Back around March of this year, I came across a Kickstarter for an art and event space in downtown Atlanta that moved me. It was an effort to fund needed repairs for the place, but the owners brought in larger themes about revitalizing a small part of downtown.
The Mammal Gallery (TMG) is on Broad Street, a spot I walked through while roaming around downtown and the Capitol last November. It’s a rough spot with few open storefronts or businesses in the evening, which I view as a marker of the effects of wealthier people leaving the area for Buckhead or outside the perimeter over several decades. The folks behind TMG say they wish to be an establishment that can bring business and culture back to the area.
I really liked that idea. From my own experience of seeing the disparity between lavish places like Buckhead or what’s built up around Peachtree Street compared to other parts of downtown even a block away, I’m interested in supporting efforts to make unused locations vibrant again, to remove the stigma and distance people put on it.
But before I share my experience of visiting TMG, though, I have to address a caveat I’ve realized in the ideals of their goals. It’s important to ensure that what they’re doing by moving in and working hard to create this art space is wanted by and acceptable to the people around them. Put another way, they should want to avoid gentrification.
Essentially, it’s a problem if a group comes into a community and eventually replaces them. This is most commonly referenced when wealthier people move into an impoverished area, raise the standard of living, and oust the original community who can no longer afford to live there. This often has a racial element, as well.
I wish to view TMG’s effort positively on this issue. There’s a lot going for them and against the label. The Mammal Gallery is occupying a previously empty lot, displacing no one. It’s trying to be an art space for the local community. Given they needed a Kickstarter to fix plumbing, I don’t believe they’ll be pricing anyone out of the area. But at the same time, there was a stark difference between the audience of outsiders and the people on the street when I visited. I can only hope that the folks behind TMG are aware and do one important thing: ensure that what they are providing is available to and desired by those around them.
To the event itself! On 19 September I attended the reward party for donating $25 to the successful project. I was one of the earliest people there and chatted up the bartender Greg.(1)Apparently they regularly start late. The downstairs space is sparse, but cool. Sound system is good, color and decorations appealing. After a while I asked around and found out that the first performance would be in the upstairs area, where most people were hanging out. This level had a small gallery of art by the owners, another bar, and windows looking out to the street.
The people behind The Mammal Gallery are recent graduates (many of Georgia State) and my age. As people arrived I noticed that many were parents of the hosts or friends.(2)This explained why everyone was introducing themselves to me when I was expecting a nameless concert! I was actually an odd person out in that I had no attachment to any person in charge of the place. I just found the Kickstarter somehow and wanted to help! I enjoyed talking with different folks about the people involved in creating TMG and their relations to one another.
After some time, the first performance started. Chris Childs performed a half-hour improvisational marimba solo based on themes he was developing. Everyone stood watching in near-complete silence as he struck with his mallets in a hypnotic fashion. Cast in moody light in front of large windows showing the building art across the street, I became enthralled in the moment, watching his technique.
Next up was PowerKompany downstairs. What I believe is normally a duo just had the solo act that night, but she tried some new things and had some people really excited. Her music had a sensual feel to it, and her performance had plenty of dancing, too. It was a shame that in the quieter moments the folks talking in the back drowned out the effect. C’mon people!
Adron finished up the night. She and the rest of the band have a tropical feel. It was quirky, cute, but soulful. Hearing precise yet such casual F-bombs amidst the light tone was quite charming. Wonderful imagery abounded, like being tugged away by holding a finger into the air and imagining a fickle tropical island paradise. When it got groovy, boy did people move, too. At the end of the night, I grabbed a CD of hers and told her the performance was delightful!
During the night I began to recognize the significance of the crowd gathered to listen and show support for these artists and the space. That very night, at the same time, across town in Piedmont Park, Jack White and John Mayer were singing to crowds of tens of thousands at Music Midtown. Yet this group of people were dedicated to the space they were in and the artists there to perform. The people on stage thanked supporters of the Kickstarter and The Mammal Gallery repeatedly and sincerely.
This place is important to a lot of people, and that night represents the hard work put in by the owners to provide an atmosphere of creativity and enjoyment. As I think about what The Mammal Gallery can be, I hope it continues to progress and grow as well as invite the community around it to be a part, as well!
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Apparently they regularly start late.|
|2.||↑||This explained why everyone was introducing themselves to me when I was expecting a nameless concert!|