Art in the Alleys

Chamblee gateway mural.

New Program Looks at Opportunities for Artistic Beautification

Tucker’s Main Street has been around for more than a century. Once just a dirt road with a handful of merchants sitting in the middle of a quiet, rural community, it’s now the hub for some of the best and most iconic restaurants in metro Atlanta. But one of the things that makes Main Street so alluring is the charming, historic downtown feel. It’s an ambience that’s been cultivated over decades, not years. It hasn’t been done through knocking down old buildings and trees to construct new, but through creative use of existing spaces and preservation of Tucker’s historic look.

But something new may be coming to Main Street someday soon.

Earlier this year, Tucker was selected by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) to get low-cost consulting through their Community Development Assistance Program (CDAP). Essentially, ARC staff will come in and lead a community-driven process to determine people’s appetite for public art in the alleys of downtown Tucker. The idea is to get the public to weigh in on where art would best be suited in downtown. Sculptures or murals? Bright, flashy colors or a more muted, sophisticated look? How much art is too much? How best to keep it from clashing with the existing feel of downtown? These questions and more will be presented to the public through events and surveys conducted by Marian Liou and her ARC team.

Marian, who is managing this program for the ARC, sat down recently with InTucker to discuss the process and to let the community know exactly what they can expect and when they can expect it.

InTucker: Tell us the basics of the CDAP program.

Marian Liou: The CDAP program is run by our Community Development group, in which I work. It’s our program in which we offer basically technical assistance and support to ideas or project challenges and opportunities that a local jurisdiction is interested in pursuing or addressing. We have a full staff of planners, and we work with local governments on that idea or project. We offer time and [experience] to the communities that we serve. And so, for this particular project, it’s really interesting and I hope it will be a fun one because it is working with the City of Tucker to help develop their ideas and resident ideas for public art in the alleys in the downtown areas.

NationalNightOut-kidsInTucker: What kind of professionals do you have at ARC?

ML: [The CDAP program is] in our community development group, so we’re mostly a staff of planners, but obviously we have [a] wide range of experts and staff who work on a huge variety of topics like…transportation or resources or aging. So, we do have a lot of people who are experts in their field, very experienced, who we can call on to help us. It’s not just community planners. And this project, I think it’s interesting because…it’s my first year working in the CDAP program and managing a project, but I manage the arts program. We have a very small team of us [in the arts program]. Like two full-time staff and then a part-timer…and then an intern. We work on arts and culture at the ARC and so for me to be able to work on this project is really exciting.

InTucker: How did Tucker get to be a part of this program?

ML: Every year we put out a call for projects. We have eight different priority areas whether it’s creative place making [or]…others like smart city, smart communities, there’s workforce development. If you go to the CDAP program page on our website, we have eight different issue areas. Tucker fell nicely into the creative place making priority area. They applied for CDAP’s technical assistance program, and they were selected. That’s how that occurred. I do know that there have been lots of conversation and planning in the past around art in Tucker, so we already know there’s been a lot of work done and we know conversations in the City about it.

InTucker: What is this process going to look like?

ML: The process will take about 10 months. We’re about to start with our first kick off meeting (which happened in August). So, we’re just starting our initial planning stage of the project working with the City of Tucker to kind of outline the strategy for engagement and figure out specifics around the timeline. It’s envisioned to take about 10 months, so it will be from now through spring, like May of next year. So much planning has already happened in Tucker around this, so many conversations, so we’re going to do a review of what’s happened up until now. We’re also going to review some of the ordinances and regulations that might potentially govern or reject what’s possible. Although I would say since it specifically pertains to the downtown area, I think the goal is really to think about downtown and see what people’s thoughts are around the downtown area and potentially expand in the future to think about public art for the City. But really we’re focused on the downtown area and those alleyways. We’re looking at fall for community engagement and we’ll take all of those findings, the things we hear from community members and residents, business owners and we will compile all of that into some draft recommendations.

Hapeville, GA mural.InTucker: The big question that people have is “when am I going to see art in downtown?”

ML: We’re not going to be involved in fabricating any art or the making of the art. We’re obviously interested in what folks want to see at the end of this right? Interested in hearing folks’ ideas on what that should be. And again, I know there’s been a lot of engagement, a lot of ideas in the past over really wanting to have concrete steps and recommendations by the end of the process. I do know that the people we’ve talked to in the City and the Community Improvement District (CID) are…before the pandemic, I think there were thoughts on temporary activation of an alley of downtown. So I guess we can’t make any predictions since we’re still in the middle of the pandemic, but that would be a great thing to see, a temporary activation so people can see what our alley might look like.

InTucker: Are there other cities in metro Atlanta that you would point to and say, “This is what it could look like” or “This is what public art has done for this community”?

ML: They have a pretty active art program in Hapeville. The way that they’ve installed…especially in the central business area is really fun and unique and reflective of the community and so I always think Hapeville is a cool place to visit. I don’t know what that population is, but that downtown area is comparable I believe to Tucker’s.

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