Atlanta creatives to watch in 2023

These 6 artists and entrepreneurs draw inspiration from the city.
Here are six Atlanta creatives you should know for 2023. From left to right: Kavi Vu, Kendall Bessent, Malia Dishon, Jono Mitchell, Dess Dior and Marissa Childers  (graphic created by George Mathis)

Credit: Natrice Miller

Credit: Natrice Miller

Here are six Atlanta creatives you should know for 2023. From left to right: Kavi Vu, Kendall Bessent, Malia Dishon, Jono Mitchell, Dess Dior and Marissa Childers (graphic created by George Mathis)

Atlanta isn’t just a popular city for creative artists to thrive. It is the essence of creativity. And those inspired by it are not only proud of the city’s bustling arts scene, but they want to see it grow. For activist Kavi Vu, that means ensuring that people know about Asian artists in the city. For music video director Malia Dishon, that means documenting the creative vision of Atlanta’s budding musicians. And for photographer Kendall Bessent, it means reflecting the city’s culture in his photoshoots.

“We’ve seen a lot of artists lift others up, and that keeps happening here,” said Dishon.

Here are six Atlanta creatives you ought to know in 2023.

Malia Dishon, music video/creative director

Malia Dishon is pictured at Resolve Media Group, an Atlanta company that helps produce the videos she creates. After building a career of fostering the creative vision of the city's top artists, Dishon plans to introduce herself as a singer this year.(Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller /

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Credit: Natrice Miller /

Music defined Malia Hibbler-Murray’s childhood. She’s the daughter of Ray Murray, a founding member of Atlanta production group Organized Noize and musical collective Dungeon Family. Her mom, Dee Dee Murray, is an esteemed music executive who’s worked with artists such as T.I., Big Boi and more.

Known professionally as Malia Dishon aka maliaSHUTup, the 31-year-old remembers the video for Outkast’s 1998 single “Skew It on the Bar-B” being partially shot at her home.

“I feel like my whole life has been an internship,” the Decatur native said. “I just grew up watching my uncles become world famous superstars ... I’d walk around the music video shoot like it was my set and ask questions, literally absorbing it all. I did that with pretty much every situation that I was presented with growing up.”

Her experience interning with Future and working as a social media manager and marketer for record label Love Renaissance led Dishon to a career directing music videos for artists including Summer Walker, Kelly Rowland, Raury and others.

Most recently, Dishon directed the video for Latto’s FTCU, which debuted in December. She’s also provided creative direction on photo shoots and album/single covers for artists such as Masego and Big Boi.

But now Dishon is ready to get in front of the camera. This year, she’ll make her debut as a singer, releasing music and applying the same creative direction skills she’s reserved for other artists to her own career. A taste of Dishon’s sound can be heard in her updated director’s reel that features an unreleased snippet of her music. Though she’ll still direct music videos, she wants to prioritize her singing career.

Describing her music as “just letting out emotions” and “talking my (expletive),” Dishon hopes to release a song or project by her birthday in June. She also expects to collaborate with different musicians.

Dishon isn’t intimidated to launch her performing career because she knows she’ll have the support of Atlanta’s music scene. That support has been an underlying theme throughout her career.

“Atlanta is just like that — very supportive,” Dishon said. “I don’t know many other cities like that. When I tell my community I’m doing something, they’re like, ‘Yes! Do it. How can we help?’ and not just from my friends, but the artist community. That’s how it’s always been in Atlanta from my perspective ... I already know when it’s time for my music to come out, I’ll have that support.”

Jono Mitchell, director/screenwriter

Film director and screenwriter Jono Mitchell aims to highlight underrepresented voices in his films, but this year, he wants to prioritize creating a space for independent artists through his work at RoleCall Theater, located at Ponce City Market. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller /

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Credit: Natrice Miller /

Atlanta filmmaker Jono Mitchell is adamant about making films that celebrate the voices of those who aren’t always heard.

He’s best known for the 2019 comedy “Pageant Material,” about a teenager’s journey to participate in the Miss Drag Queen Atlanta competition. It won a Celebration of Courage award at the Kansas City LGBT Film Festival.

“As a queer man, I first and foremost put a focus on telling queer stories,” Mitchell said. “I think that true diversity and inclusion and equity on screen is putting underrepresented voices in scenarios that are universal. If we can see a cisgender white man go through this scenario, I think that we can apply this scenario to anyone without having to acknowledge the fact that they are Black or gay or fat or whatever the case may be.”

