WonderRoot weaves a beautiful piece of art as it plans its new APS home

By Saba Long

It has been exciting to watch the Atlanta arts scene grow by leaps and bounds. C4Atlanta, Elevate, Flux and glo are just a few of the new projects that have come on line in recent years. And, just this weekend, Living Walls multi-genre arts showcase celebrated its fifth year.

Another player in the Atlanta arts scene is WonderRoot, the Reynoldstown-based, arts nonprofit. Founded in 2004, WonderRoot unites local artists and the community to inspire positive social change. From mixed media works inspired by Civil Rights leader Lonnie King to youth programming with the Boys & Girls Club, WonderRoot’s reach crosses boundaries, like only art can.

Led by Atlanta-native Chris Appleton, the organization has just announced it will expand its services and move to the former Tech High Charter School as the WonderRoot Center for Arts & Social Change.

The 54,000 square foot space will transform into an art gallery, performance and community event spaces, dance studio, education space to supplement school programs, offices as well as a restaurant and community event space.

To offset the building costs, the organization will be leasing studio and office space to artists, nonprofits and creative businesses. These units, going for a mere $1.50 per square foot, are already generating buzz with 40 percent under a pre-lease agreement.

We often praise the public-private partnership model, but WonderRoot is showcasing the power of the public-nonprofit partnership with its 20-year lease agreement with Atlanta Public Schools. More than a year ago, APS identified a number of vacant buildings it intends to repurpose or sell to private developers. By doing so, administrators will reduce neighborhood blight and bring in revenue.

Tech High was identified for repurposing, although APS received interest from developers wanting to transform it into lofts. Numerous groups submitted proposals to rehab the prized real estate, but WonderRoot received the most support with endorsement letters from community activists to Atlanta City Council members.

Jimmy Hamilton, a WonderRoot board member and a financial advisor with Hamilton Wealth Management at Raymond James said, “Our move into the former Tech High Charter School Building comes at a pivotal time during the growth of the East Atlanta area. The expansion aligns WonderRoot with other promising developments including, but not limited to the expansion of the BeltLine into Reynoldstown, Krog City Market and the streetcar. We look forward to growing with the surrounding neighborhoods, increasing our capacity to serve and partnering with community members in order to have a positive impact economically, socially and culturally.”

Development on the WonderRoot Center for Arts & Social Change will begin later in the year. The building, constructed in 1922, will take time to rehab and transform into a state-of-the-art gallery and community complex.

WonderRoot is authentically and passionately weaving itself into the fabric of Atlanta. What a beautiful piece of art, indeed.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

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