Murals bring creativity, color to Atlanta’s west side

Artist Janssen Robinson likes to say he was "bred and fed" in southwest Atlanta.

Robinson, who purchased his grandmother’s home in 2009, now lives on Neal Street in northwest Atlanta. He considers it an honor to have designed murals that were painted recently on two large walls along Joseph E. Boone Boulevard near Northside Drive.

The public art project was conceived and funded by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. The nonprofit is investing millions in the revitalization of neighborhoods near the Georgia Dome, where a new Atlanta Falcons stadium will be built. Blank's foundation is working with the Georgia Center For Nonprofits and neighborhood organizations to improve the quality of life for residents living in the shadow of the sports facility.

The murals were painted by 200 volunteers from Blank’s foundation, his family of businesses and residents of the historic Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods.

“This is very personal,” said Robinson. “We had to come up with a design that could be easily executed by volunteers with unknown skill sets.”

And the murals had to mean something to the community. The phoenix, a symbol of rebirth, covers one wall entirely and “speaks to what the community is going through,” he said. “The idea was to raise it to the iconic level of all of the symbols that represent the city, the state and some iconic architectural structures in the community that are parallel with that.”

Blank, who owns the Atlanta Falcons, joined volunteers in painting a great white live oak tree.

“We’re thrilled to do it,” he said. “This is typical. We have six core values that drive all of our activities, and all of our businesses, day in and day out; and one of the big ones is giving back and making a difference in people’s lives. Today is symbolic of doing that. It’s important to do it in these communities because we’re building the finest sports entertainment facility in the United States if not the world just a stone’s throw from here.”

The murals now adorn buildings owned by Georgia Power and Antioch Baptist Church North and are park of the growing landscape of public art in Atlanta. Earlier this year, the city's Office of Cultural Affairs announced that Atlanta is one of several cities in the running for up to $1 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies for public art that addresses civic topics. The Atlanta Beltline is dotted with public art and Mayor Kasim Reed is a big backer.

The Georgia Power wall features more than two dozen images of historical significance to the neighborhood, the city and the state. One panel features the modest, red brick home of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. A subtle image of King’s face is painted in the shrubs. Another panel shows the historic West Hunter Street Baptist Church.

Rosario Hernandez owns two houses in the English Avenue neighborhood that she and others neighbors are trying to reclaim from drug dealers and prostitutes.

Hernandez painted alongside other volunteers in the hot sun, transforming the drab walls into an oasis of color and community history.

“This is beautiful,” she said. “This was an eyesore before.”