Artist-led Fly on a Wall leaves Windmill Arts Center after five vibrant years

Christina J. Massad and Nicholas Goodly in Fly on a Wall's "Tile." Photo by Darvensky Louis

Credit: Darvensky Louis

Credit: Darvensky Louis

Christina J. Massad and Nicholas Goodly in Fly on a Wall's "Tile." Photo by Darvensky Louis

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

An unexpected announcement showed up on social media last week.

Fly on a Wall, the 10-year-old movement arts collective that has been ensconced at Windmill Arts Center since early 2018, has left that space and is returning to its nomadic roots, at least for the time being.

Fly was one of several resident companies at Windmill and helped create a vibrant dance community there. It presented its own works there, such as Tile and this room is a body and supported Atlanta artists with programs such as Excuse the Art and residencies.

The current members of Fly on a Wall (clockwise from left): Nathan Griswold, Nicholas Goodly, Nicole Johnson, Sean Nyugen-Hilton, Jimmy Joyner, Christina J. Massad (Photo courtesy of Fly on a Wall)

Credit: Photo courtesy of Fly on a Wall

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Credit: Photo courtesy of Fly on a Wall

Team member Nicole Johnson told ArtsATL: “We are leaving the Windmill so we can continue to move forward with our vision, mission and goals and be in a space that fully supports us as an organization.”

ArtsATL reached out to Sam Ross, owner and executive director of Windmill Arts Center, who declined to comment except to say he wishes them the best in all their future endeavors.

None of the Fly on a Wall team members was comfortable giving more specific reasons for the move but stated in their announcement that they are suspending the 2024 iteration of Excuse the Art and their artist residencies. “We can’t support other artists until we have space,” Sean Nguyen-Hilton told ArtsATL.

Fly members were eager, however, to talk about their future plans both as a team and as individual artists.

First some history. Fly on a Wall began in 2014 as a three-person adventure for Nguyen-Hilton, Johnson and Nathan Griswold, all of whom had danced with companies such as Atlanta Ballet and glo.

“We had all recently left company structures where we were ‘material’ for other artists,” Nguyen-Hilton said. “In that moment of bravery, stepping out and creating our own work, we were supporting each other physically, mentally and emotionally.”

Dancers in Fly on a Wall's "Dave" at the High Museum of Art. Photo by Paige McFall

Credit: Paige McFall

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Credit: Paige McFall

They got support along the way from organizations such as Dashboard, a nonprofit that produces non-traditional arts experiences in public spaces.

With Dashboard’s support, Fly created Dust House in 2015. They cleaned up a dilapidated house in Atlanta’s West End and filmed movement vignettes there which were later screened in Dashboard’s space on North Avenue. It was a new way of working -- an embodiment of artistic freedom.

As time went by, their mission expanded and they decided to support other artists as well. “If we really believe in our tenets of support and connection, we needed to do this for our community. We don’t make art in a vacuum,” Nguyen-Hilton said this week.

“We have a horizontal practice,” Nguyen-Hilton added. One example is Cats in a Library, a work they did at MINT gallery in September 2021 when, over a span of two weeks, three Fly members activated one section of the gallery while other events went on around them.

In 2020, like many other arts companies impacted by the Covid-19 shutdown, Fly came up with innovative workarounds. For Excuse the Art in 2021, audiences sat in the Windmill parking lot and viewed the indoor performances through the building’s large windows.

The team now comprises six artists -- Nicholas Goodly (who joined in 2019), Jimmy Joyner (2019) and Christina J. Massad (2017) are the newest members -- and recently developed a two-pronged mission: Fly on a Wall Presents and Fly on a Wall Supports.

The concept was that any work the individual team members create and produce falls in the “presents” bucket, along with work by artists they commission to perform.

Other performances, such as Petar Miloshevski’s solo The Passion according to BIBI, fell under Fly on a Wall Supports, because Miloshevski approached them about performing at Windmill and finding production support within the community.

Fly resident Music & Movement was originally slated to perform its work Seasons at Windmill this month under Fly’s Supports umbrella. Wanting to fulfill its commitment to the company, the team booked 7 Stages on December 2 and 3 for the Seasons performances.

Without a physical space to call home, Fly on a Wall has put most upcoming projects on hold, but team members continue to develop the organization and create their own work.

Goodly and Joyner launched Fly Paper, a digital platform, in October. Part newsletter, part zine, it’s designed to spark conversations among artists and may in the future include podcasts, filmed interviews and more.

Joyner has received funding from Arts & Entertainment Atlanta for an upcoming project Red Tethers, a series of performances that will focus on queer Atlantans who died of AIDS or HIV-related illnesses. Joyner said artist Mike Stasny will host some of these performances at his gallery @momsaiditsfine in Underground Atlanta.

Other arts organizations will benefit from team members’ creativity. Johnson and Massad are doing the choreography for the Theatre for the Very Young’s The Curious Cardinal, an Alliance Theatre project opening March 8, and Nguyen-Hilton’s choreography will enliven Atlanta Opera’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center March 2 through March 10.

Massad is teaching current and formerly homeless children for Restoration Atlanta, a nonprofit serving women and children transitioning out of homelessness.

All of them continue to support the Fly organization administratively.

Johnson said that over the years, Fly’s mission has been growing, evolving and expanding: “Continuous change, re-evaluating the essence of the platform is at the heart of Fly on a Wall.”

Time will tell how this significant move will impact Fly on a Wall’s future as presenters, supporters, individual creatives and, for the time being, nomads.

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Gillian Anne Renault has been an ArtsATL contributor since 2012 and senior editor for Art+Design and Dance since 2021. She has covered dance for the Los Angeles Daily News, Herald Examiner and Ballet News and on radio stations such as KCRW, the NPR affiliate in Santa Monica, California. Many years ago, she was awarded an NEA fellowship to attend American Dance Festival’s Dance Criticism program.


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Credit: ArtsATL

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Credit: ArtsATL

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