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Taggers as a focus group: PATH400 to place art in areas street artists have found, decorated

PATH400 graffiti

Livable Buckhead is taking a cue from graffiti artists on the potential location of future artwork along PATH400. Taggers have found this spot, visible through the fence and next to Ga. 400 just south of the Peachtree Road overpass. Credit: David Pendered

By David Pendered

Taggers as a focus group. That’s a new twist in Atlanta’s uneasy accord with graffiti and is one being taken by the developers of PATH400, who think good graffiti can keep amateur and vulgar taggers from leaving their mark.

PATH400 graffiti

Livable Buckhead is taking a cue from graffiti artists on the potential location of future artwork along PATH400. Taggers have found this spot, visible through the fence and next to Ga. 400 just south of the Peachtree Road overpass. Credit: David Pendered

The way Denise Starling describes it, taggers are helping to improve the visual experience of PATH400. They have already help find places for future, sanctioned artwork. The more Starling talked, the more taggers came to embody another of the focus groups she’s watched in nearly a decade spent overseeing the trail’s development in her role as executive director of Livable Buckhead.

“I see the tagging that’s happening as them saying, ‘This is something that is ugly and we’re going to hit it,’” Starling said.

Starling offered her thoughts in the context of graffiti starting to appear on sound walls being installed along Ga. 400. The walls are part of the mile-long trail that’s to open this autumn, connecting the Miami Circle warehouse district with Lenox Square. Tags here have inspired Livable Buckhead to come up with ideas for a replacement tags – identifying the trail as PATH400.

“They’re tagging a blank surface,” Starling said. “It’s not necessarily a bad suggestion. Sound walls aren’t pretty. It’s almost like the community is speaking and saying, ‘This needs something here.’”

Starling is careful to observe that she’s not declaring open season on tagging along PATH400. The issue is more nuanced.

The notion is that taggers will identify surfaces along this southern portion of PATH400 that have high visibility, and for these surfaces to be decorated with artwork sanctioned by Livable Buckhead. The organization has a record of sponsoring art displays along the trail – such as one on mental health.

Once taggers have identified high-visibility areas, Livable Buckhead can recruit artists to decorate the surfaces identified by taggers. Groups such as Living Walls and WonderRoot could be brought in to help with a design competition that promotes community participation in PATH400, Starling said.

PATH400, model

Livable Buckhead plans to follow the lead of taggers who identified an area for artwork and are considering replacing their graffiti with this gateway sign. Credit: Livable Buckhead

Taggers are less likely to mark a decorated wall than they are a barren surface, Starling said. Taggers who do vandalize existing work can expect to be photographed by the numerous security cameras trained on the trail.

Prosecuting vandals may be a challenge.

Atlanta has an anti-graffiti ordinance on the books that prohibits drawing on public or private surfaces.

However, Atlanta has signed a federal consent agreement in 2017 to not enforce another anti-graffiti measure still on the books. This provision requires artists to have permission from the city to paint on public or private structures. The lawsuit was filed by a group of artists including Fabian Williams, a.k.a. Occasional Supperstar (sic); Peter Ferrari, a.k.a. PLF; Benito Ferro, a.k.a. Yoyo Ferro; Grant Henry; and /sister Louisa’s Church Murch, LLC., according to their complaint.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg ordered the city in 2018 to pay the artists’ legal fees in the amount of $46,639.02. The lead attorney, Gerry Weber, billed at $520 an hour.

The artwork chosen to flank PATH400 in its southern segment likely will have an urban flavor. The viewer can decide if it’s art or graffiti.

path400 kids art

Katie Meier (right) joins Denise Starling, executive director of Livable Buckhead, in celebrating a youth art event along PATH400. Katie now is a Girl Scout helping to promote youth art activities along the trail. Credit: Livable Buckhead

“Some will say that graffiti art is not the Buckhead style,” Starling said. “Maybe it needs to be less graffiti-like and more like a mural. This is a part of Buckhead that’s different because it’s an unknown area, where there is all this infrastructure. It’s a good opportunity for us to do some things that are edgier and wouldn’t fit into the community somewhere else. But it makes sense there.”

The infrastructure Starling mentioned doesn’t leap to mind. That may be because such care has been taken to minimalize it. The list includes trestles for tracks owned by MARTA and Norfolk Southern Railway to cross over Ga. 400. Starling sees them decorated as bean stocks, a la Jack and the Beanstock, or flowers. Plus, MARTA has a substation located in the small, non-descript building adjacent to the highway.

“I want to wrap that thing with a mural,” Starling said of the substation. “We want to take some things that are currently a visual detriment and make them part of the experience, and fun.”


path400, inside view

Folks who use PATH400 are to see tags like these in the area where graffiti artists have already started tagging a portion of PATH400, along Ga. 400 just south of the Peachtree Road overpass. Credit: Livable Buckhead


path400, marta substation

Livable Buckhead contemplates wrapping this entire building in graffiti-inspired artwork. The building houses a MARTA substation and is visible from PATH400 and Ga. 400. Credit: Livable Buckhead


path400 existing tags

Taggers have already marked this wall along PATH400, and the presence of graffiti informs Livable Buckhead that this location is a logical spot for someone to paint mural-type pieces in keeping with Livable Buckhead’s guidelines. Credit: Livable Buckhead


PATH400, marta retaining wall

Livable Buckhead is in talks with MARTA to get permission to revise the street art on this structural wall with a motif approved by Livable Buckhead. Credit: Livable Buckhead


PATH400, chalk art

This image was completed in chalk along the portion of PATH400 located between Old Ivy and Wieuca roads during a past mural event hosted by Livable Buckhead. Credit: Livable Buckhead


path400, bean stock

The trestles along the southern portion of PATH400 lend themselves to being decorated at bean stocks or flowers, which are two concepts being considered by Livable Buckhead. Credit: Livable Buckhead


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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  1. Jeff July 16, 2019 8:37 pm

    Was out walking Path 400 the past 2 nights. It was worth the short drive to take the pleasant family walk with our pups. It’s wonderful, as is the growing pieces of art. Keep it coming. This is further investment in vitality and progress of our city. Love it!Report

  2. Shelley Ashfield July 21, 2019 6:41 am

    Hello, Shelley Ashfield of the Chester Historical Preservation Committee. Saporta’s website was the first that came up on the search I did about taggers. This month, our church was broken into, just after it obtained status on the National Historic Register. The walls of the Rotunda are now decorated with gigantic, swooping black tags, every last “bare” wall. I like calligraphy as much as the next artist, but when this guys misses and hits the historic woodwork, I’m not amused. Perhaps Atlanta is a bit late to the game, but your minds have now so opened that your brains are falling out. You have to spend more time thinking this through.Report


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