MARTA Murals Are First Stop ‘En Route’ To Neighborhood Change

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New murals will soon adorn walls at four different MARTA stations. In a city increasingly decorated with public art, this may not seem like such a big deal. But those behind the En Route project say the murals are just the start of a series of improvements that will integrate art, community, and transit in Atlanta.

The first station to get the mural treatment will be King Memorial Station, in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn District.

It’s a neighborhood already rich in public art, and Amanda Rhein, Senior Director of Transit-Oriented Development, says that MARTA wanted to get in on that. “We have a huge wall on the northern façade of the station that provides a great opportunity for incorporating public art. And I’ve seen across the city, some really beautiful murals, more and more murals are coming to Atlanta, so we wanted to figure out how we could be part of that.”

What they did was to partner with WonderRoot, an organization whose dedication both to the arts and to grassroots social change made it an ideal fit, says Rhein. WonderRoot’s more or less the authority on projects like the one MARTA wanted to do: actively involving citizens, often in underprivileged neighborhoods, in creating their own public art, with the goal of strengthening community.

From WonderRoot’s perspective, public transit stations are “great places” for projects like these. WonderRoot executive director Chris Appleton says this is especially true now, “as our whole region is talking about the role that public transit needs to play in city-building.”

Other stations slated for a fresh coat of artistic paint are Hamilton E. Holmes near Westview, Oakland City in the West End, and a fourth, yet-to-be-named station.

WonderRoot has tapped visual artist Fahamu Pecou to paint the murals. You might know Pecou from his recent exhibit at Atlanta’s High Museum. His work has also shown at museums and galleries in Paris and New York.

Even more than his artistic renown, however, the project chose Pecou because of his commitment to community engagement. “If it were just a piece of work plopped down onto the wall, Fahamu’s a talented painter, and I’m sure aesthetically it would be pleasing to look at,” says Appleton.

But in terms of what this project’s trying to do, pretty artwork doesn’t cut it.

So instead of just painting all four murals by himself, Pecou will actually lead teams of artists from each neighborhood to help create them. The hope is that this will lead to real local engagement—in the artwork, the MARTA stations, and the communities that surround them.

That engagement is actually the idea behind the consortium of local organizations organizing En-Route. The Transformation Alliance, of which MARTA and WonderRoot are a part, is aimed at integrating affordable housing with transit in Atlanta.

These murals are just the beginning of an even larger planned MARTA project to redevelop many of the large unused parking lots around these stations into affordable, pedestrian-friendly developments. That larger vision is an ambitious project that doesn’t get off the ground until 2016, and the Transformation Alliance’s Odetta MacLeish-White says the group has no illusions about what these murals can or can’t do.

“[Because of the murals,] [y]ou’re not going to suddenly see lots of retail development in those places, but I really think it’s the starting point. It’s that sparking moment.”

WonderRoot’s Chris Appleton says he sees another kind of potential here, too. He hopes that En Route will help model the great things that can happen when art, transit and development work together.

“As people are increasingly moving into the urban core, we want to be sure that art and artists are at the table with planners, with developers, [and] with community designers. As city building is happening, art and artists can increase the likelihood that it is done so in thriving ways that make for a better Atlanta for all people.”

The first community meeting, to plan the mural at King Memorial Station, takes place at Ashley Auburn Pointe Apartments, August 27 at 6:30 pm. That mural is set to be unveiled in April 2016, with the other three to follow later that year.