Building a creative gem in a commercial city

Downtown Atlanta is the city’s central business district and home to multiple major global business corporations: The Coca-Cola Company, Delta Air Lines, United Parcel Services… the list stretches on. Home to the world’s busiest airport and a heap (2.5 million m2 to be exact) of office space just in downtown aloneit’s safe to say that Atlanta is kind of a big deal when it comes to talking business in a busy city. Also classified as one of the world’s ‘alpha-world cities’ ,this metropolitan giant contributed its fair share towards the global economic system. However, while Atlanta may live up to their alpha status within the business arena, it can sometimes be easy to miss the thriving art and creative community that is dampened by all the surrounding commercial noise.

Situated just a short-way east of downtown is an up-and-coming creative and cultural hub. Little Five Points (L5P) has not only developed a reputation for the arts but also as a well-known gathering spot for all sub-cultures around the city. But the path to gaining reputation as a creative community is not an easy one. During its past, economic development and gentrification saw L5P struggle with issues of abandonment and economic and structural disrepair, which challenged L5P’s existence as a retail and art scene. Fortunately, restoration in the neighbourhood in the late 80s and 90s welcomed a new community with new energy; artists, creative-ists and student, who redeveloped L5P into an ‘intown cool’, alternative local marketplace bursting with arts, unique fashion, delicious food and live music

Here are some spots that make L5P unique:

1. Vortex Bar & Grill

The skull-shaped entrance has increasingly become recognised as the iconic ‘entrance’ of L5P. True to its eye-catching colours architecture, Vortex captures the eccentric qualities that encapsulate the area. They also serve Atlanta’s best burgers!IMG_4336.JPG

2. Junkman’s Daughter

Junkman’s Daughter is one of the oldest in the community and perfect for a throwback – there is something for every generation. Named the ‘Alternative Super Store’ by its owners, it’s a testament to the diversity and creativity that L5P represents. Its peculiar yet remarkable exterior is also a marvel in itself.

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Junkman’s Daughter Entrance
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Junkman’s Daughter Exterior

3. Variety’s Playhouse

Home to famous live-music acts in the Atlanta area, Variety’s Playhouse was once a 1940s theatre that has now transformed into a local live-music venue showcasing national and local acts. It has retained its vintage art-deco interior and exterior, making it the distinctive and popular music venue it is today.

Variety Playhouse (Image Credits: Jbarta via Wikipedia. Licensed under Creative Commons 3.0) 

4. Everywhere and Anywhere! The streets of L5P are filled with unique and expressive murals and art displays that add to the vibrancy of the area. Colourful and inspirational, even adverts are not adverts are not your typical ones at L5P!

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Street Art/ Sun Trust Advert in L5P
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Street Art in L5P
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Art Mural in L5P

L5P is uniquely located between two affluent neighbourhoods that urged the community to integrate alternative ideas of culture, style and community, and to contribute to the overall development of L5P’s creative scene and identity. Free from any big-box brands, it allows opportunities for local independent businesses to strive, reflecting the various mixture of cultures and ideas present in Altanta’s growing creative community.

Atlanta may not be on track to become the next global creative city, but by embracing subcultures and celebrating overlooked communities, it has cultivated a creative hub that is symbolic and representative to the area’s rich history and allow L5P to define their own sense of ‘creativity’. This perhaps foregrounds the notion that it is not always about striving for global recognition for creativity, but about being recognised as a city that is home-grown and nurtured, and reflects personal history and community. As the NBA Atlanta Hawks would say, “the people of the city are definitely #TrueToAtlanta”

Header image credits to Wally Gobetz via Flickr (Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

All other photo credits to Lorria Sahmet unless stated otherwise.

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A secret Berlin: 5 things you really need to see

With its swanky architecture, creative vibes and outrageous parties, Berlin should definitely be on the top of your list. Since the fall of the famous Berlin wall (Berliner Mauer for you language folk), it’s become a place where “anything-goes” and by anything, they mean anything.

