Hi-Lo Press & Gallery continues to create spaces for Atlanta artists in spite of challenges

Hi-Lo Gallery hosts movie nights, lectures, potlucks and exhibits. (Photo courtesy of Dianna Settles)

Throughout the last several years of Atlanta’s many changes and expansions, a vibrant, independent arts community continues to produce treasures — though not without challenges.

Hi-Lo Press & Gallery has created a space for Atlanta artists and creatives since 2016. Through potlucks, exhibitions, open mic nights and parties, they’ve hosted some genuinely memorable art experiences.

Hi-Lo founder Dianna Settles and collective member Sophie Whittemore joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about Hi-Lo’s journey and its future.

Interview highlights follow below:

On the ups and downs of Hi-Lo, through rent strikes and changing spaces:

“For the first four-and-a-half years, Hi-Lo was completely funded by me. That meant that sometimes I would do print jobs, sometimes I would do workshops. I was doing tattooing. I was babysitting — any odd jobs that I could do to pay the bills,” said Settles.

“We started doing rent parties, and we got to do three rent parties before everything shut down. And then obviously COVID happened and having really packed dance parties was not so much a thing … [We] lost the space in January of 2021, and then in the time since then, we’ve had several shows outdoors in kind of unexpected places. And then, since March of this year, we have a new location in the basement of a house in Lakewood.”

“I think that it gets more difficult every day to do things here. There’s so much development. There’s so much change from the presence of the film industry, and it’s harder and harder to find spaces for encounters that aren’t fully mediated through commerce,” Settles reflected.

“It felt like, really, there was so much struggle the first several years of scrounging however I could to make do, that after having the rent parties and realizing that those were no longer going to be an option, doing the rent strike felt like the only thing that we could do to maintain the space.”

A motley array of arts encounters made possible by Hi-Lo:

“[Hi-Lo organizes] things like poetry open mic nights. There’s drag drawing. There’s the Atlanta Painting Club. Just kind of anything you could think of, and as we’ve collectivized … we’ve had a lot of outdoor events, which has really changed our relationship to how we even present work,” Whittemore explained. “We have a space again, but we can’t forget the show that we did in a tunnel or the show that we did outside of Dianna’s house. Things like that have just really opened, broadened our expectations for ourselves.”

Whittemore continued, “We also do something called ‘Drunk Critique.’ It originated at the Low Museum, which was a similar type of space run in Atlanta a few years back, where you come see artwork that’s presented by Atlanta artists or hear poetry, and then provide critique while taking shots. There was also, during the George Floyd uprising, a revolutionary Black cinema series. We still do screenings that relate to the political realities of Atlanta and the country.”

On “Endless Séance,” Hi-Lo’s art show in an abandoned tunnel:

“There’s about a foot of water standing on each side of the tunnel, and we thought that it felt like a really beautiful place,” said Settles. “Sophie wrote [a one-act] play instead of writing a statement for the show. And we felt really inspired by our friends who have a collective called No Light, and they throw raves in abandoned spaces … We came up with our theme. We talked to all of the artists and picked up the work and then built these supports; everything was lit by candlelight.”

Whittemore added, “Something that was really special about this show was we knew that where the tunnel is would be become part of the BeltLine, and it now pretty much feels like BeltLine territory, whereas before it kind of felt like free and open space. And that feels like where a lot of the city is headed, being ‘BeltLined’ or ‘Ponce City Marketed,’ and so we all felt like we wanted to pay homage to this space and the plethora of seemingly free spaces … We were having collective conversations about both celebrating and mourning the loss of a lot of those spaces, which is where we came up with the idea of ‘Endless Séance.'”

Hi-Lo Press & Gallery can be found on Instagram at @hilopress, and supporters can join their Patreon at patreon.com/hilopress