WORK IN PROGRESS: Historic Castleberry Hill could become Atlanta's hot art gallery district

Can Castleberry Hill become Atlanta's new art district?

The downtown neighborhood --- or rather its 40-acre historic district, located near the railroad tracks southeast of Philips Arena --- has long been home to artists and other loft-lovers who found suitable living and working spaces in its old warehouses and storefronts. At present, two contemporary art galleries --- Skot Foreman Fine Art and Ty Stokes --- call Castleberry home.

But look what's stirring:

  • The well-established Marcia Wood Gallery is decamping from south Buckhead and will debut its expanded space on Walker Street in January.
  • Artists Carolyn Carr and Michael Gibson, who have lived in Castleberry Hill since 1997, have just opened Garage Projects, an alternative exhibition space in, yes, their garage, which they plan to rent out for individual and group shows. In addition to renovating that space, they are redoing the facade of their building so that it contains niches for public art.
  • Wolf Fischel, a lawyer turned art dealer, is about to finalize plans to open Montage Gallery, featuring black-and-white photography, on the second floor of the Carr-Gibson property.
  • Jason Wertz, the owner of Kubatana Moderne in south Buckhead, has big dreams for a multi-gallery complex in an old meatpacking facility just across the street from The Garage.

Art galleries are now scattered throughout metro Atlanta. Buckhead claims the largest number. They cluster, mostly in twos and threes, in a variety of places across its swath. One needs a car and a map to visit them all. In contrast, Castleberry's size would permit a walkable concentration of galleries similar to the warehouse district in New Orleans orChelsea in New York.

That said, previous attempts at artistic synergy elsewhere in Atlanta have failed. The Studioplex, a live-work environment in a rehabbed tire factory in the Old Fourth Ward, opened with several galleries as well as artists' studios, but most of the galleries have closed.

Like the Studioplex, Castleberry Hill is off the beaten path for gallery-goers. When Marcia Wood polled her clients, she found that many didn't even know where it is.

So what about ''location, location, location?''

A couple of Buckhead galleries queried said they consider it too remote. But Wood feels that marketing can address the problem.

"It will take work, because people have their routines," says Wood. "It's a matter of getting on people's maps."

Helpful to the cause is that the community is building up steam. Slice, a high-end pizzeria, is under construction there. The Castleberry Hill Market, set to open next month, will be an open-air affair at Walker and Fair streets, selling flowers, organic vegetables, collectibles and such. Its owners, Katrena Griggs and Keith Williams, plan to create a community theater in an adjacent building. Meanwhile, the Peters Street Market and Cafe is drawing more of the business crowd at lunch. There are a couple of hair salons and a day spa, and new loft buildings are going up on vacant land.

Despite its rawness, the area's historic character is also a plus. Castleberry grew up in the 19th century to service the nearby railroads, which meant manufacturing and trade facilities as well as saloons and brothels. It contains the largest concentration of old warehouses downtown. The police horses, stabled in Castleberry, that trot down city streets add to the ambience.

"It's about the architecture, the urban energy," Wood says. "It could be a really synergistic [situation]."

Fischel feels the same way. "I looked in Miami Circle, in Buckhead, all over," says the Detroit native, already looking at home sitting in the Peters Street Market. "I felt there was a lot of energy here. I thought it could be a really dynamic place."

Carr and Gibson, who join him at the table, clearly relish the changes going on around them.

And Kubatana's Wertz can barely contain his excitement about Castleberry's possibilities. He has his heart set on converting a former meatpacking warehouse on Peters Street into a space for three galleries, including his own. (His lease in south Buckhead is up in March.)

"I've always loved the area," Wertz says, "and I think we could create an interesting dynamic between contemporary art and the historic buildings."

Wertz has spoken to New York architect Gordon Kipping, who worked with Frank Gehry on the Issey Miyake boutique inNew York, and Atlantan Amy Landesberg, who has designed two handsome galleries for Marilyn Kiang, about plans for renovating the original structure --- now dilapidated and painted a shocking pink --- and enlarging it with a contemporary addition. Wertz estimates that it will take $1.2 million to purchase and build out, with the cost to be shared with the other galleries that become involved. Each dealer would own his own space.

Wertz, a purveyor of African and African-American art, is actively engaged in luring partner galleries to join him in his ambitious project. Kiang, who has a temporary space in Midtown, is considering it.

"It could be fantastic if everybody went there," Kiang says. "It's a bit of a leap of faith at this point, but it's one of the places I am looking at."

Wood says she would sign up if the loose ends come together.

"It comes down to critical mass," Wertz says. "We need to bring down a number of signature galleries."

Carr feels confident that the arts will gravitate to Castleberry, whether the momentum continues at its present pace or slows down.

"When you go to see art, you need to get out of your frame of reference," she says. "People who come here are surprised to find such a neighborhood in Atlanta.

"I thought that if people could only see the possibilities, they could create the reality they wanted for themselves."

The Atlanta Journal and Constitution 11/17/03
by Catherine Fox - Staff

What's amazing about the Garage Projects isn't the fact that the facility was once a brothel and Mauldin Piano warehouse. Constructed during the Civil War, the building's had plenty of time to take up new uses. The most fascinating thing about the Garage Projects isn't with the diverse exhibition schedule either, though viewing paintings on silk one month and seeing a collection of refrigerator magnet art the next is rather neat. Actually, the thing separating this place from all the other galleries in the area is with its mission. A direct response to availability constraints and obscene rental rates of exhibition spaces, Garage Projects offers local artists and curators an alternative.

-- DeMarco Williams
From the Editors: City Guid

OUTSIDE THE LINES: "Debut:" Storied Room with a Hue

WHAT IT IS: John Otte's "Debut" installation is at Garage Projects through June 22.

BACKGROUND: Otte, a well-known local DJ, lived in an upstairs room of 261 Peters St. for some time and admired the architecture of the whole building. Given a chance to show artwork in the downstairs garage that houses Garage Projects, he chose to exhibit paintings in a way that responded to the architecture.

THE MESSAGE: Otte's expressive paintings and drawings are mounted on wood panels that refer to the ceiling of the garage --- one spare panel was already on the premises. Installing the panels along the brick wall, he left a center segment of brick open. The dominant feature of that stretch of wall is a 10-inch gash in the brick, which Otte has highlighted by placing a staghorn fern next to it. The found objects --- including dead flowers --- a gestural drawing on pre-printed designs and other aspects of the installation suggest the building's long history as well as Otte's relationship with it. The scratched and scraped wood is a direct reference to the restoration. And the visual rhythms mix elements much like Otte mixes sound as a DJ. Plus, there are other private references and in-jokes worth trying to figure out.

Jerry Cullum  For the Journal-Constitution

Bryan Schellinger's Candy Coded

Garage Projects seems to be inspiring artists to really spread their wings and present exhibitions that are wildly inventive and utilize a wide number of mediums. I've been watching Bryan Schellinger's upcoming show come together over the last several months and I have the feeling that the individual parts of the show (paintings, video, sound, sculpture etc.) will add up to an installation that expresses more than the sum of its parts. And if my gut is right, then the show is a must-see because the parts look pretty terrific.  For those who are into the homo-erotic nature of ultimate fighting, Schellinger has produced a video work based on re-videoed UFC bouts that at one level certainly pumps up the homo side of things and is almost worth the trip to Castleberry. Fellow artist John Otte was the DJ.