Atlanta is a city on the rise—and nowhere does our propulsion forward show more than in our arts community. Take a look at these ever-innovating, ever-evolving seven individuals who are helping shape the creative landscape for which our city is known.
Susan Bridges inside Whitespace Gallery
Owner, Whitespace Gallery
Susan Bridges of Whitespace Gallery is more than a gallerist; she’s one of the pillars of the Inman Park community—although art is “what makes me tick,” she says. “It’s my desire and hope that everyone can be excited about art and the creative process.” The gallery, open since 2006, has a mission to “encourage open, artistic expression and promote original, unconventional projects,” which shows in the artists Bridges chooses to represent. Over 35 artists of a variety of mediums have called Whitespace home. She says, “Primarily, I am interested in art as an experience. I feel the artists I represent and the design of my space encourages a place for reflection and contemplation. I’m fortunate to have a roster of artists who have accomplished so much during our time together.” That means anyone from painters and photographers to sound-based artworks and filmmakers—nothing is off-limits for Bridges. One such artist is Atlantan Tommy Taylor, who, after a five-year exhibit hiatus (Taylor has most recently been traveling the world with Starbucks, producing artworks and murals for its Reserve stores), has returned to Atlanta with a new series of paintings titled Threshold at Whitespace. Says Bridges, “We are excited that he took the time to make new paintings for us and to reconnect with his appreciative audience here.” Bridges brings the talent in more ways than one, noting: “I remind myself that we in Atlanta have as good—and, in some cases, more talented—artists than those touted in the art capitals.”
Scott Ingram and Saskia Benjamin in front of one of Ingram’s works—“Untitled, nail polish drawing” (2017, nail polish framed over latex), 49 inches by 97 inches—in their home’s dining room.
Scott Ingram & Saskia Benjamin
Artist; Executive Director, Art Papers
A dynamic duo if we’ve ever met one, Scott Ingram and Saskia Benjamin have outfitted their Old Fourth Ward home piece by piece with artwork accrued over two-plus decades—and the result is as you’d expect: breathtaking. “We began collecting as a couple because that was just a natural part of making our home together,” says Ingram, whose work, ranging from paintings and drawings to sculpture and photography, has been shown in the High Museum of Art and Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, among others. From their first big purchase together (a Jerald Ieans sourced from the former Solomon Projects in Midtown) to now owning far too many to count, including names like Fahamu Pecou, Sarah Hobbs and HENSE, the two have built an impressive archive, despite their occasional difference in artistic opinion. “We are usually on the same page when it comes to adding to our collection, but there are definitely some pieces that Scott feels more passionately about than I do,” explains Benjamin. “The rule we live by is this: If Scott feels truly passionate about something, and I don’t have a strong negative reaction to it, then he wins.” With both halves of the husband-and-wife team having deep roots in Atlanta’s arts scene (Benjamin is the executive director of Art Papers, artpapers.org, with previous stints at the High Museum of Art and Atlanta Contemporary), they have certainly seen it grow from the ground up. “I think that Atlanta is finally recognizing the value the arts bring to making Atlanta the world-class city it purports itself to be,” says Benjamin. “It hasn’t always been that way, and it really shows how far the arts community has come.”
Okorie Johnson kicks back at Atlanta Symphony Hall
For Atlanta-based artist OKCello—whose given name is Okorie Johnson—making music is more than just a passion; it’s a way of creative exploration. Curiosity led Johnson to invent a sound entirely his own. His 2015 album, Liminal, boasts a unique combination of skillful cello mixed with rhythmic funk influences that resonated with audiences across the globe. And while his just-released sophomore album, Resolve, is full of the same eclectic string melodies, the album is as much a practice in storytelling as it is in sound. “It’s really exciting for me to be able to test out my songs and their ability to be communicative, to carry narrative and to establish worlds,” he says. From the Harlem Renaissance to the 2015 massacre at an African-American church in South Carolina, Resolve takes listeners on a journey to explore a “growing consciousness around the African diaspora,” he says. His music may span across genres and borders, but, for Johnson, who will be headlining at City Winery Dec. 5, there’s no better place than Atlanta to tell stories through song. “I think Atlanta is kind of magical for me. I can’t imagine being in any other city to make music.”
