Travelogue: Forward Warrior 2023

On September 16, 2023, we had the honor and privilege to attend the Forward Warrior Mural event for the first time since the start of the Krog Codex Project. We watched as many vendors and staff set up their kiosks. Conversations were buzzing among artists and residents with excitement for the day. We toured the site and saw several murals in the early stages.

Artists starting to set up and prep their wall for their next piece (Artists in the picture above (right to left): Angela Bortone @angela_bortone, Lonnie Garner@lonnie.slaps, and Lisette Correa @arrrtaddict.
The rain caused some damage to murals like this one by Alex Ferror.

After about 2 hours of walking around, a slight drizzle began coming down, which turned into a hard downpour. We found shelter in the local dive bar, 97 Estoria, which is a local meeting place for local artists. We grabbed a small bite to pass the time. The rain persisted and was possibly even stronger by this time. Vendors and artists realized the rain would not stop any time soon and sought shelter about 15 minutes after we had come in. Artists began filling in tables at the once silent bar and gave it life with light conversations about their work and talks of shop. Others sat alone and sketched away, testing and mapping out their murals in their sketchbook. 

Benches at Estoria 97

By around 1 p.m., the rain had cleared, allowing the festivities to resume. As we left Estoria 97, we noticed a bench outside of the bar that had been tagged by several visitors. It reminded us of the walls of the Krog Street Tunnel since we recognized many tags of frequent artists we encountered during our visits to the tunnel. While this came as no surprise to us considering the bar is located directly across from the tunnel, it did show us the patterns of space usage of tunnel habitues. It also emphasizes the unspoken rules of not painting on houses and cars but everything is fair game.

The benches outside of 97 Estoria that have been tagged by visitors

Stacks Squares

We proceeded to the check-in table to obtain our press passes, and from there began to start up our interview process with artists, vendors, and any Forward Warrior staff or festival attendees. We started on Carroll Street to check out the Stacks Squares and eventually worked our way up Wylie Street.

Stacks Squares by @tommybronx
Stacks Squares sby @smeesh_bb
Stacks Squares by @opincreatedyou
Stacks Squares by @actionhankbeard
Stacks Squares by @oskiadejaleel
Stacks Squares by @pato.paints
Stacks Squares by @Tumatu_u
Stacks Squares by @dannie.niu
Stacks Squares by @eric_nine
Stacks Squares by @shumakerart

The usage of colors and levels of detail in every mural evoked a sense of inspiration and awe. We approached several artists and asked them what they were painting, their inspirations for each piece, and how they felt about being part of Foward Warrior.

Muralists

Liz Webb, one of the muralists at Forward Warrior, felt the need to honor the town of Cabbagetown and all its history and the community itself.

Her piece, also a collaboration with an artist named Nicholas Benson, employs a swampy theme and is surrounded by animals that represent Cabbagetown and exist in a bayou ecosystem. She explained,

“We definitely just wanted to make sure that the wall was dedicated to the community and the people that lived here and the people that matter the most because a lot of these are memorials of people that have passed away, like memories. And so that’s what I like to think of it, is like memories of artists that came through, memories of a historical sort of hallway that nobody really thinks of. It’s always changing.”

-Liz Webb

Jonny Warren, another Forward Warrior muralist, described his excitement to be at the event and what it meant for him to be creating art before the Cabbagetown community.

“… It’s just a really cool experience, getting to interact with people that will end up seeing it…it’s just nice having.. a wider audience.. for my work.”

-Jonny Warren

Jonny Warren’s finished mural displays a black bird with a beautiful sunset in the background.

Vendors

 Vendor stands were lined up and ran all the way down Wylie Street; they were also a major attraction at this event. While some vendors sold handmade jewelry and vintage clothing, others sold more distinctive pieces like uranium glassware and vinyl records. Many sold their art pieces. One booth did tarot card readings. Some vendors shared similar motivations for working at this event: They are aspiring artists, or they are art lovers or they have friends who are muralists and wanted to support them and watch them paint. 

Madison Silva, a hairstylist and gypsy artist who was selling hair products and her own personal art, explained her aspirations to be a muralist for Forward Warrior.

“.. I’m hoping that next year I get a wall so that I can paint on the walls. Probably a big fungi, and it’s literal, so like a mushroom with a big eye, probably. But I’ve been thinking about that a lot, but I’d probably start there.”

