Dashboard Co-Op Sees Beauty in Atlanta's Abandoned Structures

See what happens when two friends hatch a plan to revitalize the city's unloved buildings by marrying them with talented artists.

Photo by: Batterman Photography The neighborhood called the Old Fourth Ward continues to thrive and benefits from programs designed by the Dashboard Co-Op. 

You pass by them every day without giving them a second thought -- sad boarded up and seemingly abandoned buildings. Some of them have a historic past with lovely facades, storefronts with dirt-caked windows and for rent signs that go ignored. And if you’ve got artists friends, you’ve probably seen canvases piled up in the corner of a studio with nowhere to call home.

Entrepreneurs Beth Malone and Courtney Hammond grew tired of seeing these buildings all over Atlanta go unused and friends’ artwork go unseen. So, they decided to do something about it. So, one night as they sat in Midtown’s Highlander Bar, they hatched an ambitious plan to take over these spaces and stage them for art exhibits and performance spaces.

Perhaps it was the whiskey fueling their courage, as neither had any money to invest in such a plan, but they pledged $500 a piece and bought a URL that night.

“In 2009, $500 was a major investment for both of us,” Malone explained. “I was making $492 a month at a T-shirt shop and she was making negative money at a Web start-up.”

In spite of odds stacked against them, Dashboard Co-Op was born.

The Georgia natives, both 31, are by no means slouches. Malone is the Coordinator of Teen Programs at the High Museum of Art and holds a Masters of Letters from the University of Glasgow. Hammond has a BFA in sculpture and a BBA in marketing from Georgia State University and is a freelance Curator and the Project Consultant for the Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs Public Art Program.

Not only were they awarded a $30,000 grant from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, but also stacked up an impressive board of directors and show no signs of slowing down. Their latest collaboration with artists Ben Coleman and Henry Detweiler is entitled No Vacancy and opens on July 20, in a secret location. Watch their website for details

Dashboard Co-Op’s Beth Malone shared how she and Courtney got started – the good, the bad and the ugly – why they love Atlanta and what they see in the future.

Q: First of all, why Atlanta?

A: We're from here, nearby at least. We're two noncommittal people totally devoted to each other, art and, sometimes begrudgingly, to these smelly streets.

We both came from the woods. I am from a tiny town in West Georgia called Fairplay. My parents landed there from Staten Island when I was 5. It was a very closed off place and I grew up with dirty feet, but with people who valued education, travel and imagination.

Courtney also grew up in the outskirts of the metro area - in Gainesville on Lake Lanier with supportive, loving people who challenged her to be great. Good, good country folk. She definitely paved a way for herself that didn't match those around her, the tenacious dame.

Q: What is unique about Atlanta?

This city is affordable and navigable. If you've been here long enough you can find anything, including a community you're completely at home in. People are accessible in Atlanta, they're quick to share knowledge and lend resources.

Atlanta's syrupy and constantly changing; she's a really smart, edgy, kind-of moody teenager. We love it here. I sense this cosmopolitan almost-ness at every street corner. There is a strong, supportive entrepreneurial spirit in Atlanta.

Q: Where was the first building you transformed?  What was involved? What were the hurdles?

A: The first actual transformation happened in West Midtown next to Miller Union and Fay Gold's newly opened Westside Cultural Art Center. The show was called Modes of Operation with 12 artists all creating a full body of work. There were a ton of hurdles due to lack of money, lack of know-how and Snowpocalypse 2010. The building was a literal shell; we had to build a restroom, hang four 400-pound walls to actually put artwork on, building track lighting and use two high-powered generators to run the whole show.

And, at the time, it was just Court and me and our friend Danny Davis who took pity on us and helped with the electrical stuff and lighting design. We now have three other staff people, a super-functional Board of Directors and volunteers that won't quit.

Q: What did you learn from this experience?

A: We learned a ton at that show, and as a result of killer artwork and the obvious girth of the undertaking, we were given some serious notice by our peers and others in the community. That show was a game changer for us in terms of artistry, learning to work with property owners, and installation skill development.

Q: Do you contact the owners of abandoned buildings in the Edgewood area, thereby providing a space for artists such as the ones doing the No Vacancy show?  Do you pay them?

A: Yes, in the past, when we had an exhibition on Edgewood Avenue, we contacted owners of buildings to use them for our exhibitions.

We don't pay property owners, but we all sign agreements -- Dash and property folk. That's a lie actually, we once rented a tiny yellow house for two months, but we've used commercials for every other exhibition and have never paid. We are very clear with property owners that having a Dash show in their space is a serious benefit. We're bringing in over 1,000 proactive, creative people in the course of a month; we're cleaning the hell out of the space and we're doing any necessary build out (walls, lighting, etc.). Even that residential space leased immediately following the show we had in it and we left it better than we found it.

We do pay artists -- specifically the No Vacancy artists are each getting a stipend of $1,000 for their three-week residency in a currently undisclosed vacant building in Atlanta.

Q: How has Dashboard effected change in the Edgewood area? What is special or unique about the neighborhood?

A: Initially, for Ground Floor on Edgewood, a business owner to bring life to the street via art approached us. We decided to have an art walk, a la the traditional stroll you can find in any city. We used that initial business owner's vacant building and approached four other property owners on the street to use there vacant spaces too.  Eight artists created site specific, immersive art works in each of the buildings. Today, all the buildings we used for that exhibition -- in 2011 -- are occupied with thriving businesses. Clearly many people and factors elicited that change and growth but, I can say, Dash opened doors and windows of properties that had been forgotten for a long time.

That neighborhood is one of the most historically rich, diverse and vibrant spaces in the city. I hope we continue to preserve the history and provide innovative, contemporary experiences for the public. It’s one of the only walkable strips in Atlanta and is so close to our vapid downtown that if Edgewood's boom could encroach upon Underground and more of GSU's campus, well, Atlanta would become even more dynamic than she already is.

 

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