There's no drywall installed in the vacant Westside space where local arts organization Dashboard Co-op is showcasing its current exhibit, Modes of Operation. No drywall, and definitely no commercial kitchen. But that hardly mattered to Dashboard, or to the guys running Dinner Party, a pop-up restaurant operation from the minds behind Top FLR and the Sound Table, when they agreed to collaborate with the artist co-op for a night in February.
The event, which included a surprise dance performance from Dashboard artist Helen Hale and veteran Atlanta dancer/choreographer George Staib, exemplified a movement occurring in both Atlanta's arts and food communities — of taking a medium and pushing it beyond its expected forum.
As a conversation piece, a question was printed on a sealed piece of paper at the center of the tables:
"What's the largest and most elaborate thing you envision for Atlanta in the next 5 years? Think BIG! What's something you could never foresee happening in the Arts? Something UNDOABLE. We want to hear from you because you have a voice. Please, we need you to use it."
The Dashboard Dinner Party event was one step toward answering that question — a glimpse of how and what creative minds might accomplish when assumptions (of what a gallery or a restaurant is, for example) are put aside. In the spirit of the event, and in the hope that the question posed could become more than just a pretty thought tinkered with over dinner, we decided to ask a few creative folks from the local arts and food worlds that same question.
Joe Reynolds, Gaia Gardens/Love is Love Farm:
"I see an Atlanta area where we recognize that our current and future generation demands us to preserve, allocate some portion, or even revert land back to agricultural usage.
"I also envision a re-localization of our economy, with the food and farm economy as the catalyst for positive, sustainable examples of meeting demand, delivering incredible service, operating with an appropriate eye toward scale and energy usage, and being mindful of our ecosystems and biodiversity. Every school will have access to fresh, whole food in their cafeterias, as well as gardens to teach classroom content and connection to the source of food.
"I imagine more federal, state, and city dollars going toward programs that connect our food-insecure citizens with fresh, locally grown vegetables and fruits. I see young folks of all backgrounds seeing growing and making food as a viable and meaningful choice for their career path and contribution to our community."
Fatimah Abdullah, president of international animation society ASIFA-Atlanta:
"I think the most unlikely, crazy huge spectacle would be to combine existing, and often competing, demographics in Atlanta: Children flooding Peachtree Street every Saturday morning for free breakfast and cartoons; producers and artists touring Georgia to publish student work and exhibit in Turner Field and the Georgia Dome; an epic LARP [live-action role-playing] session endorsed by every one of the folks at the Dinner Party!
"We have tremendous resources here in Atlanta. I was inspired as a kid when my parents first took me to the [National] Black Arts Festival, blocks of grown-ups supporting art and food. Grade school carted me to the Shakespeare Tavern, the High, the Center for Puppetry Arts, the Symphony, etc. Sure, these are mainstream audiences, but they will determine Atlanta's impending artistic success."
Steven Satterfield, executive chef/owner Miller Union:
"Atlanta is all about small steps right now. I don't know why the city is resistant to [food trucks, food carts, mobile food vendors]. It's a win-win situation. Just this past Saturday, [the city] shut down [Pura Vida chef/owner] Hector's [Santiago] burrito stand. The city could make money, which it needs, by selling mobile food vending licenses and then subject them to routine health inspections just like a regular restaurant. There are several very positive examples in other major cities that help boost the economy and local commerce, food access, food awareness and customer satisfaction."
April Leigh, social arts radical/pedestrian/idea trader:
"Each neighborhood will try to establish its own territory and what it's trying to do, and that will fall into a support system for the whole city. Things as simple as neighborhood hot-spot guides, walking gallery hops/bar crawls, pedi cabs, etc., will re-introduce people to their city through their feet on its sidewalks. Once you get people interacting in this way, the city binds together.
"A business such as Royal Bus Lines, which serves the Hispanic community along Buford Highway, is a peek at what will start to brew. If Royal can be a private city bus line, anyone will be able to start their own. When someone catches this solid gold idea, the transportation ball will start to roll. Not only will it work and service its residents, it will provide a guideline for other neighborhoods as well as helping expand and improve ridership on MARTA.
"And as far as art goes, I think it will be a conscious subclass of artists who are the instigators. People like [WonderRoot's] Chris Appleton, Angel [Poventud with the Atlanta BeltLine], Back Pockets' Billy Mitchell, Mónica Campana from Living Walls, Hayley Richardson from Artichoke Bliss show that it is really sexy to care about shit. Social artists. Cityscape sculptors. But instead of a brush, their tools are the people they are connecting to in the city. It is not about the ego in the art anymore because in reality what does art even matter if the world outside of the gallery is falling apart?"
Fabian Williams, aka the Occasional Superstar, local artist/organizer World Wide Arts Federation:
"The biggest thing happening in fine arts in Atlanta in the future would be it becoming a production town on par with Los Angeles. The thing is that there's a lot of production starting to crank up now that Tyler Perry has moved in. His behemoth movies can spawn several different arms of a movement, which could resurrect a sort of black Wall Street. There's a reason why most of the cultural influences vibrating in the world today are spewing from the epicenter of creative circus that is Atlanta's underground. I think it's going to take the right person with the right concept at the right time, and then it's going to blow the doors off. It won't even be called Hollywood because it won't be the same. That's what I'm hoping, anyway."
Taria Camerino, pastry chef/owner Sugar-coated Radical:
"There is nothing that is undoable. I am a visionary, that's what I do. I hold the vision of something greater. Sugar-coated Radical is about the philosophy of revolution. What I foresee in the next five years is a city where these connections are a normal existence, where the lines are blurred between what is cutting edge and what is comforting. I foresee a city that believes in itself, in its ability to push those comfortable boundaries into what is unfamiliar. But not because what you will find is grand. On the contrary. What you find is that there really was no line to be crossed. Art, food, people, environment — they are all an expression of greatness, if we simply allow them to be."