Litigator Uses Skills to Support Arts
Bennett Bryan volunteers for Living Walls, promoting perspective changes via street art
Growing up in Milwaukee, Bennett Bryan saw plenty of graffiti and street art. As a teen he liked to paint murals with his friends, but he also was interested in politics and majored in political science. "By the time I went to law school, I knew my skills were more analytical than artistic," he said. "A lawyer was absolutely what I was meant to be. I leave the public art to the professionals now."
As a board member of Living Walls, though, Bryan uses his legal skills to support the art he loves. Founded in Atlanta about four years ago, Living Walls is a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote, educate and change perspectives about public space via street art.
How did you find out about this group?
Many of my clients are in the creative industries, and a friend told me about Living Walls. I went to the first conference four years ago and was sold from the perspective of a fan and a former practitioner. I thought it was a great idea and movement. Monica Campana helped found the project in 2010 by inviting street artists from around the world to paint murals here in Atlanta. I've been involved from mostly an administrative position.
What does that mean exactly?
I guess you could say I helped legalize the group. I helped write the articles of incorporation and get it through the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. There are contracts to draw up with building owners and artists, as well as gaining the approvals and permits from city governments and communities. The art may be cutting edge, but we strive to do a good job of playing by all the rules. There are a lot of hurdles to jump before an artist starts work.
What about this organization speaks to you?
I love its multiple missions. It started out as a way to bring art to the public. The artists generally paint in places of blight. It brings new attention to those areas of the city that are otherwise largely ignored. It gives people something to look at besides blank walls, but it also brings people and communities together to talk about the issues they face. Murals have increased property values and helped spur urban rehabilitation. They have also raised Atlanta's profile in the international art market. The group began with huge eyes and a big appetite, not knowing what whether they could attract international artists or get permission from owners, but we've seen the momentum grow quickly.
What form is that momentum taking?
Most of the actual murals are painted for an annual conference. This year's conference was in August, and it's jam-packed with events. If you drive around the city now, you can see 21 murals in various stages of completion. There will be movies, block parties, an historic tour of Edgewood Avenue, and a lecture series with ATL History Twins, Rebecca Burns, Assasta Richards, Marcos Feldman and Lisa Murch discussing the interaction of public art and the effect it has on the community. There also will be a gallery of work by this year's 20 artists and a performance by rapper, Killer Mike. On Sunday, there will be a bike tour of all the walls—there are about 100 around the city now. It's all free to the public. This conference is a great way to come together and talk about art, how we should use our public spaces, and to highlight problems facing our city. Art is a great conversation starter.