Krog Street Tunnel a setting for art, community bonds

Examples of art work in the Krog Street tunnel. AJC file photo

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Examples of art work in the Krog Street tunnel. AJC file photo

Q: What is the history of Atlanta’s graffiti-covered Krog Street Tunnel?

A: Connecting the Cabbagetown and Inman Park neighborhoods of Atlanta, the Krog Street Tunnel is a continually evolving canvas updated by graffiti artists.

Constructed in 1912, the tunnel runs under Hulsey Yard and has two lanes for traffic, as well as pedestrian walkways. The tunnel runs between DeKalb Avenue on the Inman Park side and Wylie Street on the Cabbagetown side.

The city of Atlanta is working to incorporate the tunnel into the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail extension, which will cause temporary closures this summer during construction.

The tunnel also doubles as a message board, and is frequently updated with details for local events, such as concerts and festivals.

Artist Amir Totem, who goes by Totem, began painting in the Krog Street Tunnel in 1995, when he says most of the artwork there was mere scrawlings or done by stencil.

“There was no art in there. It was just like tags from people passing through from neighborhood to neighborhood,” Totem said. “It was never extravagant like it is now. There were no completed pieces or anything like that in there at that time.”

Atlanta actress Amber Nash, known as the voice of Pam Poovey on FX’s “Archer,” lives in Cabbagetown and said her mother told her about seeing graffiti art inside Krog Street Tunnel as far back as 1967.

It wasn’t until the neighborhood began to gentrify in the early 2000s, however, that the Krog Street Tunnel began seeing more developed artwork, Totem said.

“When the gentrification came through, that’s when those artists came in and felt comfortable to do that,” he said.

Totem’s portraits of Bob Marley and Robert Mitchum have been featured at the entrance to the tunnel, along with many other pieces that were displayed inside before being covered up by new art. While Totem no longer paints in the Krog Street Tunnel, he likes that the neighborhoods have begun to embrace the artists’ efforts.

“A couple times, friends of mine have painted there and been arrested. It wasn’t like how it is now,” he said.

Krog Street Tunnel has become a popular spot in Atlanta, where people gather to enjoy the free art. When the Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces planned a masquerade ball in the tunnel in 2014, nearly 100 local artists argued the group was attempting to profit from the street art and they whitewashed the tunnel in protest. The party went on, and the graffiti began reappearing on the tunnel’s walls within hours of the event’s end.

Other well-known artists known to have displayed their work in the tunnel include local muralist Peter Ferrari and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh of Brooklyn, N.Y.

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