Art + Hunger = Art Youth Summit

Atlanta Community Food Bank and Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (Atlanta Contemporary) came together last week to conduct an inaugural art-themed session of the Youth Summit on Hunger and Poverty. The result of months of collaboration and planning, the week-long program hosted at Atlanta Contemporary brought together 12 exceptional Atlanta high school students who dedicated a week out of their summer to provide service in the community and enhance their education about hunger, poverty, and learn about social practice art and artists.

During this week, the teen participants explored the intersections between contemporary art and food justice and how artists have addressed questions pertaining to both topics. The teens were presented with opportunities to create and propose solutions to addressing hunger and poverty through art projects and discussions.

It was exciting to meet the teens and work with them all week on such fulfilling projects and initiate complex conversations. Something we wanted to charge them with from day 1 was to think about, “Are you volunteering this week or creating social practice art?”

The week started with the students volunteering at Metro Atlanta Urban Farm in College Park, where the teens focused their energies on building new compost for the farm. Starting the week with a physical team building experience really laid the week’s groundwork, a wonderful metaphor to think about while wheelbarrowing dirt in the heat! After lunch, we explored the exhibition on view at Atlanta Contemporary which presented a selection of artists’ books published by Atlanta-based Nexus Press between 1976-2003. It was exciting to see the teens explore non-traditional book forms and learn the many ways contemporary artists produce and present artworks to audiences. In the afternoon, I presented an overview of social practice art (also referred to as socially-engaged art) where we had lively debate around certain artworks from the past 10 years involving various neighborhood involvement and social contexts.  

Day two highlights include a visit from local artist Evereman, where he spoke about how simple design can create big public impact and build community. Thinking about this, the teens worked on designing Art Youth Summit buttons and and individual stamp making. In the afternoon we screened “A Place at the Table,” and created and designed paper plates about hunger facts and stats to be sent to our elected officials.

Wednesday found the group visiting Freewheel Farm in Summerhill and Atlanta Harvest in South Atlanta back to back--these are two very different urban farming models and it was great to have time at both with the farmers/proprietors themselves. Back at Atlanta Contemporary, students created garden markers and lastly visited with a practicing artist in their Studio Artist Program, Steven L. Anderson.

On Thursday morning, we volunteered hours at the Super Giant Community Garden in Bankhead, where students build garden beds and painted a new 15’ sign for their gate which read “Community Garden, All Welcome”. The Super Giant Community Garden volunteers and staff were thrilled to have extra hands and energy to produce new beds and the sign--small organizations like this thrive on volunteers and we were excited to help them realize their wish of a highly visible fence sign! We can’t wait to return and see it installed. Later in the afternoon, the students created amazing typography portraits (word art) and concluded the day learning from artist Jane Garver in her studio at Atlanta Contemporary. Garver works a lot with public spaces and audiences through recording sound, so it was an interesting conversation learning that artworks can be created and presented in public space, particularly without intentions of entering a traditional museum or gallery space.

On the final day, students walked between Atlanta Contemporary and Atlanta Community Food Bank--we took two different routes to discover and discuss development on Atlanta’s Westside, and the disparities between Hollowell Parkway and Howell Mill Road, for example. Once arriving, we toured the Food Bank to see the organization at work! Our final afternoon at Atlanta Contemporary was then spent with local zine-maker and writer Muriel Vega (learn about her Pie Zine and its connection with the Food Bank here) where they learned about zines and zine-making. Naturally then, the teens had a few hours to reflect on our exciting, action packed week by making their own zines! Throughout the week, the teens were charged with taking photos of their friends and experiences on disposable cameras, perfect for our DIY process and zine-making aesthetic. Zines are best when shared with friends, and there was no shortage of sharing and friend-making this week! As he headed for the door on Friday, participant Ny’Quavious said, “I had a great time and I’d definitely recommend this experience!”

An initial partnership, this program helped to connect two neighboring non-profit organizations with seemingly disparate missions and find connective tissue between them. We hope this model will only continue to be built upon, not only between our two organizations, but when thinking creatively about community-building and socially-engaged practices throughout Atlanta!

-Rachel Reese, Atlanta Contemporary Art Center