“Artscape 2021,” a film project created by Georgia State students during the pandemic, found a clever and inspiring solution to students’ inability to produce and perform artistic projects indoors. In the film, artists in theater and spoken word perform outdoors, using Atlanta street art as backdrops for pieces exploring social inequality, Black Lives Matter and life during the lockdown. “Artscape 2021” airs on ATL PBA this Saturday at 6 p.m. Susan G. Reid, Professor of Practice in Acting and Directing at GSU, along with GSU student Nhadyne Baton Brown, joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to share their experiences participating in this expansive collective expression.
Reid began working with a group of students to conceive the project last summer, with the goal of providing opportunities to perform within the pandemic. She already had the idea that Atlanta’s street art and murals might play a special role. “Atlanta is such a wonderful atmosphere for street art. There’s art everywhere you turn here in this city, it’s so fantastic,” said Reid. “I knew that we would be able to use Atlanta street art, and sort of thought, wouldn’t this be a great way to create an opportunity to perform in a safe atmosphere by using our natural stage that’s all around us in the city of Atlanta?”
With 20 students performing and some GSU alumni helping out, Reid’s team got to work picking out the perfect spaces. The performance content was, in many cases, yet to be determined; much of it was inspired by the backdrops students chose. “When we decided to do it, we had no script. Literally all we had was a bunch of students that were excited about performing and being involved in this opportunity,” said Reid. “In the most wonderful of ways, the street art actually started a lot of our conversations.”
She added, “Because I think that all of us have been so deeply affected by everything that’s happened in our world in the last 18 months or so, there’s a lot of pent up emotion and this rawness to the students and to our environment. So when we then introduced this notion of creating art using these pieces of street art, I just feel like it came out of everybody — out of their pores, out of their bodies, out of their hearts — this message.”
One student was Brown, whose performance of a poem titled “Fearless,” written by “Artscape 2021” co-creator Susan G. Reid, took place before a mural of the same name. Brown herself pitched the mural as a location. “I thought about the environment that I was in and the inspiration that I was getting from Black women doing really great things here in Atlanta, and I thought that this would be a great representation of me and, of course, of just what is bubbling in the city,” said Brown.
Reid’s poem deals with the experience of feeling unseen in public spaces. “When I first read the piece, I was instantly transported to times in my life where I have felt like an outcast, or just overlooked or ignored,” said Brown. “I think even at the time that I read it, there was an incident that had happened, quite recent, that made me really connect to the piece. And I just imagined myself on a platform at a train station, a crowded train station, and how this person just kind of didn’t see me and pushed past me and didn’t acknowledge me, and I held on to the feelings that that came with; of not just anger, but just a proudness, of just kind of standing firm in what I believe in and who I am.”
Reid expressed how moving it was to see students who had never met or collaborated before unite with such enthusiasm. “It was filmed during a dark time, but you never would have known that. And it was this joyous group … that you would have thought had been together for a year, and they spent just a matter of hours together,” said Reid. “They brought so much love and so much joy and so much kindness — I think it filled all of us up in a huge way.”
“Artscape 2021” airs on ATL PBA on Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. The film can also be seen at any time on YouTube here.