-Madison Silva

Some of the many vendors at the festival
Some vendor wares ranged from clothing, handmade jewelry, vinyls and much more

Asia-Lyn James, the owner of the tarot card reading booth was more than supportive of the Forward Warrior event. 

“I think it’s an awesome idea to showcase different art out here obviously because so many people are running past here and there’s a lot of different cute neighborhoods in the area. It gives them more exposure, which I think artists definitely need especially in Atlanta there needs to be more spaces for artists to be showcased. I think this is a great idea for them to be able to do that on a big scale.”

-Asia-Lyn James

Unique jewelry at vendor stands.

Mini Krog

By now, more groups of people began to explore the festival as 80’s dance floor classics blasted out the PA system and into the air. We returned to an exhibit called Mini Krog which we had encountered when we first began our initial walkthrough of the festival. The exhibit is a miniature facsimile of the Krog Street Tunnel made of plywood panels. 

Children were encouraged to use water-based aerosol cans to paint the panels to their liking. Parents and guardians stood nearby supervising their children and we once again bumped into the co-creator of the exhibit, Lisa Myers. 

On the Mini-Krog exhibit, she explained that it can:

“..Inspire the next artist to come enjoy our tunnel, to get a feel of what it’s like to do some spray work.”

As a resident of Cabbagetown, she expressed her thoughts and feelings about Forward Warrior.

“… you know,  [The muralists are professionals] and it’s amazing and I just want an opportunity for…the smaller creatives to be able to express themselves, as well… It was sort of a perfect fit to be like, “Let the pros go there and we’re going to have our little fun show here.”

-Lisa Myers

Myers also explained that the child-painted plywood panels are then repurposed to be exhibited at future Cabbagetown shows. Lisa was kind enough to introduce us to some of her friends who were painting in Forward Warrior, and other event organizers.

After conducting several interviews, we got the sense that neighborliness and affability are common traits of the Cabbagetown neighborhood and its arts community.

Arts Community

TheKillamari collaborated with Drew Borders using his Asian-American roots and Drew Border’s African-American roots as their inspiration. When we asked what he wished people would take away from his art, he stated,

“..I mean everybody says community but I really want people to see that because some people hear that and say “Oh, well everybody says that.” But you know like, me and [Drew Borders] working together, coming from two different backgrounds, it’s just like the perfect way to show that we can come together through art and do something beautiful for the community…. the people in these neighborhoods get involved, they donate money, they donate paint for us to be here to paint, so like they’re all about it… so it really is a community effort at Forward Warrior.” 

-TheKillamari

Everyone seemed to know everyone and their stories. Every artist and vendor was approachable to anyone who came by to talk to them whether it was to compliment their work or ask about the details of their mural.

Aziza Andre, a second-year Forward Warrior muralist described the freedom, diversity, and artistic liberty this mural project provides its artists.

“I have done a few murals around Atlanta. I want to say the piece I did last year was my favorite mostly because I had complete artistic control. I think a lot of different government projects I’ve worked on; they very closely control what you are designing or how you are designing it or implementing changes, and it was my first time that I got to do my concept solely from my own heart and just kind of keep it that way. That was another kind of inspiring and really cool aspect about it. I really like being a part of projects where I’m able to have my ideas the way I’ve thought about them.”

-Aziza Andre

Conclusion

Foot traffic at the Forward Warrior festival.

By 4 p.m., we had walked the entire length of the Wylie festival numerous times, endured the elements, and made many new connections. Before we left, we stopped at Vice Taco, a local food truck to grab al pastor tacos after a productive day. The tacos were enveloped in three blue corn, neatly folded tortillas, and the well-seasoned meat sizzled with flavor.  Overall, Forward Warrior is a beautiful experience and I recommend it to anyone interested in art, music, festivals, or Cabbagetown itself. There is something for everyone and it is open to the public. This event demonstrates how Cabbagetown is built around visual arts. The mix of Cabbagetown residents and the artistic community makes this a memorable event for all who come for a visit. If anyone missed out this year, no worries, there is always next year!

Thank you Cabbagetown and Forward Warrior for this experience and I’ll see you next September!

A Soundtrack Below the Tracks: Busking and Public Performance in Krog Tunnel and Atlanta.

