Atlanta’s Tiny Doors are a beloved part of the city’s landscape, and chances are you’ve seen one. Karen Anderson Singer, the artist known as Tiny Doors ATL, has been creating her ubiquitous miniature doors and installing them across Atlanta since 2014. I recently met with Singer at the Rainbow Door (also known as Tiny Door 2) which is located along the BeltLine just across from the Old Fourth Ward Skatepark. The bright pink door is centered underneath a colorful rainbow with the words “happy PRIDE atl” painted above it.
“The rainbow door has a little more of me in it than the rest,” said Singer. It was installed eight years ago in celebration of Atlanta Pride and was initially intended to remain for only the month of October. Instead, this Tiny Door has persisted and is now a cultural icon.
Despite an overwhelmingly positive reception at its unveiling, Singer did have to return time and time again to clean off homophobic slurs and tags from the door and surrounding wall. The harassment was familiar and unsettling. “I came out as a teenager, and started the Gay-Straight Alliance in my conservative high school,” explained Singer who identifies as queer. “We faced bullying from kids and teachers alike, and even some hate mail from the community.” Instead of giving up and taking down her work she instead dedicated even more of herself to the Rainbow Door.
“After the first few times I buffed out a homophobic slur or tag on the rainbow, I realized that painting the rainbow itself was an act of resilience. I have probably spent 100 hours sitting under the bridge, chatting with people who stop by while I’m painting. The Rainbow Door really is a love letter to LGBTQIA Atlanta.”
While the Rainbow Door does hold a place of special significance in Singer’s life, the entire project is truly a gesture of affection from Tiny Doors ATL to the city. And it all began in Krog Street Tunnel.
A recent art school grad, Singer moved to Reynoldstown and was inspired by the public art in the area, particularly in the Krog Street Tunnel. She crafted her first door and installed it there, half-expecting to see it buffed over by the next day. After all, Singer knew that street art is inherently impermanent. Instead, she noticed that neighbors began leaving items like tiny cats, pumpkins, and even a tiny newspaper with a story about the door on it. It was a whimsical exchange and with that a spark was lit in Singer. Today, Tiny Doors ATL is responsible for 20+ publicly accessible Tiny Doors and even more installed within private businesses or buildings including the Georgia Aquarium, Fox Theatre, Atlanta BeltLine, Atlanta Botanical Garden, and most recently Fernbank Museum.
“Doors represent entry, and a Tiny Door is an opportunity to enter your imagination,” said Singer. The process to create a new door is thorough and intentional. Spending up to a year to research the area and plan the design, she ensures that the pieces capture the spirit of the neighborhood and feel authentic within the community.
When she installed that first door, Singer had no idea just the scope of impact that these doors would have. “It has been an incredible surprise, year after year, to hear from people around the world, and to find that people are still engaged and curious. I find tiny items left in front of the doors often, and it’s the highest compliment!” Singer is now a full-time artist, Atlantic Station’s artist-in-residence, Co-Chair of the BeltLine Public Art Advisory Council on which she has served for over three years, and was even awarded a key to the City of Atlanta back in 2018. In case you’re curious, yes it’s a miniature key.
Creating each door is a labor of love. The original Tiny Door sculptures are made from wood, clay, and mixed media. They are then molded and cast in resin to create weatherproof replicas which she installs and paints by hand. “The process is customized for each location. Installing on the concrete face of State Farm Arena takes totally different materials than the smooth granite of the Fox Theatre.”
Singer’s love for miniatures dates all the way back to her childhood growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan when she became interested in sculpture and started making her own dollhouse furniture. More comfortable in the art studio than on the playground, she later gravitated to music and played bass in a touring punk band during her twenties. “Seeing how art and music brought people together stayed with me and inspired me to go to art school.” Following graduation from Rutgers University she relocated to Atlanta and found a sense of community in Reynoldstown where she lives with her wife to this day. Her Tiny Doors are able to act as a sort of conduit for conversation between the artist and the communities that surround them.
Commissioned projects, both big and small, have been one of the more unexpected perks of working as a full time artist. For these works Singer is tasked with getting to know what is important to a group of people, and that’s true whether you’re considering an entire neighborhood, an awards ceremony, or even an NBA team. “My biggest inspiration has always been people,” she explained. The long list of clients she has worked with include Coca-Cola, Microsoft, the Atlanta Hawks, NCAA, Mailchimp, PBR, Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Mellow Mushroom, Children’s and Healthcare of Atlanta. Her work has gained a significant following on social media and has inspired similar projects from Alabama to Australia.
There is also some exciting news on the horizon. Singer will soon be releasing a new book called What’s Behind the Tiny Doors? at Atlantic Station on November 19. Illustrated by local artist Alex Ferror, the book follows the story of an 8-year old girl who comes upon a Tiny Door and then sets out on a grand adventure to discover what is behind the doors. “Along the way she learns more about her surrounding community, discovers the power of her own imagination, and ultimately makes a tiny door of her own!” shared Singer.
While I spoke with Singer on the BeltLine that day, she was approached by easily a half dozen passers-by who thanked her for her work and asked her questions or wanted a picture with the artist. She told me that one of her favorite things is to hear that visitors are brought to find the doors as a way of experiencing Atlanta, serving as a sort of public art guidebook or scavenger hunt. If you want to find some yourself, check out the Tiny Doors interactive map which has been viewed over 600,000 times by folks looking to find these whimsical installations.