Hundreds of people gathered at Northeast Plaza in Brookhaven on Saturday, Sept. 16, for a night market and block party created by We Love BuHi and Living Walls as part of the Living Walls public art conference.
DJs, live entertainment, vendors and, of course, food highlighted the festival that brought together people from many backgrounds and cultures. Here are what some attendees thought:
Dianna Settles’ mural in Northeast Plaza is a tribute to the young women who are members of Athena’s Warehouse at Cross Keys High School, a nonprofit dedicated to educating and empowering underserved teen girls in metro Atlanta.
As part of the Living Walls and We Love BuHi public art project along Buford Highway, artists engaged with members of the community for one month before deciding what to paint, Settles said. In her discussions with students, immigration and the intersection of violence was a common theme, she said, and that invisibility is a form of violence. She said she and the girls talked about the deep sense of responsibility immigrant children feel to their families for the sacrifices they made to move the U.S. and also the social responsibility they feel to other migrants and women of color.
“I want to uphold the experiences of these people, especially in light of the current political situation, with the end of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals),” Settles said. “Now more than ever we need these stories, these strong images, as prominent as possible.
Settles said she hopes her mural and other murals will be a “beacon of beauty and resilience” to women of color and immigrants who can now see themselves depicted strongly in such a large scale.
Brookhaven resident Marian Liou, founder of We Love BuHi, has worked for more than a year with Living Walls co-founder and executive director Monica Campana to highlight the diversity of Buford Highway through what they named the BuHi Walk. She praised the city of Brookhaven, and especially Mayor John Ernst and Community Development Director Patrice Ruffin, for supporting the mission of the BuHi Walk. She also thanked Brixmor Property Group, leasing agent for Northeast Plaza, for making their space available.
“This is the first step to something bigger,” she said at the block party with music blasting in the background and surrounded by the buzz of conversations and laughter. She said she was happy to see people from many different backgrounds converging together on Buford Highway. “In this block, I always see a certain demographic. [Tonight] I see other people attending. I hope this creates more bridges and connections.”
Tim Keane, city of Atlanta’s Commissioner of City Planning and Community Development, was at the festival with Liou. He laughed when asked about his attendance and said he was attending the party because the two are dating.
“I’m literally here because we are dating,” he said.
When asked about his opinion other than being Liou’s boyfriend, he said the night market idea was perhaps unique to Atlanta.
He said that people tend to experience Buford Highway only one experience at a time, except at Plaza Fiesta. “It’s exciting to see the community side of it,” he said.
Monica Campana, co-founder and executive director of the seven-year-old Living Walls conference, said bringing the public art experience to Buford Highway this year was an intentional idea to elevate the communities living along the renowned corridor.
“It was time,” she said. “It’s been a long road to get here … and we’ve been engaging with the community for so long. It’s been enlightening and challenging … and through it all I have found this brand new incredible love for Atlanta and the immigrant communities that exist here.
“My heart feels very full,” said Campana, an immigrant from Peru. “I think we are here to make a statement and I think it shows.”
Sisters Ari Martinez and Annette Martinez and friend Jorge Cordova, of Norcross, were there to celebrate Buford Highway but also Mexican Independence Day.
“When we moved here from Los Angeles, we knew Buford Highway,” Ari said.
“We knew we could come here to the farmers market and fresh produce and any kind of food. It was always Buford Highway and Jimmy Carter [Boulevard],” she said.
“I love how really connected the communities are,” Annette said.
Jessica von Schlichten and Estaban Patino live in downtown Atlanta and said they were happy to see people from various parts of the city come to Buford Highway for the fest.
“You don’t usually see someone from Cabbagetown hanging out on Buford Highway,” Patino said. “These two areas coming together…I’m very happy to see it.”
Von Schlichten said she grew up near Buford Highway and wants to see the communities who live and work in the area stay lifted, their businesses supported and their cultures supported. “I want to see other parts of Atlanta come here and enjoying this culture,” she said.
Art, music and food are always great ways to bring people together as Buford Highway faces rapid development, she said.
“This is one of my favorite parts of Atlanta and I don’t want to see it get overrun like so many other areas in Atlanta, I don’t want to see it gentrified. I want to see it thrive and the people in this area supported.”
Julio Alcantara is vice president of SSG, a music company based on Buford Highway that puts out hip hop and corrido music, a popular Spanish music based on true stories.
“Atlanta is our stomping ground and we come out here to support Buford Highway,” he said.
“When we can get all our neighbors together, our families together and have a good time, it’s a lovely sight.”