While doing our weekly survey on August 26th, we observed an individual playing a brass instrument while passing through the tunnel. This sound permeated throughout the tunnel and was an entertaining variation from the regular sounds of cars, footsteps, and quiet chatter that usually echo in the tunnel. Around a year ago, the tunnel actually had a public piano installed by a local non-profit, Play Me Again Pianos, which supplies and maintains hand-painted pianos to public spaces and businesses. This piano has since been retired, but we were able to capture its sound in use last September. Although these two musicians were simply passing through, there is an entire culture and economy around performing in public spaces for an audience. Street Performance, also known as busking, is the act of performing in a public space, sometimes for tips or other gratuities. 

Person playing piano in the tunnel. September 17, 2022.

You can often see these folks on the BeltLine, occasionally downtown, and outside large gatherings. But the Krog tunnel seems to be a venue that isn’t being utilized. It is already implied that it is a space of unrestricted self-expression, there is ample space for passing and stationary pedestrianism, and the space is equipped with a unique set of spatial acoustics. In fact, there seem to be several spaces throughout metro Atlanta. that could be utilized for performance, but aren’t. So why aren’t performing artists using the space? The answer to this could lie in laws regarding public solicitation and noise that are often shrouded in legal jargon. This diminishes opportunities for valuable creative expression in metro Atlanta. 

Audio of a person playing the horn in the tunnel. August 26, 2023.

Busking and street performance without a permit is legal in Atlanta as long as they maintain noise levels, do not verbally or explicitly solicit money from viewers, and perform within a certain window of time during the day (Atlanta, Ga.- Code of Ordinances. Ch 74, Article IV, Sec. 74-129). 2017). However, as with any metropolitan area, there are differing expectations of how space should be used. Businesses, residents, and other onlookers can report the performance as a noise disturbance. If the performer has a tip jar out, this could be misinterpreted as panhandling. Additionally, past codes have outlawed or greatly restricted public performances.  A 1993 city ordinance cracked down on street vendors without permits and, in some interpretations of this, street performers were included under this umbrella (Atlanta, Ga.-Code of Ordinances. Ch. 30, Article XXXIV, Sec. 30-1482). This specific ordinance requires a $50 street permit in order to sell food or merchandise outside of a business zoned to do so. One subsection of this ordinance includes “street music” as a service that requires a permit. Despite a separate ordinance stating that street performance is free and legal, this conflicting measure states otherwise. This was an issue that even the ACLU spoke out on.

In the years since several ordinances on panhandling have been passed, some with conflicting definitions of what panhandling is along with varying levels of enforcement; another law that street performers were occasionally grouped in. In 2013, an amendment to Atlanta’s existing panhandling laws included a statute that prohibited solicitation within 15 feet of any entrance. This includes businesses, private and public buildings, parking garages, and festival entrances (Atlanta, Ga.-Code of Ordinances. Ch. 106, Article III, Sec. 106-85. 2013). This greatly impacted the types of spaces that performers were presumably safe to perform in, as buskers were still at risk of being persecuted under solicitation laws. Following the passage of the “aggressive panhandling” code, two buskers were arrested after performing with their instrument cases open and accepting tips. One was a 20-year-old trombonist outside of Turner Field (now Center Parc Stadium) named Eryk McDaniel and the other was a Brooklyn Violinist in a MARTA station who went by the name Johnny Arco. McDaniel spent the night in custody, and Arco spent six nights in custody, according to a Creative Loafing Article written about the arrests. At this point, even some city council members acknowledged that the literature surrounding street performance was confusing and that it should be made more clear that the act is legal within certain behavioral parameters. However, the ordinances that risk street performance being criminalized still remain within the extensive code of ordinances. All of these codes have accumulated into varying and inconsistent reactions from law enforcement agencies to isolated situations, often not in favor of the rights of the performers. This unpredictability and lack of communication about the content of the laws have likely scared street performers from exhibiting their work anywhere but the spots where they are habitually safe from harassment. 

There are some programs that strive to bridge the gap between the legality of impromptu public art and performance and varying codes and ordinances. The city of Decatur has a permit program for busking and performers in order to maintain safety for performers and patrons and ensure space for performers in the city’s many public/private spaces. This program is facilitated by an arts alliance and is not an official ordinance. MARTA’s ArtBound program is the agency’s visual and performance art program and regularly schedules musical performances throughout stations. Like graffiti, busking has inherent ties to American railroads and commuter trains. However, this program doesn’t encapsulate the spontaneity of true busking: performers are discouraged from performing for tips (as they are paid by the agency) and are not scheduled to perform on the trains, only in station concourses. Nonetheless, these performances can still bring a new life to the regular activity in streets and train stations, as traditional busking would. 