From Berghain to Aquadom this list will guide you through five of the best and most unusual sights of Berlin, starting with Spreepark.

Spreepark

Abandoned amusement park, Berlin (photographer: Jan Bommes)

Spreepark takes residence in the north of the Plänterwald in South East Berlin. It’s been abandoned for the last ten years now, and it doesn’t try to hide it. Every inch of the park is littered with the remnants of rides and life-sized dinosaurs, including a broken roller coaster leading into the mouth of a mysterious raving-rabid creature. But this doesn’t stop trails of explorers from venturing inside. A prominent setting in horror film “Hanna”, the park is admittedly difficult to enter but with the hop of a fence, anything is possible.

Berghain

Berghain at night (photographer: Michael Mayer)

Berghain is pure ecstasy in its physical form. It is a place of mystery, stimulation and hardcore booze, drugs and techno fuelled pleasure. A short walk from Berlin’s main station (Ostbahnhof), Berghain has made its mark worldwide, perhaps due to its exclusive selection process as well as its crazy powerful sound system. Literally anything DOES go there, so don’t be expecting any rules. Berghain has become a cultural icon, famous for being the techno capital of the current world but of course that all depends on if you can get in. Wear black. And lots of it. But don’t try and be something you’re not. Because they will know. The quite honestly terrifying bouncers will pry on each and every detail of your trying-not-to-be-edgy outfit. Click here to find out exactly how to get into Berghain. It opens at 10pm on a Friday night and stays open until 4am on Monday morning. Two final words: good luck.

AquaDom

Aquadom in the Radisson SAS hotel (photographer: Tobias Wutzow)

Berlin’s AquaDom is famous for being the world’s largest free standing aquarium in the world: standing at over 25 metres in height and 12 metres in diameter. Containing over one million litres of water, a coral reef and almost 2,600 fish, it really is a wonder to behold. Not a sight to be seen from ground-level, the ingenious attraction uses an elevator to allow guests a full 360 degree experience of the 56 species of fish as well as the divers who care for the tank. A visit to AquaDom promises you a real-life experience of a coral reef, so don’t miss out. I promise you won’t regret it.

Liquidrom

The large saltwater pool at Liquidrom (photographer: Aaron Muszalski)

Feel the future with a trip to the Liquidrom, where you can float around in a pool of saltwater amidst the rhythms of underwater techno. Designed by German architects GMP, the complex is shaped like an abstract tent erected so high it scrapes the Berlin sky. Ultra-modern spa facilities make up the Liquidrom, including an outsize sauna, an aromatherapy steam bath and a hot tub inspired by the Japanese hot springs. Offering a number of unusual yet soothing massage treatments, the Liquidrom’s centrepiece is the incredible salt water pool. Masses of neon lights filter into the dome, bringing colour and illumination into the dimly lit room. If you want to relax in the style of the future, you won’t want to miss this.

Design Panoptikum

Horn man

Design Panoptikum is a “surrealist” museum of industrial objects so, if you like quirky things, you’ll love this. Behind Torstaße is architect Vlad Korneev’s unique museum filled with a bizarre collection of crazy curiosities of the most eccentric kind. Amidst the shadowy rooms emerge an assortment of mechanical monsters made up of spare pasts and parts. Dolls, lamps and instruments of every industry come together to form a ghostly atmosphere beyond even a child’s imagination. For all things weird and wonderful, visit Design Panoptikum.

RuPaul’s Drag Race: a celebration of self-expression or just another serving of cultural junk food?

If you’ve filled out your personal details online recently, you’ll have noticed the sudden increase in options when it comes to selecting your ‘gender’ – female, male, transgender, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, bigender – the possibilities are endless! We’re in an age of gender fluidity and freedom of sexuality. Gender is in the spotlight.

