A few years ago, if you wanted to attend multiple gallery openings in a night, you'd likely be driving from one side of town to the other, spending more time in traffic than taking in art. Since the launch of Turner First Thursdays in 2000, a few of the city's neighborhoods have slowly reshaped Atlanta's artistic landscape into a series of planned, collaborative and walkable monthly events. More than just a date for coordinated openings, Atlanta's art walks are a kind of mirror to the city's disjointed cultural identity: Each walk has evolved to reflect the distinct attitude of its respective neighborhood and art scene. "Atlanta has always been a city of small towns, so it seems natural that the arts here reflect that," says Buckhead gallery owner Alan Avery.
As the gallery scene has largely migrated away from downtown, three neighborhoods in particular have built thriving monthly art walks: Castleberry Hill, Buckhead and the Westside.
Buckhead has never been modest about its wealth and the art scene here is no different. At an opening a few years ago for works by Roy Lichtenstein at Alan Avery Art Company, female models were painted to look like Lichtenstein's iconic half-tone comic book women and then posed as literal decorations atop tables filled with fruit and cheese.
Since 2008, Avery has coordinated the walk through the cluster of high-end collections and galleries around East Paces Ferry Road. It's relatively isolated from Atlanta's young, emerging artists, but Avery says the area is convenient to his patrons and collectors.
"We were in a warehouse on Trinity Street before it was cool to be in a warehouse," Avery says. "But if you just look at the demographics, the bohemians in Castleberry Hill weren't at a point [18 years ago] where they could financially support the arts."
Avery's massive two-story building certainly is a centerpiece to the event, with recent exhibitions including works by Atlanta's William Mize and Texas' Michele Mikesell. MOCA GA, Catherine Kelleghan, Hagedorn Foundation, and Lagerquist galleries are neighborhood highlights, representing emerging artists among their stables of established talent.
Walk down the sidewalk of Peters Street during Castleberry's ArtStroll and you might run into something rare for Atlanta: a foot-traffic jam. People are actually on foot en masse in this brick-lined neighborhood. Unlike most parts of the city, Castleberry Hill actually accommodates pedestrians.
Scattered among a few bars and restaurants on Peters and Walker streets are a dense grouping of galleries and studios showcasing a mix of high- and lowbrow offerings. Marcia Wood Gallery presents a sharp curatorial eye, regularly bringing in exhibitions by international artists such as German illustrator and painter Olaf Hajek. Studio Clout's upstairs gallery frequently showcases local emerging artists, while its jazz concerts on the lower floor extend way beyond regular gallery hours.
The late-night bar crowd has earned Castleberry's walk a reputation for a party atmosphere, though gallery owner Marcia Wood says, "It is apparent to me that people attending the Castleberry ArtStrolls are not 'partying' and are very much out to see and talk about art."
Castleberry has taken a few hits in the last year with the loss of Art House Co-Op to Brooklyn and the closing of Gallery Stokes, but the neighborhood continues to attract fresh energy. Newer, nontraditional venues such as Castleberry Point and Raw Space help foster younger artists. Recently, the Atlanta Street Food Coalition collaborated with the ArtStroll, providing cheap eats between the galleries.
"People thought we were crazy for wanting to move here," says Robin Sandler, co-owner of Sandler Hudson Gallery. When the gallery relocated to the Westside in 2004, Sandler says they were mostly interested in being closer to the Contemporary, "We had no idea what it would become."
Six years later, the Westside Arts District has coalesced into an alliance of focused galleries (Saltworks, Get This!, Emily Amy and Kiang among them) that mixes international talents such as China's Chi Peng with recognized locals such as Fahamu Pecou and Jiha Moon.
The walks have put a fine point on the neighborhood's curatorial prowess, stocking the daytime schedule with artist talks and the occasional string quartet. You're more likely to find the audience here sipping one of Octane's lattes than a glass of wine.
Sandler credits the event's success to gallery owner Emily Amy, who spearheaded WAD in 2009. "When you've been doing this as long as I have, it's hard not to be cynical about getting more people interested in coming to a gallery," Sandler says, referring to her three decades of experience in Atlanta's art scene. "But the walk has never once struggled to find an audience since we started."
Not every gallery in Atlanta is connected with an art walk (Whitespace and Eyedrum come immediately to mind), but the trend continues to grow. Young Blood and Kibbee, both located in Poncey-Highland, have begun coordinating their openings to encourage walking between the two spaces. Axiom, a one-night-only event in Old Fourth Ward last fall, demonstrated how unoccupied retail space could be transformed into a new gallery district with relative ease.
Axiom organizer Danny Davis says the appeal is simple, "People need and want times to come and see artwork and be inspired without intimidation. Art walks are accessible. They're on the street. If you give people those opportunities, that talk will turn into walk."EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated from its original version.