is known for housing the work of Janes as well as providing an outlet for the artistic expression of others.

The colorful exterior of The Secret Spot.
The colorful exterior of The Secret Spot.

“We were hanging out at The Earl, and came around this corner when I saw the for sale sign,” Janes recalled.

At the time, the space had seen better days. Trash strewn about the property, graffiti and potholes in the parking lot were evidence the building’s untended past. Indeed, it had been all but forgotten for more than five years, and left to the elements and vagrants without much hope for revitalization. That was until Janes saw it. “I’ve got to figure out how to do something with it,” he decided.

Today, Janes has coordinated art that covers the long wall stretching alongside the property, contributed by local artists such as Squishiepuss and Catlanta. The building is painted gold, and adorned with artwork both inside and out. Local bands like Hello Ocho and Cousin Dan have performed on the roof, pleasing eager crowds gathered in the grass surrounding the building. Events are posted on The Secret Spot’s Facebook page.

Old globes are just one of the many art installations inside The Secret Spot.
Old globes are just one of the many art installations inside The Secret Spot.

For Janes, even the building itself is a work of art. The property has served as a haven for his never-ending personal projects, and has provided him an outlet for connecting more with other artists who call Atlanta home. “As an artist, it’s important to stay as free as possible,” he ruminated, noting that he wanted to “create a context where other people can set themselves free.”

Originally hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, Janes’ young life was marked by a steady stream of transition. His father was in the Navy, and as such he lived in many places around the world, from places as exotic as the Philippines, Europe, and Yugoslavia to major metropolitan cities in the US such as New York and Los Angeles. It was a chance meeting with an eclectic art enthusiast, someone who embodied a sort of Willy Wonka-esque love for artistic expression, who convinced a young Janes to give Atlanta a chance nearly 10 years ago.

Walking into The Secret Spot is like stepping into a time capsule, or maybe some kind of feverish dream. Artwork hangs on the walls of the front room, some still in various stages of progress. Tins of paint and spraypaint cans are stacked haphazardly just out of the way of the front door, easily accessible but not in the way. A shrine to President John F. Kennedy welcomes every visitor, its silver dollar eyes staring down each newcomer as they enter. There are oddities everywhere, from the pile of school globes resting in the corner, to the clippings from old magazines pressed under glass on top of the desk.

Janes has an affinity for American iconography.
Janes has an affinity for American iconography.

As an artist, Janes has an affinity for mixing nostalgia, modes of currency, and pop culture with sociopolitical issues. There are several works in addition to the shrine that touches on the death of JFK, for example, and an illustration of Martin Luther King Jr. sitting on an easel adjacent to the desk. A projector sits in the space that used to be a walk-up counter, the faces of Abraham Lincoln and Sitting Bull shining onto the front door and windows.

You may have also seen Janes’ moniker, Future Ancestors, predominantly associated with murals or art exhibits in local galleries. This concept came to him when waking from a dream, and it touches on a lot of his personal opinions about existence as framed within a timeline that spans the past and future. The phrase encourages the viewer to consider the fact that they themselves might be someone’s and maybe many peoples’ ancestor one day, and how does that make you consider how you engage with the world today? How are you affected by your own family history and ancestry? Those questions run like a vein through Janes’ work, and act as a backbone to his mission as an artist.

As for the secrecy surrounding his art space, it’s something that happened naturally and has since served to keep things interesting. “The mystery is here for me too, it’s totally a dream,” he said.

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