For a city with a reputation for paving over its history, it’s surprising that the Goat Farm wasn’t leveled for a shopping center or apartment complex. Some of the structures dotting the 12-acre ramble off Howell Mill Road in west Midtown are already crumbling into piles of red brick, while others have no ceilings.
Knocking it down would not have proven difficult. But the collection of 19th and 20th century industrial buildings is getting a fourth lease on life as a performance venue and live/work space for more than 350 artists, musicians and crafts-people.
It originated in 1889 as E. Van Winkle Gin and Machine Works, a factory that manufactured cotton gins. During World War II it produced artillery for the Murray Company.
During the ’70s it was owned by Robert Haywood, an industrial engineer who produced sheet metal for a time and rented out rustic spaces to a few artists who brought a communal vibe to the place. It was Haywood who brought in the goats to eat the kudzu.
When Haywood died in 2009, many speculated about the fate of the property, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
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Enter new owners Anthony Harper and Chris Melhouse, who have turned it into a popular venue for edgy and offbeat art shows and performances and a home to the people who create them.
Just don’t use the words “hippie” or “commune” when describing it. Harper and Melhouse insist they are in business to make money. If they can help the Atlanta artists’ community in the process, then they see it as a win/win situation.
“While we do support the arts, and this space is a way to do that, we want artists to learn how to market themselves and create sustainable lives,” said Harper. “These residents aren’t slackers; they’ve got rent to pay and businesses to run.”
What Atlanta artist and musician David Baerwalde likes most about the Goat Farm is that he forgets that right outside the compound is a bustling city.
“Except for an errant chicken or two that land on my windowsill, I can stay in my studio and work in peace and quiet for days,” said Baerwalde, whose current project incorporates found objects from the property’s abandoned warehouses. “Of course, I don’t always want to do that because there are so many cool people out there, and something’s always going on.”
Walking the grounds, one can still see remnants of the property’s past lives. Many of the original machining tools remain intact, the red brick exteriors virtually unchanged. The roads are unpaved, each leading to something different, like a raw open space used for interpretive dance recitals or an expansive open warehouse with floor-to-ceiling windows that hosts concerts.
Hanging in the air is an electricity that suggests something big has happened here or will happen any minute.
And, yes, the goats are still present, along with a few chickens.
The Goat Farm boasts a variety of indoor and outdoor performance spaces. The largest is a warehouse called Goodson Yard, a 10,000-square-foot raw space with concrete floors, brick walls and large industrial pane windows.
There’s also a 5,000-square-foot sprung floor space for contemporary dance and an education center for arts-related community outreach programs presented by resident nonprofit organizations One Love Generation and The Creatives Project.
On any given night, there might be a concert by a touring act or local band, or one of the resident dance or theater companies such as gloATL, Saiah Arts International or The Collective Project Inc. may be staging a show.
Upcoming performances include concerts by singer-songwriter Tim Fite and acoustic jazz group Endangered Blood. Saiah is staging an avant-garde theatrical production called “Rua/Wulf.” Based on the story of “Little Red Riding Hood,” it requires the audience to follow the performers across the landscape of the Goat Farm and into various buildings.
For-profit businesses are hanging out their shingles as fast as the paint can dry, including Fresh Root Farms, an organic produce supplier; the PushStart Kitchen restaurant; Amy Osaba Event Floral Design; and Warhorse Café, a coffeehouse and library where literary happenings take place.
Subject Matter Experts is a collective of entrepreneurs and businessmen who advise clients on everything from fashion and etiquette to technology trends.
Then there are the artists who call the Goat Farm home. Sarah Flinn, 25, moved to the Farm in November 2010 after graduating from Georgia College and State University, where she majored in fine arts.
“I wasn’t accomplishing anything living where I was,” explained Flinn, who paints unique and charmingly disturbing woodland creatures on wood blocks. “Being here keeps me motivated. I can go knock on another artist’s door, see what they are working on and immediately get inspired.”
Flinn said that even her loft, which she shares with a sleepy cat named Pringle’s and a rust-colored Chow named Rocko, is a source of inspiration. Hanging from her ceiling is a large series of turning drums, chains and pulleys left over from when the space housed manufacturing equipment.
“Look at these deep grooves the machinery left in the floor,” she said with excitement. “How cool is that?”
Painter Keith Prossick, an architect and a visiting professor at ITT Technical Institute, uses his bright, expansive studio on weekends, teaching art classes there once a month under the banner of the Atlanta School of Visionary Arts.
He came to the Goat Farm because he was looking for an environment that both inspired his creativity and gave him structure.
“I needed a retreat from the craziness of Atlanta, and I thought this place to be completely inspiring,” Prossick said.
Other tenants include blacksmith and sculptor Corrina Menshoff, who created the gates at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and Vanessa Vadim, Jane Fonda’s daughter, whose studio is packed with vintage fabrics, buttons, trinkets, baubles and retro clothing that she restyles into wearable art.
“The whole concept is still evolving, and things seem to change every day,” said Harper. “What we do know is that we’re so excited and proud to be a part of what is happening here.”
It’s been over 100 years since people first came to the Farm. When the walls decide to talk, oh, the stories they will tell, and it is Harper’s and Melhouse’s goal to make sure they keep standing.
THE GOAT FARM
1200 Foster St. N.W., Atlanta. 404-441-9187.
10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. daily, open later on event nights, 404-731-1557.