Having premiered two feature films last year — the Atlanta Film Festival entry “Miles from Nowhere,” a drama about cancer and friendship, and “Courtney Gets Possessed,” a comedic horror movie about a bride-to-be possessed by the devil —he plans to get some well-earned rest in early 2023 after last year’s busy schedule.

But the 36-year-old also wants to prioritize supporting other independent filmmakers and highlighting queer narratives through his work at RoleCall Theater, where he hosts a weekly film series.

This year, he wants the theater to be known as a space where independent creatives in Atlanta can thrive. It’s what he thinks makes the theater, founded in 2020, a unique spot among Atlanta’s congested film industry.

“I’ve tried really hard to uplift independent artists and give them space to showcase their work,” Mitchell, who lives in Atlanta’s Upper Westside, said. “There aren’t a lot of spaces in Atlanta that exist solely to feature things on an independent level. A lot of places here are really about presenting professional work. The works that we have (at RoleCall Theater) are professional, but they are done by independent artists on their own time and on their own dime.”

The theater, located at Ponce City Market, hosts script table reads, a weekly film series and improv shows.

“It’s really important to me to showcase Atlanta in the best way possible. We are doing some of the best work in the world, and other markets may not recognize that, but as long as we do and strive toward greatness, I think greatness will always come.”

Kavi Vu, activist/videographer

Artist and activist Kavi Vu blends her creative work with her passion to be an advocate for Atlanta's Asian community. The videographer and creative consultant plans to create a database of Asian artists in the city before she leaves for Vietnam in July.  (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Although Kavi Vu’s creative interests are wide-ranging, she’s a storyteller at her core. The 31-year-old studied journalism at the University of Georgia and is a freelance creative consultant for several companies, providing videography and social media marketing services.

But the Vietnamese immigrant who came to the U.S. when she was 2, strives to blend her creativity with her advocacy for the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community. Last May she helped create a coloring book for the Asian American Advocacy Fund featuring the work of Atlanta artists and educators. “ABCs of AAPIs Coloring Book” celebrates and informs children about Asian-American historical figures and was distributed to schools and nonprofits across the country.

The book was promoted with an art exhibit that debuted also in May on the Atlanta Beltline during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

“I’m a daughter of refugees, so I think that my life is naturally political,” Vu said. “We were born from war.”

During last year’s midterm elections, the Midtown resident created a fun Instagram filter for Asians for Abrams to encourage political education. The filter assigned users one of eight romance novels written by Stacey Abrams that best fit their personality.

Vu plans to create a database of Atlanta’s Asian American artists and have another art installation on the Beltline that’s not during May because, she said, Asian Americans and their experiences are important to highlight throughout the year, not just one month.

“I know that companies don’t usually think of Asian American artists until it’s May (when) it’s Asian month and then everyone is like, ‘Oh, y’all exist, and we need you to do this thing for our company’s social media to signal that we care about you,’” Vu said. “I’m kind of ramping up for that in January and February to let them know that we exist outside of those months, so you need to pay attention to us. Pay us. Collaborate with us.”

Dess Dior, rapper

Dess Dior is a St. Louis-born, Atlanta-based rapper and social media influencer. Her latest EP, "Raw," was released in September. This year, she plans to drop two new singles that reveal her softer side.

Credit: Shawn Hanna

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Credit: Shawn Hanna

As a child, Dess Dior never saw herself being a musician. The Atlanta-based rapper, born Destiny Bailey, initially wanted to be a model. Or a nurse. Or a fashion designer. That was until she started using social media as a teen to document her daily routine, which included posting videos of herself rapping.

Her first viral video featured her rapping along to a beat from a Young Dolph song when she was in the 11th grade. Now, the St. Louis-born, Savannah-raised creative has amassed nearly 2 million followers on Instagram for her music and impeccable style.

It was Dess Dior’s dad who encouraged her to build her brand on social. After graduating from Pattonville High School in Maryland Heights, Missouri, she moved to Atlanta to pursue a professional rap career.

In 2020, Dess Dior, 24, released her debut EP “Definition of Dess.” Since then, she’s dropped a handful of songs on which she flaunts her confidence and lavish lifestyle. But her music makes you feel like you, too, can have the same things, cementing herself as a vibrant addition to the rich tapestry of the female rap renaissance.

Her latest single, “Stone Cold,” finds the rapper boasting along with fellow Atlanta musician Mariah the Scientist about their undeniable sex appeal. (“Say he fall in love every time he kiss me,” Dior brags in the first verse.) “Raw,” her sophomore project, dropped in September.

