Two billboards in Atlanta are drawing second glances for eye-catching graphics, progressive messaging, and a distinct lack of commercial purpose in traditional advertising settings.
Welcome to SaveArtSpace, an “urban gallery” project.
“By placing culture over commercialism, SaveArtSpace aims to empower artists from all walks of life and inspire a new generation of young creatives and activists,” said Travis Rix, executive director of the non-profit organization.
Based in Brooklyn, N.Y., the organization has created several public exhibitions since its 2015 inception. Themes include LGBTQ+ rights, feminism (watch video), climate crisis, racial inequality, social issues and “the people’s art,” Rix added.
“One of the greatest experiences of SaveArtSpace is seeing the faces of the artists as they see the billboards in person, the happiness and joy they express,” he said. “And for us to know that, the billboard that once had a consumerist bent, at least for a short time will be by and for the people.”
SaveArtSpace’s current exhibit is called “Trans People Are Sacred.” Organizing artist Jonah Welch crowdfunded $35,000 in seed money and helped select 14 trans and nonbinary artists to create billboards on the theme that appear across the country. His own billboard in Detroit was the first in the series.
Artists Kae Goode and Shanisia Person designed the two pieces now on display in Atlanta. Goode’s piece “Give Your Tithes” stands at Marietta and Parker Streets downtown. Person’s “Sacred” is up at Hemphill Avenue and Curran Street on the Westside.
“It was so amazing to have the opportunity to amplify a message centering Black trans people,” Goode told Project Q. “As a Black trans artist, this opens an important conversation about paying and uplifting our stories and experiences.”
Person saw the project as a perfect fit.
“It was like a dream gig to specifically be asked to make art about trans people,” Person said. “I would do it anyway, but to be asked to do so, was like I had to have it, it was made for artists like me.”
“Getting to see my art, getting to see trans people just existing so close to a popular street in Atlanta, is exhilarating,” they added.
This time, it’s personal
Goode’s art usually focuses on the appreciation of Black bodies of all shapes and sizes.
“It centers liberation, love and the beauty of Black bodies,” she said. “Those that are fat and ones that exist outside the binary.”
On her SaveArtSpace billboard, Goode encourages viewers to offer financial support in a time when putting food on the table is even harder for disenfranchised communities.
“My biggest lesson of 2020 is that I truly recognized the importance of mutual aid, and resources of low-income folks and Black marginalized people,” Goode said. “People need to show, pay and protect Black trans people.”
Goode is also a part-time model and works in reproductive justice. Person is an illustrator and painter of often-erotic imagery through a specifically queer lens.
Once started, Person’s SaveArtSpace piece came naturally. Still, the importance and potential of the theme “Trans Lives are Sacred” was momentarily intimidating, they said.
“Though I was so excited by it, I was initially almost overwhelmed,” Person remembered. “Once I put pen to paper, it was almost as if I didn’t have a prompt at all because trans people being sacred felt so obvious to me, so the first design was just that, very on the nose, trans people quite literally spelled “SACRED.”
Person created other ideas to submit but ultimately returned to that first design.
“I did like four other designs, but I thought being literal, showing trans people existing and being what we are was all it really needed,” they added.
Getting a reaction and creating more
The personal nature and of-the-moment concerns of the Atlanta artists show in the billboards themselves. Working through the trials of 2020 and staying engaged through 2021 remain at the top of their minds going forward, both artists said.
Goode is looking for her next art project. Person cited a few big themes in life and in new art already in progress, including advocating arming Black trans women.
“We have to protect each other, especially us Brown queer folks, because no one else will,” Person said. “I extrapolate on that in a series of drawings I did in summer 2020.”
“In a time where we all feel isolated, communication can be so exhausting, but it can also save lives. Check in on your people,” they added. “Sex workers and sex work are being attacked, sex work is work, and reparations are real. People, especially white people, need to pay up.”
The billboards went up in late December and will remain on display through Jan. 17 or until someone else buys the space. Public and private responses have been largely positive for the artists as well as the organization, Rix said.
“We’ve had numerous people reach out to say something positive or leave donations,” he said. “We truly believe people want to see more art than advertisements on the streets of our cities.”
The artists received shoutouts on social media from friends and fans, and they also enjoyed being part of the larger group of “Trans Sacred” billboards around the country.
“All around the board, I believe a lot of my loved ones were excited to see my art and were just elated to see the it in person,” Goode said.
And there’s more to come in Atlanta from SaveArtSpace, Rix added.
“Stay tuned,” he said. “We aim to hold more public art exhibitions in Atlanta in the coming months and years. We keep the process as simple as possible for our curators and artists.”