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The year in review: Despite obstacles, local visual arts scene grows and thrives

Nicole Livieratos's "Turn the Page," performed at Flux Night
This is the first in a series of articles looking back at the arts in Atlanta during 2012.  
Nicole Livieratos' "Turn the Page," performed at Flux Night.
On the face of it, Atlanta is a hostile environment for the arts. As we've reported, Georgia ranks 49th in government funding of the arts — and we place that high only because of a technicality. Really we're dead last.
Atlanta fares no better in rankings of private philanthropy. Though generous in general giving, we were last again among 10 peer cities, behind Cincinnati and Charlotte, in the percentage of that money that went to cultural endeavors, according to a 2010 McKinsey study.
The state of arts education -- a key component of any arts ecology -- is not salutary. It fell off the curriculum in K-12 long ago, and this year Emory University announced that it would eliminate its art department. So much for encouraging future artists, audiences and patrons in their formative years.
Students demonstrate over the closure of Emory University's art department.
The local gallery community continues to struggle and morph. Spruill Gallery lost its able director, Hope Cohn. Young Blood Gallery closed after 15 years. (On the bright side, its arty boutique remains and MINT will take over the gallery space.) Saltworks and Jennifer Schwartz opted to replace the traditional gallery business model with programs that don't center on a public exhibition space. Though a realistic response to the economy and the dominance of art-fair marketing, the moves contribute psychologically to the feeling of shrinkage.
 The arts in Atlanta have as many infrastructure problems, it seems, as transportation.
Yet despite the general indifference at the state level, Atlanta's arts scene is thriving. The city’s Office of Cultural Affairs initiated a new fund-raising program this year. Louis Corrigan (ArtsATL’s board chairman) continues to seed arts and criticism activities in a big way. New galleries such as {Poem 88} have emerged and are making important contributions.
Atlanta Celebrates Photography inaugurated Slideluck Atlanta, a slide show of local artists combined with a potluck dinner, in 2012.
In fact, I would argue that Atlanta is on a roll. Stable institutions continue their work, young organizations are maturing and new ones keep popping up. Atlanta Celebrates Photography, to cite one of the stalwarts, continues to galvanize with substantive programming and partnerships that showcase local artists and bring in key national figures. The Goat Farm is maturing into a major arts center with a business model that provides aid and a platform to experimental and fledgling artists and organizations. This year it also originated its own program, the dance series Tanz Farm developed with choreographer Lauri Stallings.
Kudos to the many organizations and individuals whose programs nurture artists and writers. MINT, WonderRoot and the Creatives Project run artist-mentoring programs. Flux Projects brought in Creative Capital to conduct a professional development workshop. The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center organized programs that discuss local issues as well as art.
Lindsay Pollock, editor of Art in America, spoke at an Emory conference on art criticism.

Addressing another aspect of the arts infrastructure, curator, critic and ArtsATL writer Rebecca Cochran organized “Off/Center,” a conference on regional criticism, in partnership with the International Association of Art Critics, at Emory University. It offered Atlanta writers, whose field faces as many challenges as art, an opportunity to engage in dialogue and network with nationally active figures.

All things considered, Atlanta has a fairly robust multi-publication apparatus: Art Papers, Burnaway, Atlanta Art Now and ArtsATL have carved out niches along the critical spectrum. There are more voices now than there ever have been before.

Feedback is important — and not just through arts criticism. The High Museum of Art has stepped up in this regard with exhibitions (Alejandro Aguilera, Susan Cofer) and acquisitions of work by local artists. After years of High standoffishness, it’s a pleasure to see curator Michael Rooks roaming the galleries on a Saturday afternoon. Works by Sean Abrahams, Tristan Al-Haddad, Craig Drennen, Sarah Emerson, Jason Kofke, Anne Marie Manker, Joe Peragine, Seana Riley, Ben Roosevelt, Nathan Sharratt, Freddie Styles, Katherine Taylor and Andy Moon Wilson entered the High’s collection this year. These acquisitions were underwritten largely by the Lambert Fund (a fund provided by the late Judith Alexander and named for Marianne Lambert), with help from Friends of Contemporary Art and a few angels.

Susan Cofer's drawing "Levavi Oculos" appeared in her solo show at the High Museum.

It is no small thing that the Rauschenberg Foundation has taken note of energy and creativity at the grass roots. This year the New York-based foundation chose Atlanta as one of five cities for a new initiative called SEED. It awarded Dashboard Co-op, Eyedrum Art and Music Gallery, gloATL, Living Walls and the Lucky Penny grants of $30,000 each, to be paid in $10,000 increments over three years.

The recipients reflect not only the late artist’s own merging of dance and art but also the renaissance of that phenomenon, which is richly represented in Atlanta. Lucky Penny choreographer Blake Beckham worked with Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects for “Threshold.” Choreographer Nicole Livieratos conflated dance and performance art in “Turn the Page,” a highlight of Flux Night. Beacon Dance and Martha Whittington collaborated at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, and Zoetic Dance Ensemble responded to the Laurel Nakadate show at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.

Look for more cross-disciplinary collaborations in 2013. Alix Pearlstein is working with Atlanta actors on a site-specific performance and installation at the Contemporary, which will open January 11. Stallings and gloATL are working with the Atlanta Opera, artist Gyun Hur and the Sonic Generator music ensemble to develop “Hippodrome,” to premiere this spring.

GloATL’s site-specific performances, which respond to architecture and place, are exemplars. They also exemplify another phenomenon that characterizes Atlanta art-making today: engagement with public space. Flux Projects has led the way with its commissions of temporary public art. Living Walls continues to muralize the city (a charge also taken up by the Office of Cultural Affairs), build international connections and focus attention on us. This year, notably, the public talked back, sparking productive discussions about balancing artistic expression and the rights of those whose environment is impacted.

Runners weave through a J.D. Koth sculpture that was part of "Art on the BeltLine" 2012.

The Atlanta BeltLine has played a role in demonstrating the value of public space and art’s place in it. If, as David Hamilton noted in our review of Historic Fourth Ward Park, “the city has rediscovered the notion of ‘public,’ ” artists can claim some of the credit.

For a survey of memorable local exhibitions in 2012, please check in with ArtsATL’s critics on January 3.

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