Queue RuPaul’s Drag Race: a reality competition series in the search for America’s next drag superstar. Each week, contestants compete in various challenges, from underwater photo shoots to performing in telenovelas, where they’re judged on their all-round ability as drag queens. At the end of each episode, the bottom two queens must “lip-sync for their life” in order to avoid being sent home.

Hosted by actor, drag queen and television personality, RuPaul, the show prides itself on its role as an advocate for self-love and of drag as a respectable art form. “Remember, if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”, RuPaul asks the remaining drag queens at the end of each episode, “can I get an amen up in here?”

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Image source: Logo TV

But is the show a refreshing and inspiring celebration of self-expression and drag culture or is it simply another product of cultural junk food?

Of course, the drag queen is not a new concept. Since the birth of theatre, men have been performing as women as women were not allowed to perform on stage. And even after women were allowed, men continued to dress as women for comedic effect: drag queens.

Although drag has a long history, RuPaul’s Drag Race is arguably the first time drag culture has been viewed and enjoyed by the masses, proving its popularity with the season 9 premiere reaching almost 1 million viewers.

The show’s relatively recent convergence into mainstream popular culture has enabled public access to a culture that most are unfamiliar with. By introducing viewers to what many would consider to be an alien concept (a homosexual man impersonating a heterosexual woman) the show bridges the gap between the otherwise misunderstood drag community and the typical reality TV consumer.

Through the medium of entertainment television, viewers are able to appreciate drag as an art: singing, dancing, modeling, acting, fashion and makeup – not to mention the dynamic female personas that must be kept up throughout the series.

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Image source: Logo TV

However, because of the light-hearted nature of RuPaul’s Drag Race and its ludicrous weekly challenges, we may begin to question the show’s cultural value.

TV critics would likely brand the show yet another product of ‘low culture’ in an industry already saturated with simpleminded reality shows. The show’s format resembles America’s Next Top Model: a purely entertainment-based series that arguably provides a template indicating a product of low ‘quality’ television.

So perhaps RuPaul’s Drag Race isn’t going to raise any IQs but by adopting this formulaic structure, the show allows the drag community to be understood and appreciated by the typical popular culture consumer.

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Image source: Vada Magazine

Whilst the show uses humour to engage its audience, this has not always been translated effectively and some argue the show is problematic in regards to race and has even been labelled ‘incredibly transphobic.’

But with its overriding themes of self-acceptance, self-love and self-expression, the show does ultimately promote diversity. And as one of the few mainstream representations of the LGBTQ+ community, the show clearly recognises the responsibility it holds.

Most of the girls taking part in the competition have had difficult lives. Many have been disowned by their families and one contestant came out as HIV positive during season six. As RuPaul explains, “their parents don’t approve. Society doesn’t approve.”

For many, the show will remain to be a guilty pleasure and for some, problematic. But by rejecting society’s rules, RuPaul’s Drag Race offers a much needed insight into the drag community and serves as an advocate for self-love in an all too judgmental society.

 

Featured image source: Logo TV

7 Days of Culture: From David Hockney to Craig David

Craig David
Craig David, Photograph: Ticketmaster

Okay, so maybe not quite seven days. But over the course of a week I enjoyed two of Cardiff’s cultural offerings, and after spending a Thursday evening in March appreciating Craig David’s remarkable comeback to the music sphere, a hit song in the title only seemed appropriate. To myself, and the other five thousand people in attendance, Craig David performing at the Motorpoint Arena was a cultural highlight. Just under a mile away a few days later, in the National Museum of Cardiff, I experienced another display of creative culture in the shape of a private art collection. Here we explore Cardiff’s varied creative scene on opposite ends of the cultural spectrum.

Sixteen years ago Craig David appeared to have it all. But with all the highs that came with reaching the pinnacle of the UK charts, a few years later Craig David found himself walking away and fans were left asking him to fill us in as to what went wrong (see what I did there?). Then remarkably, in 2016 Craig David successfully made a comeback to the music industry, with new music and a new twist with his DJ Set TS5. David’s ability to overcome changes in the production, content and reception processes in a newly digitalised music industry has allowed him to have success sixteen years after he initially debuted on the music scene.

