Underground rising

If you're walking near Pixels Café and Walter’s Shoes this fall, don’t be afraid if a man with a bloody hand steps out of a storefront and beckons you to be his blood brother.

That would be Nathan Sharratt, one of dozens of artists the City of Atlanta's Office of Cultural Affairs is hosting during a large-scale temporary public art program that opens Friday with a free outdoor music, food and drink street party.

Elevate/Art Above Underground is responsible for the giant murals painted on several downtown buildings, but it’s also behind artists like Sharratt, who use bizarre performance art to make bold and subversive statements through fake blood, moving mounted sculptures, a 20-person dance team and poetry readings.

More traditional artists’ media will be on display through Oct. 30, with performances taking place at various times in locations sprinkled around Martin Luther King Drive, Woodruff Park, Five Points MARTA Station and Central Avenue.

The program is the city’s most recent shot at seeing Underground Atlanta through a new lens. The destination sits at the pinpoint of Atlanta’s history but has struggled to keep pace with the shifting disposition and desires of the city.

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There were the speakeasies in the ’20s, the boozy piano bars and fondue restaurants of the ’70s and the antiseptic mall vibe of the late ’80s. No matter how many Peach Drops or 4 a.m. last calls Underground can boast, nothing seems to have the right kind of oomph to spruce this place up.

A dose of similar honesty about Underground is at the heart of most of the Elevate artists' work.

“In spite of what would seem a prime location for a historically interesting, thriving commercial environment, the area seems to be barely breathing below and as much as dead at the street level,” wrote sculptor and Georgia State professor Ruth Stanford in her proposal that was approved by the project’s committee.

“While I admittedly have a tendency toward funerary imagery, this area is, in fact, barely clinging to life. It is anything but festive.”

Stanford’s installation, “Promise,” involves an 800-pound search light that will sit on a roof top across from the visitor’s center, transmitting a beam visible for miles. The light represents a gray area between the carnival-like use of spotlights that announce the opening of a nightclub and memorial lights, such as the two light streams New York City beamed at the former site of the twin towers.

Project coordinator Courtney Hammond, a sculptor herself and a native Atlantan with fond childhood memories of Underground, helped cull artists who share a view of the area’s gritty reputation but also its potential.

“Elevate is about interacting with the public and asking them what they want,” she said while Atlanta artist Ola Bad spray-painted the letter “S” on a sidewalk near where she was standing on Upper Alabama Street.

His installation, the “S”mile will be marked with a mile-long path of S’s that begin and end at Five Points MARTA station, where a drop box will be placed for people to deposit mementos that make them smile.

“The last thing we want to do is make this event seem exclusive,” she said. “We want people who come to Underground Atlanta every day to enjoy it alongside people who love art. It’s a pedestrian-friendly area. You can take public transportation to get here. With a little work, it could be really beautiful."

Elevate/Art Above Underground

Grand Opening Celebration, with live music from Noot d'Noot, food and drink with ATL Food Trucks and art work from 29 artists, including Nathan Sharratt . 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Aug. 26. Underground Atlanta. Free admission. http://ocaatlanta.com and elevateatlanta.blogspot.com.

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