Feature: Atlanta welcomes its 100th mural

Ashley Dopson’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ mural is the 1000th to grace the streets of Atlanta. It feature’s Dopson’s signature color palette and whimsical style. // Photo courtesy of Art Rudick.

As of this month, Atlanta is home to 1000 murals on the sides of its streets and the walls of its buildings.

The ATL1000 campaign, spearheaded by Art Rudick and the Atlanta Street Art Map, will celebrate the diverse art and artists of the city in collaboration with Power Haus Creative, The Cabbagetown Initiative, and the Forward Warrior mural project.

Rudick, who began cataloging the street art in Atlanta after he retired in 2016, envisioned the campaign as a way to thank, celebrate, and honor the city’s artists.

He began counting the pieces informally as he documented them for his website (streetartmap.org) and realized that the thousandth would occur in 2020.

“1000 murals is a big milestone and something to celebrate,” Rudick said, “I shouldn’t be the only person to know about this.”

The journey towards the thousandth mural, like much of the world, came to an abrupt halt in March with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

But in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests in the city, an outpouring of protest art pushed the total number of murals over the mark.

By Rudick’s count, Ashley Dopson’s “Black Lives Matter” mural on the driveway of Kipp Street Academy is the city’s thousandth mural.

Dopson (ashleydpaints.com), a teacher by day and an artist by night, says that being a muralist is her “pipe dream.” She has used art in the classroom to give inner city kids a creative outlet, covering the walls of the hallways with paper and then letting her students pretend to be muralists. Dopson has seen first hand how art changes behavior when used as an outlet; it keeps her students from being bored and disruptive.

The mural was a group effort that included art from the community and other artists before Dopson went back and added designs and details.

The painting is bright, colorful and varied. Dopson herself describes it as “whimsical” and says she created it to reflect the variety and vibrance of Black people and of people in general.

It reads that “Black Lives Matter and are loved, needed, and valued,” a daily reminder for Dopson “because people are going to tell me that I’m not.” Dopson says her painting isn’t about a political movement, or even an organization.

It’s about “affirming that we matter, that we are people.” To Dopson art is a weapon in the war against ignorance and racism. Before she ever knew that the mural would be celebrated, Dopson said it was her way to hold on to her legacy, to say “This is who we are, this is who I am.”

“Sometimes,” she says, recalling her students painting the hallways, “the kids on their way to church, to the mosque, to the synagogue, need to be reminded that they matter.”

ATL1000 has partnered with Central Atlanta Progress to install several large digital billboards around the Atlanta Arts and Entertainment District that will display murals by diverse Atlanta artists, including Dopson’s BLM mural.

In addition to the digital exhibitions, ATL1000 is partnering with the Cabbagetown Initiative, a neighborhood beautification project that plans to install a new mural at the entrance to the Krog Street Tunnel.

John Dirga, who serves on the board of the Cabbagetown Neighborhood Improvement Association, describes the location as a “nexus” where the long tradition of graffiti within the tunnel intersects with the murals curated by the Forward Warrior project on Wiley Street.

Judging is currently in progress to select five finalists out of the 30 artists who answered an open call for submissions for the mural.

Each of the finalists will receive an honorarium to make a site-specific design that will be created in the upcoming months.

Dirga is hesitant to call the new mural celebratory; rather than a pat on the back, he describes it as a “gift to the community.”

His hope is that the campaign recognizes the rich civil rights and hip hop cultures that have contributed so much to the streets of Atlanta.

Digra finds it significant that it was the protest murals and calls to action that ultimately pushed the number of murals over 1000.

ATL1000 is also partnering with Power Haus Creative (powerhauscreativeatl.com) to present the “Goddess Glow Project,” an installation of multiple murals created solely by Black women.

The project aims to present Black women and girls with an authentic reflection of themselves through street art. The beauty of Atlanta’s street art, says Rudick, is that it’s everywhere, interspersed across every neighborhood in the city.

Just as every neighborhood has its own character, so does its art.

Some of the best art in the city of Atlanta, he says, is tucked away where you would not think to look, and he likens finding it to a “treasure hunt.” Dopson agrees, saying that she appreciates the serendipity and unpredictability of street art.

“It captures you where you are — on a bike, on your commute,” she says, “and makes you think about something besides your bills.”

To learn more about ATL1000’s exhibits and projects, on the websistreetartmap.org/atl1000.