Friday, October 24, 2014

The Krog Street Tunnel

Every major city has its own tiny little nubbins of local flavor, the kind of things the locals love and the non-locals have very possibly, even probably, never heard of. Madison has things like Owen Conservation Park or Lake Wingra, Milwaukee has the Milwaukee Public Market or the Gertie the Duck statue. In Atlanta, one of those things is the Krog Street Tunnel, linking the neighborhoods of Cabbagetown and Inman Park on Atlanta's east side. The tunnel is completely, continually, constantly painted and repainted with the work of local graffiti artists. There's a tumblr based on this, The Daily Krog. Because that's how often the painting is happening.

But as I type this, there isn't much art there at all. Not because the city cracked down or anything. The artists did it themselves. You see, there's a masquerade ball, the Krog Masquerade. It was scheduled for Saturday, in the tunnel. They had to get a permit first, though, and the artists- and locals aligned with them- argued that the art they put up is supposed to be publicly enjoyed, as opposed to being a backdrop for a private event that makes money for someone else and doesn't give them a cut for their work. (And closes off the bike routes allowing access to the tunnel in the meantime.)

So on Wednesday, after it became clear the masquerade ball would get its permit anyway despite all the complaints, dozens of artists and activists showed up at the tunnel and painted the entire thing grey. The organizers seem unconcerned- they argue that as a portion of the proceeds are going to the Georgia Lawyers for the Arts, their conscience is clear (never mind that the Georgia Lawyers for the Arts are not the actual artists, which is kind of the point of the protest), and that they can just pay some other artists to repaint the tunnel by Saturday night. And indeed, some people are already repainting, though right now it doesn't look much different from any other graffiti-laden surface because there's so much surface to cover.

In the case of art, ultimately, the artist is king. Unless they have been paid for the work and relinquish their rights to that work in the process, it is, at the end of the day, their work, to release into the world- and yes, take out of the world as well- as they see fit. Whatever ground rules the artists set for themselves, so long as they're legal, are the ones that ought to be respected. The understood agreement among Krog Street Tunnel artists is that you can come and paint whatever you want, it is intended to be publicly and freely available at all times, and that at any time someone else can and will come and paint over what you did with art of their own.

Sure. It is technically city property, and the city can do with it what they will. But if the organizers had really understood what the point was behind their intended backdrop, they'd maybe have picked a different backdrop, maybe near the tunnel but not actually in it. But this is what they did, and what is likely to be a shadow of the tunnel's true nature is what they get.

Or maybe they do get the true nature of the tunnel. People have seen canvases that are only one solid color and wondered if it's art. But if that one solid color is meant as a statement of protest, as this grey is, if that color has emotion and purpose behind it, of course it's art. And if the masquerade ball can't see that, even as it's being explained to them... they're not very good patrons of the arts, are they?

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