MARTA is the name of the mass transit system in Fulton and Dekalb Counties in Metro Atlanta. According to its Wikipedial listing, The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority is the principal public transport operator in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Formed in 1971 as strictly a bus system, MARTA operates a network of bus routes linked to a rapid transit system consisting of 48 miles of rail track with 38 train stations.
In recent years, MARTA has commissioned stunning and diverse murals at a number of its transit stations. In order to keep my Traveling at the Speed Bike routes here on Ridespot relatively short and accessible, I have created two separate MARTA Mural tours. They do require some road skills, so I recommend you "take" my class (accessed via the Classes tab on TravelingAtTheSpeedOfBike.com) prior to doing these tours (or at least view my short videos on the Bonus Resources tab on TravelingAtTheSpeedOfBike.com).
Let's start at the Vine City MARTA Station on Northside Drive just across from Mercedes Benz Stadium. This mural appears abstract, but if you look closely, it is not. I had the opportunity to interview artist Shanequa Gay about it during the lead-up to the Super Bowl in 2019, where it was part of the Off the Wall series of murals commissioned by the Super Bowl Legacy Committee.
Shanequa told me she was particularly moved by a community conversation with a nonprofit named Covenant House that serves youth experiencing homelessness. These teens may be runaways or trafficked or aged out of foster care. They may be kicked out of their homes because they came out as LGBT. Or they may have substance abuse or other problems, and their need for love and intimacy may not be met. In order to explore the full range of humanity of the teens, Shanequa met with some of them for a photo shoot. She had them jump on a trampoline to relax, which made her think of the line “Excuse me while I kiss the sky,” from the Jimi Hendrix song, which then became the title of this mural. She then got the idea to have the teens actually make kissy faces to the sky, as a fun take on social media or pop culture and an expression of their need for love. She used these profiles as silhouettes in the background of this mural, and covered them with vegetation to represent the outdoors environment where many of them sleep or otherwise remain hidden on the fringes of society.
(Note: I featured Shanequa Gay as one of the 31 women making the USA more welcoming for bike riding in my "You Go, Girl!" series. See here, if interested; https://travelingatthespeedofbike.com/2020/08/15/meet-shanequa-gay/)
Granted, this bridge connecting the Vine City MARTA Station to Mercedes Benz Stadium cost a fortune that should have been spent actually improving conditions on Northside Drive for vulnerable road users. Salt in the wound, of course, is that this bridge was actually not even in use during the Super Bowl for which is was supposedly built. However, it is quite a beauty and is fun to cross via bike. It also casts interesting, photo-worthy shadows. So, there's that.
You may have trouble accessing this mural, and another one that has recently been added since there are barriers everywhere lately to this space that used to be easily accessible by the public. However, if you tilt your head just right you can get a glimpse of it punctuating "The Home Depot Backyard" next to Mercedes Benz Stadium. I got to interview this artist, Ernest Shaw, as well.
Ernest Shaw is a figurative artist who does mostly portraits, and he draws from his 22 years of percussion study, specifically in West African drumming, in choosing his colors, which he believes have a particular rhythm. He has painted many murals around Baltimore, and elsewhere. Fun fact: he listened to jazz while he painted this mural. Mostly John Coltrane and Sun Ra.
When he was selected as the artist to paint this wall at Mercedes Benz Stadium’s Home Depot Backyard, he submitted a design
that included the Atlanta skyline and other iconic Atlanta imagery. The stakeholders of this project, which included WonderRoot, Mercedes Benz, and the community, encouraged him to push the imagery more powerfully. He was pleasantly surprised when this mural, titled Atlanta Strong, with its powerful femininity clothed in the American flag, was approved and positively embraced.
Shaw believes that we as a society are moving forward into the Holy Feminine where the spiritual principles of nurturing and healing will lead the way. He originally had three figures in this painting. The missing figure was of the same girl with her arms crossed looking forward in deep concentration right at you — perhaps so that each of us who join him in making this art can see and feel the power we each possess, no matter our gender, to be nurturers and healers as well.
God's honest truth, I've ridden past this new(ish) mural a hundred times (in the two-way protected cycletrack at Peachtree Center) and never really looked at it until working on this tour for Ridespot. Wow. Wow. Wow. If you go by it and are seeing just an abstract painting, walk cross the street and down the block a bit until you can see what I'm showing here. This is a stunner.
From the Peachtree Center website: The new mural, titled “Symphony,” was designed and painted by Hopare, an acclaimed French street artist. Symphony represents not only his first piece of public art in the Southeast but serves as his largest work of art ever.
Also known as Alexandre Monteiro, Hopare is recognized for his distinctive approach to street art and graffiti, allowing him to connect with pedestrians and virtually transport them with his art. He is notably recognized for developing an interesting blend of figuration and abstraction through which he paints colorful work that dramatically contrasts the appearances of the streets.
So I’m riding my bike about four years ago and I see this guy in front of a brand new mural at the King Memorial MARTA Station. We get to talking and it turns out he’s the artist, Fahamu Pecou. As I ride away, I realize another connection and I turn around, ride back, and confirm. He is also the father of a boy my daughter had in her group as a teaching assistant with the Alliance Theater that summer. Small world, we said. Small world.
Here's info about the mural from an Emory University article: For the initial installation, Pecou had conversations with area residents and community leaders to help inform the final design. Given that it would be based on MARTA’s King Memorial station, he knew there was an expectation that the work would somehow depict the famed civil rights leader.
“Many anticipated this would be a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but I resisted that,” Pecou says. “While I truly believe that Dr. King was a very important figure in our cultural landscape, larger than the man is the message he represented and how today we have to act on his message, recognize our own agency.
“That was one of the challenges, to convince people to allow this piece to be something more than another portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., instead allowing it to be something that could speak to our contemporary times.”
Instead of presenting an image of King, Pecou decided he would celebrate his words, bridging community expectations with his own artistic vision by paraphrasing one of King's quotes: “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
“I thought it was really powerful," Pecou explains, "allowing us to be engaged and activated by the message as opposed to thinking that we have to wait for someone to do these things instead of doing them ourselves."
This is at the Five Points MARTA station. Darn, I can't find out anything about this mural (but you wanna fall down a rabbit hole? Go to https://streetartmap.org.)
Separate story: When Relay Bikeshare first launched, I spent a lot of time talking to people around here who were excited about the bikes until they learned you needed a credit card to access them (even though there had been a promise of equity prior to them launching). It took literally years before access was expanded, but it did, indeed happen. Lots has changed with Relay Bikeshare lately, so I'll need to do a whole update on that soon (I used to even be a VIP Ambassador — I wonder if my account still works). Maybe we'll do a bikeshare tour . . .