Growing up near David’s home city of Southampton, he was a local hero and when tickets were released for a concert in Cardiff there was no hesitation in whether to go. The concert was an eclectic celebration of all things old and new, with David appeasing both the fans that were with him sixteen years ago and those who have come to appreciate him over the past year. As a garage, R&B and hip-hop singer songwriter he may not be to the taste of us all, but there is no denying his cultural value to his fans.

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This way for the exhibition..

The second day of my cultural week featured what some might argue is more ‘conventional’ culture. Until January 2018 Cardiff National Museum has been graced with a stunning private collection of artwork and sculptures including many of the 20th century’s most renowned artists. Two of the displays are works by Francis Bacon and Monica Doig, and in fitting accordance the collection is named the Bacon to Doig Exhibition. The owners have such a passion for art that many pieces were collected prior to the artists finding fame and now, whilst the owner’s house is undergoing refurbishment, they have kindly shared the collection to Museum so others can enjoy their passion too.

For anyone who may need more persuasion, as well as Bacon and Doig, other works in the collection include Turner prize winner Grayson Perry, and sculptors David Hockney and Antony Gormley to name just a few. The host of  artists featured make the exhibition a real celebration of modern British art all in the one room. Furthermore the exhibition is entirely free. Yes, free! As the Welsh Government fund the museum through a grant, you can enjoy the exhibition, alongside the rest of the museum’s offerings, completely free of charge. In the future perhaps the funding of these cultural treasures may no longer be there, so make the most of it whilst you can.

So from Craig David to David Hockney, the vibrant and multi-cultural city of Cardiff offers something for everyone. Whilst Craig David’s Cardiff appearance has happened, he is touring at many festivals this summer so there is still a chance for anyone who wishes to experience his creative comeback. Meanwhile with the Bacon to Doig Exhibition remaining in the Museum until 2018 there is opportunity aplenty to enjoy some arty masterpieces.

Photo Credit: Ticketmaster

Benefits of Community Art: Memories from the wash-house

When I visited an exhibition by David Jones titled ‘Angels on Washing Lines’, I was surprised to find that the exhibition was empty. A recent survey conducted by The Arts Council of Wales found that in the South-West there was a 19% decrease in attendance to arts & crafts exhibitions. Artists have the ability to help solve a number of social issues but arts attendance continues to correlate closely with social grade making some demographics unreachable. Community art projects break down barriers to entry in the arts, creating a more inclusive environment for creativity to thrive.

Community art escapes traditional spaces and ventures into the public realm, giving people a place and time to tell their own stories. In the case of Jones’ exhibition, the community art project worked as an inter-generational tool connecting communities and allowing more people to enjoy Jones’ work without stepping foot into a gallery.

 

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Jones’ work is playful, colourful and inspired by his creative childhood memory. One piece in particular that caught my eye was the ‘Angels on Washing Lines.’ The piece was made of MDF and acrylic that had been hung on string to represent socks, shirts, pyjamas and more. The piece was inspired from a childhood memory of Jones’ in which he conflated the idea of Heaven with the clothes that were on his grandmothers washing line.

Alongside Jones’ exhibition sits a community project inspired by the ‘Angels on Washing Lines’ centre piece. The project explores and celebrates older women’s stories and memories of wash days past and are exhibited in the shop windows of King Street in Carmarthen. The pieces that make up the project are created by the elderly community, as they respond to their memories of laundry days. In Victorian times Monday’s were dedicated washing days, and was a particularly strenuous day due to the lack of running water and electricity.

