Atlanta has a new destination where you can grab some lunch and see dozens of artists creating work right in the heart of Midtown. The Creative Hive Project has brought individuals and arts organizations to Colony Square.
The Creative Hive is a temporary artist colony set up in vacant spaces at Colony Square. So mixed in with restaurants, retail and offices, there are a dozen artists or arts groups working right out in the open.
“They get free rein of a storefront for two months here at Colony Square,” said Jessica Helfrecht, a curator and art educator with the Hambidge Creative Residency Program. “They’re offering dance lessons, there’s installation art, musicians, theater.”
Helfrecht is based in Rabun Gap and provides artists with studio space and a creative working environment in the North Georgia mountains.
“This very much represents what we do in Rabun Gap,” Helfrecht said, “by having all these artists here together, working hard and then they come together for different collaborative events or potlucks.”
The Hive brings a similar commune-like experience to the heart of the city.
Hambidge’s Creative Hive comes at a time when many artists and arts organizations are feeling literally and figuratively pushed to the fringes. Funding for the arts both nationally and locally faces an uncertain future, and artists are struggling to find space.
“A lot of the art community, especially the DIY or emerging scene tends to get pushed to where we can afford to work and play and perform,” said Downtown Players Club’s Miranda Kyle. “So it’s really nice to be able to centralize such a diverse hive as we have here at Colony Square.”
Here at the Hive, Downtown Players has renamed themselves “Midtown Players Club.”
“It seemed like a perfect opportunity for us, because we’re having some problems with our South Downtown space that’s prevented us from doing larger events," said DPC co-founder Kris Pilcher. “So it’d give us a few months to try to work that out.”
The problem Pilcher is referring to is the sale of Downtown Players’ South Broad Street building to Atlanta-based company Newport Development Partners. But in Midtown until June, Pilcher, Kyle and co-founder Elizabeth Jarrett have the run of what used to be the Colony Square Athletic Club, an enormous space where they will host gallery shows, theatrical performances, and whatever else they can find room for. They even have a locker room and sauna which may or may not work.
While all this artistic activity is going on here, there are still people living and working at Colony Square bustling all around them.
“Hanover House is right above us,” Miranda Kyle said, referring to the condominium complex at Colony Square. “[It] houses this incredible group of people who are huge advocates for the arts.”
She said residents have been inquiring about whether work will be for sale.
“Being able to tell them yes, and that they have a hand in helping perpetuate what we’re doing here has gotten this entire housing complex completely excited,” Kyle said.
Midtown Players Club is one of two notable arts organizations have set up shop here in the Hive. The other is Mint, which has been without a permanent gallery space since 2016. They’re taking over a former doctor’s office. Other artists participating in the Hive are experimental dance company Fly On A Wall, photographer Forrest McMullin, Matt Haffner, Laura Bell and many others.
When Hambidge first began accepting proposals at the beginning of the year, they had allotted seven spaces, but executive director Jamie Badoud happily said that they were able to secure sponsorship from PNC Bank and Skyy Vodka.
“That helped us to increase the number of projects from seven to 12,” Badoud said. “And frankly we wish we could have grabbed the next 12 because it would have been another layer of really incredible work. We’re really excited about the ideas that are being presented and the cross-pollination collaboration.”
The “cross-pollination,” which is the central pun of the Creative Hive, is something that was repeated again and again from the artists who spoke with WABE. Everyone was excited to be working in close proximity to other artists, to people who live and work at Colony Square, and to passerby on Peachtree.
Not all of the Hambidge artists are here for the collaboration though. Looking out onto a courtyard in a former restaurant space, one artist is issuing challenges.
“This is the headquarters of the World Wide Art Federation,” said Fabian Williams from his Hive studio.
WWAF puts on art battles, as Williams put it, “in the style of wrestling without wrestling. So contestants must talk trash then paint against each other … then talk trash.”
Williams said that he will be hosting workshops, figure drawing sessions, and will also be talking smack about his peers, inviting them to come throw down.
“Good competition, to me, creates better creativity,” he said. “I believe that critiquing is a very important part of the creative process. This [...] is a critique on steroids.”
And in issuing these challenges to other artists to take him on, Williams and the World Wide Art Federation is doing what many of the artists in the Hive are doing: sharing the wealth. Midtown Players has an enormous gymnasium, and they’ve already had the Weird Sisters Theatre Project perform there. The Fly On A Wall dance company is opening their space to other folks who could use it. The artists here who feel so grateful to have a space to create are sharing it.
Of course, with Williams, that space is going to comes at a cost for anyone who wants to work there.
“Pretty much everyone that I respect, you know? If you’re doing something that I think is cool or amazing, I’m going to dis you pretty hard,” Williams said.
So artists of Atlanta take note that you’ve been put on blast. And whether you’re coming as a peer or a patron, expect amazing things from the Hive.
The Creative Hive will be in residence at Colony Square in Midtown through June 4.