Live music can change the spirit of the environment it’s in, a change that can be interpreted as a welcomed shift, or a public nuisance. The benefits of allowing creative expression within reasonable parameters outweigh any rare instances of folks using their time and talent to create negativity or “disturb the peace.” For many, seeing a public performer was their first interaction with live music. Busking also gives new and seasoned musicians the opportunity to see how their work sounds or feels to perform in front of strangers. Additionally, busking can be a way of celebrating and rewarding pedestrianism, and points of social connection in the urban landscape. These performances aren’t necessarily something you can interact with in an automobile. Music, undoubtedly, is a force that can make people come together and realize we share more in common with one another than not. And in a city as musically inclined as Atlanta, more music and more sound can have the power to increase community pride and participation. In the context of the tunnel, busking could be a sort of sonic graffiti, as it temporarily and easily draws the attention of the pedestrians that pass through and adds to the multi-sensory experience of the tunnel.  

Graffiti Is Hip Hop: Celebrating Hip-hop’s Cultural Impact and Ties to Graffiti Culture on its 50th Anniversary

This summer artists, cities, museums, schools, libraries and other cultural and historical organizations celebrated hip-hop and its cultural contributions for its 50th anniversary. The summer was packed with observances the pay homage to the cultural movement such as festivals, like the popular SummerStage seasonal concert series in NYC and Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture annual Block Party in D.C.; retrospective programs, such as The Book of HOV exhibit at Brooklyn Public Library’s Central branch and the Hip-hop turns 50 reading list and Bay-area Hip-hop archive at the Oakland Public Library; and commemorative transit cards from MARTA and MTA

Hip-hop has been one of the most widely spread African American cultural productions and social movements of the 20th century and the entire 21st century so far. As a genre that developed in the modern media age, the general public has watched it evolve into the contemporary iterations and sub genres that make up a sprawling family tree of sorts. A tree whose roots and branches make palpable imprints on the forms of arts and culture we enjoy today. This spread and popularity is not only evident in the characteristics of current pop- and sub-culture, but is also backed by in-depth statistical media analysis. In 2015, researchers at the Queen Mary University and Imperial College in London published a report that analyzed the frequencies, tones, and harmonic patterns of charting songs in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 charts from 1960-2010. They found that songs representing elements that the researchers categorized under hip-hop, rap, and r&b started dominating charts starting in 1991. This influx of rap-related music tags was the largest revolution in their period of research, with researchers stating that “The rise of rap and related genres appears…. to be the single most important event that has shaped the musical structure of the American charts in the period that we studied” (Mauch, et al., 2015). 

On our July 29th tunnel survey, we found large pieces by FDC, Kaos, PFE, and other well known Atlanta graffiti artists that honored Hip-hop’s 50th anniversary. These pieces, located along the highly visible and large Dekalb Ave retaining wall, displayed an extensive ode to hip-hop culture through old-school style graffiti. In addition to the large pieces, there is usually at least one reference to hip hop (lyrics, iconography, ads, or material culture) in the tunnel at any time. Though the anniversary pieces were clearly hip-hop themed, the act of tagging and writing itself is an element of and an homage to hip-hop culture. Though modern iterations of hip-hop and graffiti may seem like two separate art forms that developed independently, they are historically and inherently tied to each other. Of course, the act of graffiti has been around for centuries, but its contemporary rise, evolution, acceptance, and commercialization coincides with hip-hop’s rise to mainstream culture. 

Five Hip Hop 50th anniversary murals as seen from Dekalb Ave. Digital Photographs, July 29th, 2023. Krog Codex Archive, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia.

Hip-hop in its earliest forms could be described as the fusion of subcultures of the African and Caribbean Diaspora that were prominent in urban epicenters — e.g. the Ballroom Scene, African American poetry and story-telling, Jazz, and Disco —  with electronic music that was being developed in the U.S. and internationally. Colloquially, we tend to think of hip-hop as the predecessor and blueprint for contemporary rap. But hip hop describes a collection of cultural production, which includes four pillars; MCing (lyricism), DJing (audio), breakdancing/b-boying (movement dance), and graffiti/writing (visual). Other facets of this youth-led subculture include fashion, language/slang, and knowledge of the movement and its influences. Within the vernacular of the culture, folks who participated in the graffiti aspect of the movement were often called “writers.” There writers would throw-up, etch, bomb, or simply put, write, their unique tag on workable surfaces. Other modes of street art, like murals, installations, and posters put up without permission are distinguishable from writing and graffiti, but can still overlap. Writing was widely practiced within and outside of the community and several hip hop music pioneers were writers before emerging themselves in the world of music production.

