By Matt Terrell (of Dad’s Garage)
I firmly believe that a city of our size needs a neighborhood for artists, punks, goths, emos, street poets, and other weirdos to congregate. What makes a community vibrant is the range of people and experiences that that define life there. Not everyone in our society is meant to be a 9 – 5 office worker (square) in a suit pursuing a prepackaged version of the American dream. We should make room for people who want to explore a new path in life, free from the mainstream, but living peacefully with all the other squares chugging along our economy.
Unless you want gutter punks and train-traveling hobos hanging out in front of your luxurious mixed- use development, it’s vital that Atlanta keep Little Five Points weird so these folks have a place to congregate. Just like the East Village in New York City or Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, Little Five Points fosters the kind of underground, cutting-edge creativity that keeps our city from being a dreary, cookie-cutter place.
Here’s some of my favorite things that make Little Five Points weird:
The Seed and Feed Marching Abominable. Since 1974, this marching band has been surprising Atlanta audiences with their weird costumes, surprise performances in strange locations, and undeniable weirdness. This marching band is staffed by a wide range of local residents, many of them the (now aging) hippies that helped revitalize the Inman Park and Candler Park neighborhoods. Why do we need a wacky marching band? It’s a positive social experience for many local residents. It’s a family to belong to. It’s a place to learn leadership and teamwork skills. Also, I love hearing them play as I walk by their practice.
Atlanta Jugglers Association. During the nicer parts of the year, you’ll see a small group of people juggling bowling pens, hacky sacks, and sometimes fire. Where else in Atlanta—or any other city for that matter—do you find a neighborhood juggling association? Again, this is a fantastic way to build more vibrant communities.
Art Papers is an international art and design magazine that covers our region and beyond. This is some of the smartest art criticism being produced in the South, and is one of the few physical art magazines that focuses on art in our region. Art Papers makes Atlanta a more respected place to be an artist.
Of course, there are so many other organizations making Little Five Points weird: 7 Stages Theatre, Horizon Theatre, Crystal Blue, Junkman’s Daughter, Variety Playhouse, and lots of other L5P-specific businesses. The anti-corporate, bohemian vibe of the area is distinct to the neighborhood. It’s also this vibe that brings in tourists and makes L5P a destination.
But can this be maintained?
I once heard a real estate developer scoff at Little Five Points for being a “depressive influence on local property values.” Yep, L5P isn’t as upscale or expensive as Inman Park or Virginia Highlands, but that depressive influence is precisely what’s keeping the neighborhood so weird. Flanked on all sides by more expensive areas, it’s one of the few places in Northeast Atlanta where artists, restaurant workers, musicians, and other ne’er do wells can afford to live and work in.
As Atlanta continues to grow and improve, areas like Little Five Points are under threat for losing the vibrancy that made them so cool. I believe that if we want the arts in our community, we have to make sure neighborhoods like Little Five Points stay affordable and accessible for the kind of people that make it so cool.
Looking forward, here are three things we can do to keep Little Five Points, and the rest of Atlanta, cool:
- Support housing options that include a wide range of economic brackets. Want artists to live in your neighborhood and make it more vibrant? We have to make it affordable for them!
- Invest in the institutions like Seed and Feed, Art Papers, and the Juggling Association that make our area so cool! Ultimately, I would love to see governmental investment in Little Five Points as a cultural community for Atlanta.
- VISIT! As always, if you want a vibrant community full of art, you have to be an arts consumer.
Visit some of the amazing arts institutions in Little Five Points. Donate. Volunteer. Have dinner and a show. Show some love!