Adult Swim Mural Project, Living Walls unveil three new murals across Atlanta

Credit: Brock Scott/On The Grid

Credit: Brock Scott/On The Grid

One day, Tatiana Bell sees a group of kids riding their bikes around a mural. Their mother points to the mural, which depicts a Black man surrounded by words of encouragement, and tells them, “that is God right there.” Bell, communications manager at arts nonprofit Living Walls, tears up, thinking to herself that these kids may have never seen art like that before.

“That’s what empowerment is really,” she said.

The mural was by Demetri Burke, who along with Ariel Dannielle and Tim Short was one of three Atlanta artists chosen by the Adult Swim Mural Project for the spring/summer 2022 installment. The initiative, in partnership with Living Walls, was created to foreground local Black artists by giving them the resources to produce large-scale murals citywide.

“It’s really important for us to be intentional with the artists that we choose, and we make sure with this project especially that the artists maybe haven’t had mural opportunities before,” Bell told The AJC. “We train them in the process of making a mural and what it takes to kind of do this on their own and equip them with the tools to be successful in the field.”

The Adult Swim Mural Project, which launched in Atlanta in 2019, has supported 12 artists, nine of whom live in the Atlanta area. Artists, who were paired with a site manager and artist assistants, were given space to explore meaningful concepts in authentic ways throughout Atlanta, New Orleans and Philadelphia.

“It’s really our way and our version of making sure that we are really operating in diversity, equity and inclusion and making sure that we bring and highlight a voice to certain communities that don’t necessarily always have a voice,” said Courtney Carter, marketing manager at Adult Swim and project lead for the project.

Bell said that Living Walls keeps an archive of up-and-coming Black artists and accepts portfolio submissions. Adult Swim then selects the three who best represent the values of the project and who are on the “brink of greatness,” according to Carter.

“The hope is that we give them the platform, the first platform if you will, that’s really going to help propel their career forward, and then the rest is really up to them,” said Carter, who added that the program is working out new initiatives to provide more sustained support to chosen artists while maintaining the cadence for future seasons.

The power of a mural

At the Westside Beltline Trail, Ariel Dannielle told the positive stories of the everyday lives of Black women in her mural “A Mirror of Everyday Life.” Her mural, intended to challenge conventional representations of Black life, shows two friends chatting on the phone in their rooms while unapologetically being themselves.

“A great thing about my mural is it’s in a historically Black area, so for me, it’s a big deal to have such a large scale mural in a place like that,” Dannielle said. “... I personally like to see art that makes me feel good about me and [that] I can relate to, so I’m hoping that this mural will make other people feel that way when they’re walking by.”

Credit: Brock Scott/On The Grid

Credit: Brock Scott/On The Grid

Dannielle tried to create “something cute, bright and colorful,” using purple and coral red to make the central figures shine. She also wanted to depict a range of skin tones, so she used herself and her best friend, who has a darker skin tone, as models.

Dannielle, a graduate of the University of West Georgia, had her first show while a fellow at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia in 2020. The University of West Georgia graduate aims to authentically represent young Black women through new lenses.

“I still try to stay light, but every painting, because [my art] is about my life, really reflects that, no matter what’s going on, even if it’s light or dark. I try to make a light spin on it, but I realized with making the kind of art that I make, staying relatable to me also stays relatable to people like me,” she said.

Similar to Dannielle’s depiction of everyday people, Demetri Burke’s mural “Come On and Find Me,” located at Midtown Cleaners on North Highland Avenue, focuses on a young man breathing in the present moment. He is surrounded by encouraging words such as “I have hope, I have love, I have faith in all of you...” A grill represents a halo above the man’s head, a cultural reference to the power and peacefulness within Atlanta.

Credit: Brock Scott/On The Grid

Credit: Brock Scott/On The Grid

“I really focused in on just an everyday type of experience, a person outside, that person kind of being formed by their environment and those entities not being separate, that skyscape and that person, the expression teetering between relaxation and exhaustion,” Burke said.

He said the piece focuses on agency and power but within a frame of vulnerability. By including text that gives a voice to the subject and viewers, Burke said the mural grounds Atlanta youth and adults in the present.

“I think this is such a paramount experience because Atlanta is kind of built by Black people and Black culture, and part of that Black culture are Black artists, and it is important for people to know that they can achieve this,” he said.

Burke, who attended Georgia State University, broke into the Atlanta art scene with his exhibition “And Then We Heard the Thunder” after completing his Leap Year residency at Mint Gallery on Atlanta’s West End. His exhibition included portraits of Black men and women to capture an idea of desire.

Tim Short’s mural “Earthseed,” located at Squash Blossom Boutique in Decatur Square, was inspired by Black science fiction author Octavia Butler’s ”Parable” duology. In the books, Lauren Olamina, a Black woman with a disability, fosters a religious movement called Earthseed which gathers people together to enable humanity to voyage into space and escape rapidly accelerating climate change.

Credit: Brock Scott/On The Grid

Credit: Brock Scott/On The Grid

Short’s mural depicts the aftermath of the movement, in which humanity has established a colony among the stars, orbiting a tree in the city. He wants viewers to gaze into this hyper-futuristic vista and see themselves as capable to achieve this harmonious feat.

“I really hope the mural just challenges people’s imagination and their imaginative capacity. Specifically, I want the mural to speak to Black people and how we are intrinsically creative and just how we come to solutions... and how we solve problems,” Short said.

Short, born and raised in Columbus, has had his art exhibited across the state. The Georgia State graduate’s art constructs imaginative narratives that center the Black figure, employing cosmological imagery to venerate those in his life.

The murals will remain on display for one year. According to Bell, many artists in past iterations of the project have gotten many more professional opportunities as a result of their murals’ exposure. The outpouring of support has brought people from the Atlanta metro area to new neighborhoods in search of these murals, leading to increased support for local businesses.

The following locations are where current murals by each artist can be seen:

  • Ariel Dannielle: 1036 White St. SW, Atlanta.
  • Tim Short: 113 E. Court Square, Decatur.
  • Demetri Burke: 599 North Highland Ave. NE, Atlanta.