The work ethic of the self-described “assertive, bossy, confident it-girl” can be seen in the BET series “The Impact: Atlanta,” which debuted in October. The show followed Atlanta artists as they balanced their personal relationships with professional pursuits.

Next year, Dior plans to drop new music, including two tracks slated to be released before summer.

“I got a little vulnerable (on this new music),” Dior said. “(My old music) is a little rough, a little hard, so we’re going to tap into my soft-girl era next.”

She wants to continue being an inspiration and making music for women who admire her hustle.

“A lot of girls say my music makes them feel good and makes them feel like a boss, so I feel like that’s what I bring to the table. I want to, like I said, get more in depth and like connect with my fans. Once I do that, I’ll really put it into my music more so people get a better understanding of me.”

Marissa Childers, owner of Tanbrown Coffee

Marissa Childers is co-founder of the Atlanta-based Tanbrown Coffee, an online roasting company that specializes in Asian coffee. This year, Childers plans to compete in a brewing competition and launch a crowdfunding campaign to establish a storefront. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

When Marissa Childers, 27, cofounded Tanbrown Coffee last year, she didn’t see many Asian Americans as business owners in the coffee industry. Now, she runs the coffee roasting business on her own, and her goal is to highlight Asian coffee.

“Within the specialty coffee industry, Asian coffee has a lot of stigma around it,” said Childers. “It’s looked at as very low quality or seen as not as good as other coffees, and I think, to me, that narrative is very incorrect because coffee is for everyone.”

Along with hosting pop-up shops, the roasting company sells its coffee and brewing tools on its website at Childers, who lives in Old Fourth Ward, primarily works out of a co-roasting space on Magnum Street and plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign this year to acquire a brick-and-mortar space.

Part of the vision for her company includes sourcing a variety of Asian coffees and educating customers about them. To that end, Childers moderates the “Coffee Asians” Instagram account that supports and celebrates Asian coffee culture and baristas.

This year, Childers plans to enter the qualifying round for the United States Coffee Championships’ Brewers Cup competition. She’s supported by Glitter Cat Barista, a nonprofit organization that trains and mentors BIPOC and LGBTQ+ coffee professionals. In November, she participated in a Glitter Cat bootcamp to prepare for the qualifying round. Childers views the competition, which takes place in April, as another way to embrace her love for Asian coffee and share it with others.

For Childers, roasting Asian coffee isn’t just about making another drink. It’s about building community.

“Education is a really big thing. I think for the past few years, if someone within the Atlanta coffee industry reaches out and needs to ask questions, I’ll just answer them because no one answered when I had them,” said Childers. “To make a better industry, we need to be able to have open lines of communication because you never know who’s going to change something.”

Kendall Bessent, photographer

The work of Atlanta photographer Kendall Bessent has been featured in Teen Vogue, InStyle magazine, The New York Times and more. In 2023, he plans to have a debut exhibit of his work in Atlanta (Photo courtesy of Kendall Bessent)

Credit: Kendall Bessent

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Credit: Kendall Bessent

The foundation for Kendall Bessent’s photography did not start at a studio. It started at the hair salon his mom owned on the east side of Atlanta when he was a child.

“Growing up in a salon and just kind of seeing everyone come in and out and how she treated hair as art, pushed me to follow the arts,” said Bessent, who was raised in Stone Mountain and Decatur.

As a teen, Bessent thought he might become an architect, so he started taking photos of Atlanta’s buildings on his iPod. Then, his mom gave him a camera when he was 16. He taught himself the basics and later studied photography at Georgia State University, after switching his major from political science.

He launched his career in 2020 as a commercial photographer, shooting fashion layouts and celebrity portraiture for major publications including New York magazine, Teen Vogue, InStyle magazine and The New York Times. But he also shoots fine art photography that focuses on depicting Black people in a positive light — one that’s void of trauma.

Named to the Forbes’ 30 under 30 list last year, Bessent, who splits his time between Atlanta and New York City, hopes to have a major exhibition of his work in Atlanta in 2023.

The 23-year-old’s long-term goals include capturing Beyoncé, of course, nailing his first Vogue cover and shooting a Gucci campaign in Atlanta. His short-term goal is to continue his theme of uplifting the beauty of Black people.

“I always knew that I wanted to highlight Black people and Black culture, but I wanted to do it in a way that is very regal and instills confidence.” he said.

“I’ve always been surrounded by a lot of Black people who are really successful because Atlanta is called the ‘Black mecca.’ Growing up in a city like that always just kind of showed me the sky’s the limit, anything is possible. I never really felt like there was anything I couldn’t accomplish.”