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Arts, culture in ATL: ARC approves long-awaited plan to expand programs

Dashill Smith performs at MARTA's West End Station as part of the transit agency's efforts to provide arts and culture offerings to riders. Credit: MARTA

By David Pendered

The murals, performances, farmers markets and soccer events becoming more prevalent at MARTA rail stations are the types of arts and culture offerings the Atlanta Regional Commission intends to foster across the region through a new strategic plan.

Dashill Smith performed at MARTA’s West End Station as part of the transit agency’s efforts to provide arts and culture offerings to riders. Credit: MARTA

MARTA’s arts and culture programs represent an attempt to build a sense of community around transit. The offerings invite passersby to share experiences that have the potential to brighten days, raise questions and lift spirits.

These are the kinds of notions the ARC wants to bolster through its new visioning document, Arts, Culture, & Creative Placemaking Strategic Plan. The plan was has been in the works since August 2018 and was approved Feb. 27 by the board that oversees the ARC.

The plan is ARC’s latest effort since it began in 2012 to devise a coherent philosophy on how these subjects fit into the public realm. This document is intended for internal use only. As such, its provisions are not a mandate on participating jurisdictions. Rather, the provisions are a guideline for planners and practitioners to consider in the planning of projects to be developed around the region.

MARTA’s efforts in the arts and culture arena have reached the point they are to be recognized by C4 Atlanta, Inc. The non-profit group has announced it will recognize, at its Spark Awards ceremony in April, MARTA Arts Administrator Katherine Dirga with its Artist Champion Award for her work with MARTA’s arts programs. C4 Atlanta was formed in 2010 to serve as an incubator for the arts.

This is how Dirga described her approach to MARTA’s arts programs, after learning she’s to receive C4 Atlanta’s award:

ARC, woodstock mural

Woodstock residents admire a mural in Downtown Woodstock that was created by artist AnnaLyssa Kimball, who used historic and current photos to design the work funded by the ARC’s Regional Public Art Program and installed at the corner of Main and Mill streets. Credit: ARC

  • “Filling public spaces with art in all its forms brings people together and makes communities more vibrant. Using a busy train station as a canvas or stage also gives talented local artists a place to share their art and gain valuable exposure.”

MARTA established these programs as part of a broader interpretation of its stated vision of, “Taking people where they want to go today and tomorrow.” Riders today may be interested mainly in on-time arrival at destinations. Riders tomorrow may also have a desire be intrigued by a mural, entertained by a performance, offered a nutritious snack or thrilled by a soccer play executed by the next Josef Martinez.

As Doug Hooker, ARC’s executive director, wrote in his letter in the strategic plan, the ARC sees its role as supporting an effort for arts and culture to address the, “broader civic issues we face as a region.”

Hooker also answered the question of why the ARC is taking on the issue, given that its primary purpose under federal law is to devise long-range transportation improvement programs:

Doug Hooker

Doug Hooker

  • “[W]hy include arts and culture in the work of a regional commission? When the ARC began this work, it was the only such agency in the country staffing a dedicated arts position. In the years since, it has becoming increasingly apparent that not only is it a good fit, but that arts and culture is essential for building a thriving, inclusive, and economically healthy region.
  • “The ARC is in a unique position as a regional planning and services agency to be innovative about how arts and culture are integrated upstream throughout planning processes and across disciplines and goals. Arts and culture are fundamental to providing a high quality of life and healthy, livable communities; they are a significant and consistent part of building and sustaining a competitive economy; and they are especially suited for addressing challenges with creative, holistic solutions based on collaboration and community engagement.”

Note to readers: Hooker concluded his remarks with a request for the plan’s readers to consider ways they can help implement it and/or to share thoughts about the proposal with the ARC at this email address: arts@atlantaregional.org 


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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