By Patrick Dennis

I am an artist and I’ve been thinking…

About Peru. It’s probably a reaction to the wear and tear on my artistic nature from Snowpocalypse and subsequent news videos of all those people who were truly slammed by the “storm of the century” all along its path from St. Louis to Boston that just made me think there are going to be a lot of babies born this October, but I can’t help but think of sunny Peru and its inviting arts culture.

In Lima, there is a weekend artist market operated by the city, with vendors selling their indigenous handcrafts like weaving, beadwork and jewelry at uniform carts that fold up at night, surrounded by concentric circles of artists with their gloriously colorful paintings on easels and screens along Kennedy Park’s paths which are dotted with sculpture and fountains.
The park is in the “midtown” area with restaurants, hotels and, of course, many churches. People walk, buy, eat and pray with a guidebook in tow that says the Market is a “must do in Peru.” And it really is. Despite Peru’s fondness for “tent cities” where locals set up hundreds of stalls in alleyways to trade goods and produce, the market in Kennedy Park sets a standard that exceeds the Montmartre in Paris or Portobello Road in London with quality, safety and an enticing “I’ve got to have it” allure.
When I stayed in Lima for a few weeks, I saw people walk through the park looking lost because there was no market during the week. I suspect they went into the local churches to ask the saints, “What the heck?” but extended their visit through the weekend so as not to miss the market. Sure, there’s the pristine coastline, Amazon River, Machu Pichu and the Sacred Valley, but that market has what I want! The thing is, I want it here in Atlanta.

I was fortunate to meet a lovely woman named Patricia from Peru who came to Atlanta with about 2,000 blankets and scarves. She set up shop during the holidays at the Holiday Shops at Atlantic Station and got everybody hooked on the soft cashmere feeling and warmth of alpaca, then went home. It was a terrible feeling when she left, like when my favorite Starbucks closed. Before she left she asked me why we wait all year for a special time that artists can sell their paintings (meaning festivals and holidays). I told her we have one weekend outdoor market in Atlanta at Atlantic Station. It’s a solid reason for people to go there every weekend.
But could it be that Peru has us beat in the use of outdoor space for art?  It made me more determined than ever to work on cultivating a friendlier environment for artists to sell their work to the public.  Weekend artist markets draw visitors, encourage people to get out of their cars, breathe life and color into the neighborhood economy while reducing crime.  Artist Markets are sort of like a cultural super power.

There have been some excellent efforts to bring art to the public outside museum or gallery walls.  The Atlantic Station Market (www.atlanticstationmarket.com) has operated for five years every weekend from March to November, bringing an eclectic mix of art and craft to this outdoor shopping center.

The Midtown Pop Up Shops and Artist Market (www.facebook.com Midtown Artist Market) introduced a new look and vibrancy to Peachtree St.  We’ve grown accustomed to the vacancies. Who knew it could get artsy?

The Dashboard Co-Op (www.dashboardco-op.org) event on Brady Street in January was an innovative and daring way to show art in an empty warehouse.  The 2nd Friday Art Stroll on Castleberry Hill (www.castleberryhillartstroll.com) was voted “best neighborhood art walk” in a recent publication.

I confess that as I researched options for artists, I gravitated indoors to a favorite spot, Bennett Street Gallery (www.bennettstgallery.com). This traditional gallery has a friendly staff, the artwork approachable and the intimacy of the space is relaxing.  But I was the only person there, so clearly there is work to do.

The Bennett Street businesses could benefit from creating an outdoor artist market on the weekends to draw visitors, but then so could Castleberry Hill, Peachtree St. in midtown and just about anywhere in Atlanta. Without regular weekend artist markets, will there ever be an environment like Kennedy Park in Atlanta? I think the Peruvian ambassador might be able to give Atlanta some art lessons.

Patrick Dennis is an artist, gallery owner and President of the Atlanta Foundation for Public Spaces. He lives in Atlanta.  Email: Patrick@affps.com

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.