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The art trail is full of colourful, creative pieces in the shape of socks, shirts, shoes and blankets which are accompanied by humorous, interesting stories from the ‘wash house’. One anecdote that accompanied a blue and red blanket piece told of a time when their mother was so exhausted that she accidentally threw the laundry water over a congregational minister who was visiting. Another story spoke of the order of the week: Monday was for washing, Tuesday was for ironing and Friday was for airing the clothes. A running theme throughout the stories was the hard work the women would undertake weekly and the pride they took in the up-keeping of their homes. Although an entire exhibition dedicated to a washing day may seem boring to some the project has important cultural significance. It allows the transfer of stories across generations in a creative way that catches the eye of walkers by and draws them in. The art project also works to give the elderly, who are often the most detached from their communities, a platform to tell their stories and share their heritage.

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Community art projects are of great value to society. ‘Memories from the wash-house’ shares cultural heritage, connects different generations, and gives elderly members of the community a platform to share their stories from a time that has passed. The success of this project in bringing the arts out of traditional spaces and into the public domain has meant that more people have been able to enjoy Jones’ work. Such participation in the creative and cultural industries are central to the development of a community’s creative learning.

The David Jones ‘Angels on Washing Lines’ exhibition can be viewed in the Oriel Myrddin Gallery in Carmarthen from the 18th of March to the 13th of May. 

The ‘Memories from the wash-house’ community project can be viewed in the store windows of King Street from the 25th of April to the 13th of May. 

A Day in St. Davids: The UK’s next City of Culture?

The latest contender for the 2021 ‘City of Culture’ title is St. Davids, the smallest city in the UK. The scheme utilises the arts and culture as a catalyst for economic and social regeneration, aiming to increase the creative reputation of cities across the country. If St. Davids is successful in its bid, the title could boost regeneration and economic growth in the area through tourism and by driving artistic innovation. News that St. Davids would be entering the competition was met with a mixed response. On the one hand, St. Davids has a rich cultural and religious heritage. On the other, it was questioned how a city with a population of 2000 could compete with past title holders such as Derry-Londonderry and Hull.

Located on the St. Davids Peninsula in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, the city was home to the Patron Saint of Wales, St. David. Today St. Davids Cathedral, which dates back to the 12th century, attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world offering a place of peace for prayer and devotion. The Cathedral is steeped in religious history and has been a site of pilgrimage and worship for more than 800 years. The Cathedral itself is hidden from the town view, it is only when you walk through the gatehouse that the enormous structure emerges. The sheer size and beauty of the Cathedral is remarkable, an architectural gem in its own right.

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The city is also home to numerous galleries, craft shops and local businesses that celebrate the Welsh culture. The Oriel Y Parc Gallery which is located in the National Park Visitors Centre is home to a state of the art gallery and national treasures centred around Welsh folklore. The pieces displayed in the gallery are inspired from myths such as, ‘Cantre’r Gwaelod’, ‘Gelert’ and ‘Barti Ddu,’ which are famous Welsh legends that originate around the coast of St. Davids. A walk down any street in the city will reveal independent galleries with works that reflect the rugged landscape that surrounds the centre of town. St. Davids’ unique location brings the urban city into contact with the natural world, and through the gaps in the multicoloured houses you can catch glimpses of the rugged terrain that inspires the works of art around the city.

St. Davids is also home to a plethora of food outlets and excellent dinning experiences. The local delicatessen boasts a range of Welsh produce supporting local businesses and offering the best of what Wales has to offer. Whilst the range of pubs, coffeehouses and restaurants offer a unique dining experience with the chance to mingle with the locals. The tourism and local life of St. Davids coexists, and the Welsh language that is so important to the cultural identity of St. Davids can be heard throughout the city.

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The locals argue that the St. Davids Peninsula has the most magnificent coastal scenery in the whole of Pembrokeshire. To see the true beauty of the rugged coast it is recommended to go on a boat trip. The daily excursions take you in and around the coves showcasing Pembrokeshire’s rich wildlife and exploring the lands that inspired the myths and legends. The culture and creativity of St. Davids really comes to life in their annual St. Davids Cathedral Festival which showcases classical and contemporary music in the picturesque city.

