Murals near stadium highlight Atlanta's civil rights legacy
Atlanta is getting ready. They are hosting the Super Bowl. Artists there are painting murals. The murals highlight the city's civil rights legacy. They also highlight its social justice legacy.
The game will be played at a downtown stadium. Artwork adorns the neighborhoods near the stadium. It is part of an initiative. It is called "Off The Wall: Atlanta's Civil Rights and Social Justice Journey." The project is a collaboration between arts advocacy group WonderRoot and the Super Bowl host committee.
The murals' installation was timed to coincide with the Feb. 3 sports extravaganza. But they are meant to be lasting public works of art for Atlantans. They should enjoy them long after the football fans have left.
The idea was to celebrate Atlanta's role in the civil rights struggle. This was during the 1950s and 1960s. It is intended to connect that rich legacy with more contemporary struggles. These struggles are for justice. And they are for equality. That's according to Chris Appleton. He is WonderRoot's executive director.
"We definitely have works that, for good reason, make Atlanta proud of its role in the civil rights movement and the human rights movement. We have murals that invite and challenge us in Atlanta to continue striving for that beloved community," Appleton said.
The term "beloved community" was made popular by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He was an Atlanta native. He described a society centered on equal opportunity and justice. It was rooted in the philosophy of nonviolence.
Several dozen "community conversations" brought out unheard and untold stories. The stories were about the struggle for justice. The stories needed to be elevated. That's according to Appleton. The artists sat in on those conversations. They used them to inform their mural designs. The designs then went through two rounds of community feedback.
"I really believe the artists have done a great job of amplifying and complexifying narratives around justice issues in Atlanta and beyond." That is according to Appleton. "The murals, as a collection, are celebratory in some cases. They are aspirational in some cases and are rooted in truth-telling."
A nomination and selection committee invited artists to apply. The artists came from around the country. The panel chose 10 applicants. There was also an 11th spot. It was dubbed "Atlanta's choice." It was open only to Atlanta area artists. It was voted on by the public. The plan is to install roughly 30 murals.
Muhammad Yungai was the muralist selected by public vote. He drew inspiration from a community conversation. It was held at Spelman College. There, he learned about students who volunteered at a nearby community farm.
His mural is called "Community Roots." It is on a wall in Atlanta's Castleberry Hill neighborhood. It showcases actual students. They are from four historically black colleges and universities. The schools are in Atlanta. The schools include Spelman. It includes Morehouse. It includes Clark Atlanta. And it includes Morris Brown.
He wanted to shine a light on the four schools. They sit a stone's throw from Mercedes Benz Stadium. That is where the Super Bowl will be played. The murals shine a light on urban farming. It also highlights community gardening.
Muhammad Yungai is 44 years old. He is a middle school art teacher. He is also a professional muralist. He says his work often focuses on education.
"I believe education is the biggest thing that we can do as a culture to ensure that everyone can achieve the life they want," Yungai said.
Shanequa Gay is 40. She was inspired by a community conversation. It was held at Covenant House. It provides housing. It also provides support. It is for homeless young people. Her mural is called "Excuse me while I kiss the sky." It adorns the walls of the Vine City transit station. It is across the street the stadium.
Gay said she wanted to represent people who sleep under the trees and bushes. The mural has dark outlines of leaves. It has outlines of flowers. She said these are inspired by Georgia's abundant vegetation. They are layered over brightly colored profiles. These are of young people. She met them at Covenant House.
"I went and took photographs of these young people making kissy faces to kind of humanize homelessness because we don't attribute kissing with being homeless — or joy or laughter or young people," she said.