Some of the most exciting public art opportunities in the Atlanta area are currently on the Atlanta BeltLine, the redevelopment project that encircles portions of intown Atlanta on the site of long-abandoned rail lines. The BeltLine website (beltline.org) describes the project as, “. . . rails, trails, greenspace, and transit.”
One of the metro area arts community’s major accomplishments in recent years has been to assure that art is also part of the equation. If you’ve ever wondered how public art is selected, IIDA (International Interior Design Association)’s Georgia chapter worked through the process over a matter of years and succeeded in commissioning and following to impressive completion a new art landmark for the BeltLine.
Early in the development of the massive BeltLine project, IIDA seized the concept and made an opportunity to plan for a contribution to this facet of what has become a major city greenspace. Vision in the early days was based entirely on faith, but the organization’s annual Trash to Treasure event raised the funds over the years to commission a sculpture.
The process of public art is always interesting (and often different from previous projects). Michele Lyden (Lyden Design Studio) was president of IIDA-Georgia when the process began, and invited me to serve as art advisor for the process. Guided by Fred Yalouris, design director for the BeltLine, and Elan Buchen, project coordinator, a call for proposals was issued nationally. The specifications for a sculpture were that the piece should reference the history of Atlanta and its railroads, and must be constructed from railroad artifacts retrieved from the 22 miles of BeltLine corridor—and, must conform to the budget! Proposals were received, a selection panel was appointed—with Michele and myself representing IIDA—and proposals were reviewed and evaluated on several levels. These included aesthetic appeal, historic interpretation, and feasibility. Atlanta sculptor Phil Proctor’s proposal, referencing the Corinthian columns from Atlanta’s classic Union Station demolished in 1972, was selected from more than 20 applications.
Proctor’s massive and graceful column (23’ in height), completely accurate in its classical details and composed entirely of rusted rails, anchors, plates, switches, and other long-buried relics, was dedicated last week (November 8, 2013). IIDA’s vision has made possible a permanent and important landmark along the Eastside Trail, located just east of the Historic Fourth Ward Skatepark. It has become an instant place maker on the trail, and its important reference to the historic built environment of the city is especially appropriate for IIDA’s work with the contemporary built environment.
Congratulations to IIDA-Georgia, Phil Proctor, and the Atlanta BeltLine for this important contribution to the visual environment of the metro area!