Centennial Yards installs ‘Heartbeat ATL’ art light display in the Gulch

It symbolizes a rebirth of a long-dormant space set to be revived as a new development.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

When esteemed civil rights legend and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young placed his weight behind a new development in the downtown Gulch area in 2018, he described the space as “an unsightly hole in the ground.”

The hole, literally speaking, consists of parking lots and railways surrounding the Five Points MARTA Station, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, State Farm Arena and south Castleberry Hill. But figuratively speaking, the space has lacked any sense of identity since the city’s former transportation hub Terminal Station was torn down in 1971.

“This used to be the heartbeat of Atlanta,” said Courtney Hammond, creative director of Atlanta-based Dash Studio, a nationwide network of artists that specializes in large-scale immersive exhibitions, public art productions and events. “How do you make this area alive and signal that something is happening?”

A group of 35 diverse artists under Hammond’s auspices worked with Centennial Yards, the Gulch developers, to install a unique art light display in the center of a parking lot last month dubbed Heartbeat ATL. It runs through early March.

People nearby can scan signs in the area featuring a special QR code, a functionality that became more popular during the pandemic. The code leads users to a website on their phone where they can press an animated heart and activate a 30-second light show, which features beating hearts. The phone, if the sound is up, will also emanate a heartbeat sound.

The art installation is a precursor to what is planned to eventually fill that 50-acres: an ambitious mix of residential, office, retail, dining and entertainment spaces.

Brian McGowan, president of Centennial Yards, said he sees 8,000 new people living at Centennial Yards over the next decade.

“We are curating a community,” he said. “We thought a great way to kick that off was an art exhibit. We wanted to signal to Atlantans life is coming back downtown. As other neighborhoods start running out of space, the economic momentum will shift to the south. We’re seeing the seedlings of that all around us.”

When people are coming in and out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium or State Farm Arena for concerts or sporting events, Hammond said, the last place they’d normally look is into the Gulch. But this installation gives visitors something to think about even for just a few seconds.

In effect, Hammond said, the public is “defibrillating the heart and bring the heartbeat back.”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The concept stemmed from the pandemic itself.

“We wanted a project that had a humanistic quality to it,” Hammond said. “We wanted to enable people to give and share love without the need to physically interact.”

Hammond said the artists created the interactive functionality from scratch. She wanted to show that artistry and technology can cohabitate.

“They had to invent this,” she said.

There is also a light mural on a bridge support wall designed by 35-year-old artist Lisette Correa, a native of Puerto Rico who moved to Atlanta in 2018 and loves leopard prints.

“She is a rising star in Atlanta,” Hammond said. “She comes from a background of fashion and has started creating these really beautiful brightly colored murals.”



Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Correa, who goes by ARRRTADDICT as her artistic name, said she was inspired by how green Atlanta was. “I’m Caribbean from south Florida,” she said. “We love forests and plants. When I think about a heartbeat, I think of nature. The heartbeat is nature.”

This light mural, dubbed “let go and grow,” features palm leaves and the leaves of monstera, a plant Correa loves which sheds regularly to grow stronger, Hammond said. It’s a metaphor for the property shedding its old desolate ways and blossoming into something new.

Correa has the light mural shift colors over time. “It’s very soothing,” she said. “It represents Chakra healing. I’m big on color therapy. The light transitioning was very important to me.”

Hammond’s group has developed other notable art-oriented events in Atlanta as well. In 2018, her group designed a pop-up ramen shop in the Old Fourth Ward with glow-in-the-dark food. Last year, she teamed up with MARTA to create large-scale lighting artwork with 60,000 roadway reflectors at the Grant Street Tunnel in Atlanta near the King Memorial rail station.

Danny Davis, a production designer who helped Hammond design Heartbeat ATL, said it isn’t easy balancing art with commerce. “Managing that tradeoff is really the whole game,” he said. “It’s that compromise. Courtney is an elegant wielder of that compromise. She empowers artists and achieves goals for the businesses. She can meet in the middle and still have vision behind it.”

McGowan is already tapping Hammond’s group Dash for other art installations and exhibits down the road.

“Many people just see art as an amenity,” McGowan said. “I see it as an economic driver. It create jobs and economic impact. It makes places more desirable. And what’s most important to me about this project is it’s true to Atlanta. At the end of the day this should be a place where you take your friends and family when they visit. We want Centennial Yards to be about art, culture, music, food and people.”

Hammond said McGowan and others at Centennial Yards have embraced her group’s ideas. “I work with a lot of developers,” Hammond said. “Not all of them are open to progressive work or experimentation. They have been amazing to work with.”

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@


Heartbeat ATL light art installation, the Gulch, 7-11 p.m. through March 4, 2022. heartbeatatl.com.