Culture is in St. Davids’ lifeblood, and creativity flows freely throughout the city. The strong arts and culture scene is a celebration of what Wales has to offer, and the title of 2021 ‘City of Culture’ would do well to increase the city’s creative reputation across the country. It is demonstrated clearly in the case of St. Davids, that size has no correlation to the value and breadth of its culture.

 

What makes Georgetown Penang a Creative City?

What is a Creative City, though? What separates a drab concrete jungle from a kaleidoscope of streets sprawling with originality? Is it a maze of world class museums, whose corridors span with the works of the greatest artists throughout history? Or is it, above all, the ability to market those unique selling points of a city, into strategic economic advantages which encourage the growth of a rich creative economy?

According to the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, it seems that socio-economic developments are the defining factor when determining what makes a city creative one. Created to “promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development”, UCCN has awarded 116 cities such a title, for successfully developing their creative and cultural industries both locally and internationally.

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Photo credit: Emily Jones 

Georgetown Penang is just one of the cities across the world hoping to gain this accreditation; the city’s inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008, marked the beginning of its transformation into a creative and cultural hub.

Yet according to UNESCO formal criteria, Georgetown doesn’t make the cut. And I wonder, if this is entirely fair. For when I really thought about it, retracing boundless steps through the cities I have visited across the world, it was not Barcelona or Rome, nor the city lights of Singapore, or Sydney nor Dublin – all of which have gained acknowledgement for their dedication to creativity, which sprung to mind. It’s Georgetown, in the little north-eastern corner of mainland Malaysia that defines a Creative City for me.

Colourful Chinese shop houses blend with Western sky-scrapers and old colonial architecture, wherein a jumble of old-world Asian influences collide with an increasingly cosmopolitan urban centre. A truly unique cultural vibrancy has been made possible through the influx of migrants from China, India and Indonesia in the 19th century, allowing for a diverse local identity.

The winding roads of Little India, littered with trishaws and roadside restaurants, brims with gusts of Indian spices and fragrant incense. Turn a corner, and the towering Mosques and Sari shops give way to Chinese temples and red paper lanterns, which line the chaotic cobbled streets of Chinatown. Hidden within this eclectic mix of cultures, is an organic artistic scene which sets Georgetown apart as a diverse and unique centre for arts and culture.

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Photo credit: Emily Jones 
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Photo credit: Emily Jones 

In terms of economic opportunities, maybe Penang has work to do if it’s to successfully shape the rich identity of its capital city in line with the economic objectives of the global market. But I can’t help thinking that such financially charged initiatives may diminish the rawness of the place I fell in love with, wherein cosmopolitan western influences will inevitably seep through the narrow lanes, overshadowing the street murals and the wrought iron structures which scatter the walls and tell the stories of the city’s past with sleeker, more polished forms of art.

The summer months are defined by the infamous Georgetown Festival, which veils the city in a month-long celebration of world-class arts performances and local community initiatives. My time here brimmed with endless street parties and performances, sitting amongst locals in roadside plastic chairs as the sun went down, and queueing at the infamous hawker carts for the most authentic cuisines.

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Photo credit: Emily Jones
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Photo credit: Emily Jones 

We wandered through rusty doorways to find art exhibitions in unlikely spaces. Canvas sheets hung from the ceiling, inked with poetry encapsulating the raw emotion of the human heart in Malaysian, Chinese and English; the intricacies of Penang’s cultural identity tied together in a string of sprawling words. As I crept through this shadowy abandoned building, running fingers through foreign symbols, I smiled at the poignancy of those poems which defined the vulnerabilities of human condition, no matter the language, or the culture.

Georgetown made me feel, it made me question; it made me curious and inspired. For all these reasons and so many more, Georgetown is a Creative City, irrespective of the accreditation it is yet to achieve.