ELEVATE, the annual Atlanta arts festival, transforms regular ol’ South Downtown into a cultural art extravaganza, and has been doing so since 2011. From October 13 through 21, South Downtown will be full of innovative art, including LED installations, performances, visual art and more. Working alongside the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, ELEVATE highlights what makes the city we all know and love so unique, as well as the vision ATLiens have for a better Atlanta in the future. The festival has targeted issues like transportation, social interaction and, this year, the curatorial team is exploring the theme, “Microcosm.” The team is comprised of Monica Campana, Pastiche Lumumba, Allie Bashuk and Mark DiNatale, and each curator brings a different perspective and approach to art and community. Here, we get to know curator Monica Campana, from her background to approach for the festival, in more depth.
Hand-Picked Atlanta: What’s your art background?
Monica Campana: I am the executive director for Living Walls, a public art nonprofit that’s been around for six years in the city. Mark and Allie had the idea to propose ELEVATE and they called me and Pastiche to work on Microcosm. I’ve worked with Allie and Mark before: Living Walls held three events at The Goat Farm for opening night, and Allie was on the board for Living Walls for a couple years.

HPA: The theme this year is “Microcosm.” What does that mean to you?
MC: [ELEVATE is] four different people with different personalities and backgrounds coming together to make a public art experience. It’s an opportunity to highlight the diverse identities Atlanta has and bring representation to ones not usually heard — an exercise in inclusivity. We’ll challenge ourselves and the residents in South Downtown to think about what South Downtown is: a microcosm of diverse identities.

I believe the arts organizations that are part of South Broad like Eyedrum and Mammal have been pivotal the dev of Microcosm. They’ve played a big role in hosting artists, music and community meetings to talk about the Dinner. The curators had some ideas, but we’re developing this with the help of people who actually work and live here [in South Downtown]. I have to give them credit because they are doing a ton of work for this.

HPA: Elevate emphasizes each curator brings something unique to the table. What sets your curatorial style apart?
MC: From work I’ve done with Living Walls and the experiences I've had during the past six years, I wanted to bring the actual act of listening and working with community, and finding balance between an engaged community and public art to create thought provoking projects. I’m bringing the community aspect — or trying — and it’s the first time i’ve put myself in such an intense process. Living Walls is as much as we could do as a volunteer organization. For this project, I’ve really put a lot in.

HPA: Have there been any surprises along the way, like an artist you love but just wasn’t fitting the theme or someone you discovered because of the theme?
MC: I knew who I wanted to work with. But the surprise is that it’s been very rewarding to work with residents of South Broad for the Dinner Project. (Editor’s note: ELEVATE is hosting an invite-only dinner led by Monica in the streets with 404 residents of South Downtown as part of the festival) I did it for the residents to develop. The conversation, the people who will get to sit at the table — it’s all being decided by them.

HPA: Let’s talk more about the Dinner. Where did you come up with that idea for your project as a curator?
MC: The dinner is nothing new — so many take place—Mural Arts had an 800 person dinner like two years ago. But the idea comes from the conversations already happening about what’s going on with South Downtown. I was gone all of last year and coming back, I saw the amount of change the city saw in a year. The new stadium, new buyer for underground atlanta, all these art organizations moving to South Broad… I wanted to put everyone together and document their conversation — mostly as a research project. And the best way to get people together in one place is dinner.. This is an opportunity to have meaningful conversations about the state of South Downtown, including the good, the bad and what we want.

We’ll have different things on the table for people to write on – maps, maybe games, and possibly recording devices. We’ll have radios to be in communication for moderators, and then put [the results] together as a show or a book displaying what people draw, write and capture with both video and photos. I’m interested to figure out a way to create thought-provoking art that’s community informed. It’s not just kids of every race holding hands. It should make people think critically and involve them while being a cool public art project.

HPA: Is there anything else we haven’t discussed you think people should know about your exhibitions?
MC: I went to talk to the businesses around Broad Street and Mitchell Street to talk to the guy who owns the BBQ place or barber shop. There is definitely change coming and I think there are mixed feelings about what’s going to come and what people want between change, responsible change and just needing their businesses to stay afloat. I don't think every is on the same page, but we’ll see at the dinner. But people took the time to talk to me when i was interrupting their work day—they want to participate.

Photo contributed by Monica and taken by Brandon Barr