Tribute to late Hip-Hop producer and MC, MF DOOM. Digital Photograph, June 17th, 2023. Krog Codex Archive, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia.

According to Hip-hop folklore, the hip-hop sound was performed for the first time at a dorm party in Bronx, NYC in 1973 by DJ Kool Herc. Kool Herc himself was a prolific writer before the genesis of the genre, who used the tag/moniker “CLYDE IS KOOL” and ran with a crew called the Ex-Vandals. In the same year, graffiti received its “big break” in the form of a highly publicized gallery exhibition organized by the United Graffiti Artist collective.

DJ Kool Herc speaking on the party that sparked the birth of Hip-hop and showing off some of his techniques on the turn tables.

The early hip-hop and rap community crowned graffiti as its aesthetic, as it represented creative expression in the increasingly postindustrial urban environment of 1970’s NYC. The association of the two mediums is evident because of their geographic proximity to each other. But the bridge between hip hop and graffiti was pioneered by Fab 5 Freddy– a street artist and a hip hop producer who coined the four pillars/elements of hip-hop (mentioned above) and eventually became the first host of Yo! MTV Raps. Through collaboration with fellow visual artists, up and coming hip hop musicians, and other cultural movements in the 1970s-80s (such as the No Wave genre, video artists, and the popular bands Blondie and The Clash) he played a huge part in uplifting and advancing hip hop out of local obscurity into charting music. 

Excerpt from Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor. Fab 5 Freddy meets Blondie (with Basquiat and The Clash)

The birth of hip hop is an example of marginalized creatives using music as an agent of empowerment, the same way writing claims space in the absence of ownership and autonomy within a space or community. Writing and hip hop were also, simply put, created out of an urge to impress and creatively collaborate with peers. Hip-hop, and more specifically writing, are disciplines generated out of the lack of permission. Hip hop producers and lyricists made an entire genre out of toying with mainstream and obscure sounds that weren’t what big labels and radio stations were looking for. And graffiti, of course, was seen as an act of destruction and is outright illegal in most contexts. 

Segment from MOCAtv’s Art in the Streets series featuring Jean Michel Basquiat and Fab 5 Freddy speaking about the Fun Gallery in NYC.

The history of Hip-hop is well documented and there are many scholarly sources with great information on its history and origins. In terms of monetary success of artists, hip hop has also fared better over time. But this contrast is not a point of strife between the two art forms; instead there is an understood solidarity and appreciation of each other. Throw-ups, Wildstyle, and Anti-style, among so many other styles are intrinsic to, and illustrative of hip-hop. Graffiti is hip hop. Graffiti helped spread hip-hop culture and vice-versa. This creative boom and subsequent spread over time to the Western and Southern United States, proliferated both subcultures. Creative spaces like the Krog Tunnel, where the art form can be practiced without prosecution, emerged much later in its history. Nonetheless, Krog Tunnel has been part of Atlanta’s Hip Hop milieu. It’s not uncommon to see up and coming artists filming music videos in the tunnel, notably a 2015 Young Thug video. 

Sample breakdown of A Tribe Called Quest’s Bonita Applebaum by Tracklib

For more comprehensive and visually impressive accounts of hip-hop and rap’s evolution, we recommend Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor, a graphic novel series that recounts individual stories from the early days of hip hop as well as an upcoming graphic history novel by Walter Greason and Tim Felder, The Graphic History of Hip Hop. An intersection of rap and hip hop lyricism synthesized with spatial data in Atlanta can be explored on Rap Maps, a project by a fellow Map Lab cohort here at Georgia State. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop by Jeff Chang is one of the most comprehensive histories of early hip hop and traces many artist’s history and association with graffiti. Additionally, The New York Public Library System is participating in this summer’s celebrations and has lots of great information on Hip Hop’s history as a performing art. 

Works Cited

Mauch, Matthias, Robert M. MacCallum, Mark Levy, and Yong-Yeol Ahn, 2015. “The evolution of popular music: usa 1960–2010”, Royal Society Open Science(5), 2:150081. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.150081