HeartbeatATL: love letter to Atlanta community

Photo by Alex Dubé Student Publications

A new interactive art installation within the heart of metro Atlanta has served as a dynamic representation of love in Atlanta. Across from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, under the MLK Jr. SW bridge at the zero-mile marker of the city was located “Heartbeat ATL,” a 30 second light show controlled by visitors. 

This installation first opened in early January and ran through March 4 From 7:00 – 11:00 p.m. Every night, the area became an immersive artistic spectacle calling out to city residents. 

Ironically, this area, commonly known as The Gulch, is extremely challenging to navigate to, especially with Apple Maps, and is often overlooked in relation to the sporting events held nearby. 

Nevertheless, The Gulch was converted by Centennial Yards, who have plans to redesign this empty space into a thriving center of the Atlanta community. 

This installation was created by the developer in the meantime to attract excitement and attention to these future changes as well as to provide people in the community with the ability to share the love
within pandemic conditions. 

Visitors could activate the light display through the website, which was also linked to QR codes posted nearby. The 30 second light show exemplified the individual heartbeat being shared with the entire downtown community, radiating patterns of light concluded by a pulsating red light across The Gulch. 

Additionally, these beams of light reflected against a cement viaduct support wall to create the “Let Go and Grow” mural by upcoming artist, ARRRTADDICT. This image featured an abundance of nature, including a monstera plant, which constantly sheds leaves to make way for new growth. 

The mural and its name aligned with the message developers intended to send prior to these innovative changes: that the drastic transformation of this neglected community will ultimately be positive in the long run. 

Creatives at Dash Studio led by Courtney Hammond independently created the interactive capability of this exhibit with the intention of highlighting the blend of artistic creativity and technology. 

This union of culture and technology is significant to the historical importance of The Gulch. In recent memory, the 50 acres of parking lots and occasional rail traffic have become the prime example of unsightly underdevelopment in inner Atlanta. 

However, originally the Southern Railway Terminal Station was situated at this location and was the center of Atlanta commerce and transportation. 

In the early 20th century, railroad travel was critical to the success of major cities. 

However, Atlanta’s connection with this industry cannot be overemphasized as several rail lines ran through the city’s interior. As these railways connected Atlanta with other regions of the country, they also provided an obstacle to development for the architects of downtown neighborhoods. 

To mediate these issues and bypass the railways traveling through downtown, multiple viaducts were established around Terminal Station before the building was demolished in the early 70s. This process formed The Gulch, and while the initial significance of the site has often been snubbed, the “hole” in the center of the city was once its driving factor.

In the past ten years, Atlanta leaders have consistently pushed for growth in this vacant space, but additions were secured legally by former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in 2018. With future construction on the horizon, understanding this area’s history can provide an example of how growth can facilitate culture through technology.

This was the primary goal of the advertising undertaken by Centennial Yards’ president, Brian McGowan as well as Hammond, with the installation of this exhibit. While interest in these upcoming retail and residential developments could arise naturally, ultimately both individuals perceived the greater achievement in establishing a connection with the Atlanta community.

As we continue to navigate the ongoing challenge of decreasing the spread of COVID-19, the importance of community-building is perpetually validated. Visiting the Heartbeat ATL installation served as a simple way to connect in spite of these challenges as well as a way to metaphorically express your love with the city.