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Something about Mary

You're gonna make it, after all

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There are scores of undiscovered artists tucked in Atlanta's galleries and museums. Smartly dressed girls funding their art-making with money jobs. They shepherd visiting artists from airport to gallery. They let their fellow creatives down easy when their work proves unsuitable for the show at hand. They brighten their surroundings with their inventive mix of thrift store and Fab'rik ensembles. They're just passing through, gone before you know it.

Mary Walton is one such girl.

Since 1998, Mary has toiled at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, bringing a sense of unholy fun to her comrades. The Contemporary was her first real job after graduating with a painting degree from the Atlanta College of Art and working a slew of oddball gigs as a go-go dancer, pizza delivery person and stall mucker. It's a wonder she ever got the job since, on the advice of her boyfriend's mother, she submitted her resume on floral stationary.

While others make art, Mary is a living, breathing artwork, transforming the ordinary rigor of existence into loopy and inspired ideas. Disgusted at her own failure to participate in the laptop-wielding coffee shop culture of the 21st century, Mary crafted her own "Laptop Supreme" out of a pizza box and power cord and threatened to head over to Octane coffee to "get some work done."

If the entire staff of "The Onion" were to be solidified into female form, you might have something close to the essence of Mary, a girl/woman with a ribald sense of humor, bordering on the truly demented.

Oh, and Mary's not dead, as the past tense might imply. Just moving to New York City.

Working at the Contemporary, Mary put her own art-making on hold.

"I never imagined I would love other people's artwork as much as my own," she says. But the Contemporary was her aesthetic finishing school. "It made me realize that I didn't work hard enough as a visual artist. You can't be half-assed about this."

Some would say the history of an art scene is measured in things like museum expansions and curatorial power shifts.

But every year, many intangibles are lost when another artist strikes out for new surroundings. Like a steady stream of Atlanta's brightest, Mary is leaving with her cats, Cupcake and Paris.

"On New Year's Eve: Pop. Fizz."

Maybe she'll take some time off, work a waitress job before she decides what she really wants to do. She's afraid that if she doesn't do it now, she may never. She's 28 and when she turns 30, she wants to be settled and working toward something great.

Efforts are underway to turn Freedom Park into a venue for public art installations. Local artist and activist Evan Levy is working with the Freedom Park Conservancy to create an advisory board and establish a procedure enabling artists to install sculptures in the park on a temporary basis.

Seventeen artists already have submitted proposals, and Levy expects to have the first wave of artwork in place by May 1, when a kickoff event is planned.

Spring will see the installation of another piece of public art in Freedom Park -- self-taught artist Thornton Dial's "The Bridge," a tribute to Civil Rights leader and Congressman John Lewis. The Conservancy nearly lost the sculpture to the Houston Museum of Art when complications in raising money to complete installation arose. But it's expected to be erected at the corner of Ponce and Freedom Parkway in spring 2005.After much ado, the Savannah College of Art and Design-Atlanta has made it official. It's new art school will be located at the former iXL building at 1600 Peachtree St. But existing art schools are already raising the bar with new and improved facilities. Kennesaw State University, whose visual arts program is experiencing significant growth, is fundraising for a projected 2005 groundbreaking on a new $5.7 million art museum according to Wes Wicker, vice president for university advancement. The museum will host traveling exhibitions as well as Kennesaw's $10 million collection of 19th-century American art, a rare books collection and the work of regional artists Athos Menaboni and Ruth Zuckerman.

Gertsev Gallery has broken from its tradition of European exhibitions to show Atlanta artist Les Lyden in The Dream Wing, through Jan. 3. Lyden's paintings, drawings and sculptural models are fixated on flight to the point of madness.

Paintings such as "Morning Commuter Traffic" feature a flock of winged men flapping into the city, an image that straddles science and fantasy. The idea for the man-wings that reappears in his artworks came to him in a dream five years ago and have proven enticing enough for Georgia State University to do feasibility studies of the flying devices.

Felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.com

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