In March, C4 Atlanta wrapped up a 6 month long pilot of our newest educational program, Hatch. This program is designed to help educate artists in the “soft” skills needed to perform art within a community context.
Recently, we at C4 Atlanta have heard of awesome new projects being created by our pilot Hatch cohort. As we are able, we would like to feature their stories of work within community.
Charmaine Minniefield is a visual artist in Atlanta who’s work centers around the African and African American ritual from a feminist perspective. She has also been an arts administrator in and around Atlanta nearly 20 years. Charmaine recently completed a mural project, in conjuction with a team of local artists, in Old Fourth Ward after the end of Hatch. Here is the story of her project, in her own words:
Painting for the Moment: Visual artist Charmaine Minniefield reflects on diversity and equity with her recent public art project in the King Historic District
I was recently granted the honor of being invited to paint a mural in the King Historic District for the Not A Crime campaign. This social justice campaign uses street art in cities around the world to bring attention to modern day Apartheid. The campaign recently made its debut here in Atlanta with the intention of making a direct connection to the Civil Rights history of the American south by inviting three Atlanta artists to create murals on a single building on Edgewood Avenue. I was one of those artists.
The invitation came from fellow artist, Joe “King ATL” Dreher. Joe’s tagname speaks to his creative mission to uplift and reflect his hope for Atlanta. He sees our city through eyes of admiration and appreciation. His work, which is inspired by everyday folks walking the streets, has an element of hopefulness for our city and for our time. It was a great honor to have been invited by Joe King ATL to be a part of this project.
To sweeten the moment even more, Fabian Williams joined us as the third artist. Ok, see, I am a BIG fan of both Fabian’s artwork -which offers critical social commentary in the form of “contraptions” as of late- and his community work in the field to enable the artists of this city with his famous Art Battle events and other creative projects throughout the years. So, as you can see, participating with these two incredible artists, for this important cause, in the King Historic District, all meant so much to me.
When planning, the question of subject gave me pause. From my days as a producer with the National Black Arts Festival when we launched a Next Generation series and focused on the artist as activist; to my work with Hands On Atlanta and the King Center as the producer of King Holiday activities throughout the District for over 10 years; to more recently my own role in such social justice movements as Black Lives Matter and now the Not A Crime campaign, I knew that this was a chance to make my mark on the city as an artist activist.
The moment was right to counsel with my elders. I reached out and invited Civil Rights photographer, Dr. Doris Derby -an elder, mentor, and shero- to select the image. Her iconic work in the 1960s captured the importance of women in the Civil Rights Movement. Given my own artistic focus on the power of women throughout history, the King District mural gave me the chance to realize my dream to collaborate with Dr. Derby.
Now the players were in place and the city was my stage.
I need to be clear about the state of the stage. The city had recently undergone a full overhaul of public art policies in response to the outcry of a community that felt disenfranchised by well-meaning artists and arts organizations. Our mural was in fact the first to go through the newly required rigorous process of community approval. Commissioned by the Baha’i Community Center, a longstanding faith and Civil Rights institution in the District, we were pleased that we were approved.
We began the work. I painted alongside Joe and Fabian for most hours of every day for a week to finish the murals. It was pretty cool as we weighed in and even painted on each other’s walls working together as collaborators. What was most amazing for me was painting in the King Historic District as an African-American artist, painting from a Civil Rights image taken by an elder and Civil Rights activist icon. I was intentional about these elements, given the recent changes in the District.
Once known as the hub of the African-American intelligentsia, the hotbed of the Civil Rights Movement and home to the birthplace, church, and final resting place of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the District was now known for its party scene and amazing public art, but also predatory investors with scrupulous practices of gentrification. I was in the middle of the area’s controversial efforts of urban renewal at, what some would argue, the cost of some of the most precious elements of African-American history and identity: civil rights, business and entrepreneurship, political participation, and land ownership.
NOW, I can’t say by any means that I have not enjoyed a dance step or two in the O4W. I too have enjoyed Beltline springtime walks and the prospect of a thriving economic district versus a dying one. But there is something alarming about the changes that I see in our city that are in some cases at the hands of the arts, that I could not ignore when given the opportunity to represent in the District with this mural.
My work, my presence, my choice of a Civil Rights image, wedged between two iconic images all within a stone’s throw from Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, commissioned by a community whose founding members built the original edifice so that folks of all races could pray together – I knew my work needed to speak to the moment.
So I painted an image of everyday folk in Mound Bayou, MS (an all Black town) who took matters into their own hands to ensure their education in a Jim Crow south. I hoped to invoke their bravery and wisdom. I hoped their gazes would extend beyond the wall into our changing city, onto the landscape of development, welcoming newcomers with a reminder of struggles and victories passed, warning them of the importance of inclusion, remembrance, and respect as they celebrate hope and embrace a new diversity, breaking antiquated barriers of race, class, and gender divides, much like the Civil Rights and faith leaders before.
You see, I took this moment to return to the King Historic District not as a producer, but as an artist activist -to stand present as an African-American woman pushing back against the wave of erasure and development by remembering our history and paying respect to our ancestors by preserving, celebrating, and reclaiming their space and their stories.
I am grateful to the campaign for doing the good work of making sure the content of these murals gave an opportunity for equity to Atlanta artists whose works can ignite discussion and engage the community -past and present- in which the murals reside. I am thankful that the faces of the artists resemble the community and a hope for a united future, and that each image can encourage education and enlightenment, critical discussion, and endurance for those who reside in the King Historic District and beyond at a moment when we are reminded that not only Black Lives Matter, but Black Land Matters as well.