Brookhaven city officials are banking on the arts enhancing residents’ quality of life — as well as adding to its coffers — with the approval of a $90,000 contract for an arts and culture master plan.

The City Council on Aug. 27 unanimously approved awarding the contract to Boston-based CivicMoxie, the same planning firm behind such arts master plans for the Atlanta Regional Council, Art on the Atlanta BeltLine and the city of Dunwoody.

Atlanta artist Dianna Settles with her mural that was painted in Northeast Plaza in 2017. The mural was one of many painted in Brookhaven as part of the Living Walls/We Love BuHi street art conference to raise awareness of the lives of immigrants, especially those living on Buford Highway. (File)

In metro Atlanta, Brookhaven has to find a way to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack, Susan Silberberg, founder and principal of CivicMoxie, told the council at a work session before its regular meeting.

“This includes working around branding, defining who you are,” she said. “Arts and culture are part of that.”

The city has already made a splash on the local art scene. The annual Brookhaven Arts Festival attracts thousands to the city each October. Thousands more pack Blackburn Park each March for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival for live music and arts fair.

In 2017, the city worked heavily with organizers of a Living Walls/We Love BuHi street art conference to ensure artists could paint massive murals depicting immigrant experiences on public buildings along Buford Highway, an epicenter of metro Atlanta’s international communities.

The city in 2017 also made international headlines when it agreed to accept a controversial “Young Girl’s Statue of Peace” to honor the so-called comfort women who were sexually trafficked by the Japanese military during World War II. Brookhaven accepted the statue after the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta declined to allow the statue on its property.

An Arts Advisory Committee was formed last year to study the entire arts landscape in Brookhaven to identify and evaluate potential public, performing, visual and cultural art projects. Their first major task will be working with CivicMoxie on coming up with the arts and culture master plan and then be responsible for implementing recommendations when the plan is completed.

Public art is also planned to be installed along the Peachtree Creek Greenway.

“We are looking at arts and culture as part of the whole picture … and how it supports everything else in the city,” Silberberg said. “They really do touch everything.”

Creating the city’s arts and master plan is expected to take seven months, Silberberg said. The process includes meeting and interviewing stakeholders, such as business owners, civic groups, individuals, and city staff.

City Councilmember Linley Jones asked whether CivicMoxie would be doing outreach to the city’s Hispanic communities. Silberberg said they would make sure to do so.

Arts and culture master plans have been cropping up in area cities over the past several years. Josh Phillipson, who heads up arts and culture with the Atlanta Regional Commission, said the driving force for most municipalities is the positive economic impact.

In metro Atlanta, direct economic impact in metro Atlanta is estimated at $720 million, he said. Each municipality is eager to get a slice of the multimillion-dollar pie.

But other benefits include creating a community identity, he said, and becoming a place where people are proud to live and work.
Arts and culture can also tell the stories of the people who live in a city, especially as gentrification continues to displace residents living in such areas as Buford Highway, Phillipson said.

There are many instances of area where an emphasis is placed on arts and culture increases property values and forcing longtime residents out. Art and culture can be used to preserve their histories, he added, so when new people move in they know there was a community before they came.

But with Atlanta so close, why should smaller cities invest much money in the arts and culture when they can take a short trip to the city to visit the High Museum of Art or the Fox Theatre?

“I question if that is a short drive or a long drive in traffic,” Phillipson said.

“Proximity is very important on whether someone decides to go or not to go to an arts and culture event. I would never say a Little Five Points deserves a Horizon Theatre and [Brookhaven] doesn’t,” he said.

And public art is not a destination, he added. “It’s something you want to see when you leave your house, when you’re not even trying to have an arts experience because it’s already there.”