Kenny Blank is involved with his Sandy Springs community, including the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center, at which some of the 2019 AJFF will be shown.
Executive Director, Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
Atlantan Kenny Blank has always had a personal passion for film and theater (and has several very impressive arts-related degrees to back it up). “While working as a television news producer, I volunteered to help screen movies for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, which was then in its infancy,” says Blank. “The opportunity to showcase ‘movies with a message’ from around the globe was something new and exciting, both for me and Atlanta. I jumped at the opportunity to become the festival’s executive director.” Presented each year by Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, the NEXUS Award is given to those who have helped make Atlanta’s art community thrive nationally and internationally, much like Blank, who was honored with the award for his contributions to ACAC and Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. (This Woodruff Arts Center, Alliance Theatre and Sandy Springs Foundation board member is also a trustee of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.) He says, “I describe those who have chosen a career in the arts as first responders to our hearts and souls.”
Radcliffe Bailey and Samara Minkin are collaborating on public art, shown here in Bailey’s studio.
If you’ve ever stepped foot into the High Museum of Art or Mercedes-Benz Stadium, then, odds are, you are no stranger to the talents of Atlanta-based artist Radcliffe Bailey. A painter and sculptor—“I never define myself as only one or the other,” he notes—the skilled graduate of The Atlanta College of Arts takes a special interest in highlighting significant moments for the South’s African-American community. “Coming [to Atlanta] at that time period in 1972, right after the assassination of Dr. King, the African-American community was pretty big, and it was one of the things that attracted my parents,” explains Bailey. “My sensibility with work, in terms of subject matter, is all based around that.” He continues: “I began using old images of family photographs, and it was really about trying to preserve my family history. As time went on, it grew into something that was much bigger and universal.” This type of mixed-media, collaging vintage photographs into his work, can be seen firsthand on the 100-level concourse of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where Bailey’s “Conduits of Contact” takes up more than 84 feet of wall space and intricately depicts the historical relationship between African-Americans and one of America’s most beloved sports: football. It’s mesmerizing pieces such as this that have taken Bailey from a local name to an internationally recognized one over the years. Case in point: He’s currently working on a commissioned artwork for the 2019 Istanbul Biennial. He says, “It’s interesting to be an artist who lives in this part of the country while still being able to exhibit in different parts of the world. Although my work is in global dialogue, I always embrace the relevance and importance of my Atlanta surroundings.”
Manager, Public Art, City of Atlanta
A high-school job at Atlanta’s very own Sandler Hudson Gallery paired with frequent visits to the High Museum of Art inspired Samara Minkin to pursue a career in public art—and she’s right on target with her teenage dreams. The Atlanta native spent the last two decades working in New York, D.C. and Jerusalem at some of the most distinguished art museums in the world before returning home in 2015 to Atlanta, where her passion for art first began. As manager of public art in the office of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Minkin oversees initiatives in public art that further the city of Atlanta’s civic values and Bottoms’ cultural priorities. Currently on the agenda? Think the acquisition of nine monumental sculptures for public spaces in Atlanta, including pieces by Jaume Plensa, Ugo Rondinone, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Katharina Grosse and Radcliffe Bailey, as well as an upcoming installation of nine sculptures in public spaces around Atlanta. Minkin keeps a packed schedule; in addition to her work at the mayor’s office, she’s an active board member at WonderRoot and Arms With Ethics, an organization that works with law enforcement across the country. She also sits on committees for the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and Park Pride. But she finds daily inspiration through collaboration with those who share a desire to approach the challenges of contemporary life through a cultural lens. She says, “The only way we are going to solve our problems is with creative thinking.”
Photography by: Patrick Heagney