Art on the Atlanta BeltLine launched its inaugural public art Residency Program in 2019. Multi-disciplinary in scope, ABI recently sat down with the program’s Scholar-in-Residence, Benae Beamon, PhD, to learn more about her research and findings.
“It’s easier for me to express myself in writing,” confided the newly appointed Visiting Assistant Professor of Women & Gender Studies at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. Thoughtful and articulate, her carefully measured words carry the weight of academia and the authority of lived experience.
A specialist of ethics and religion with a focus on feminist, queer, and African American social theories, Benae Beamon prides herself on her interdisciplinary approach to academic research and life, which, as she describes, has always been “against the norm.” A socially engaged tap dancer and performer interested in questions of subversion in the face of oppressive realities, functions of religion, and social systems that impact lived experiences, her professional and personal worlds weave together into an intricate framework grounded in self-identity and expression and societal observation and commentary.
“I have always been interested in Southern artistic expression,” the North Carolina native shared. “The Atlanta BeltLine is a beautiful encapsulation of that, and I wanted to explore and engage public art and community from a scholarly perspective.”
Drawn to its “vibrant artistic community,” Beamon and her partner moved to Atlanta in 2018 from the Northeast for an extended sabbatical, following almost ten years of calling Yale Divinity School and Boston University home. As a new resident, Beamon was fascinated with how Atlanta embraces public art as part of a deeper conversation about identity, history, and culture. She found herself searching for it wherever she went. The Atlanta BeltLine, with its “vastly different forms of expression,” offered the perfect fix.
“Public art creates energy in a space, offering a glimpse into the population and public discourse in that space. I wanted to focus on what the public art is doing and how it engages from socio-historical and cultural perspectives.”
The Art on the Atlanta BeltLine Residency Program offered a carte blanche to its three Residents in art, curation, and scholarship. Beamon focused her residency research on public art through the lens of ethics and topography. Narrowing her scope to the Eastside Trail where “there are so many places to look,” Beamon selected ten art pieces on the corridor and spoke with artists, muralists, and sculptures about how they envisioned their work within the space. She also explored how the pieces interact with the topography of the area and paired that against the socio-historical background of the space—what the neighborhood used to look like and how the art engages socially and geographically.
When entwining questions of social morality within the context of space, Beamon examined how our relationship to a space is generative, allowing a space to change.
“There is an interesting relationship between belonging and topography. We all understand what it means to be situated somewhere. There is a sense of belonging wherever you a physically present. As an observer, public art creates its own moral openness.”
For Beamon, this communicates both social categories as well as values we have.
“Morally speaking, I explore how public art invites us to engage in that space through [the concept of] play because of choice, thereby enhancing our individual belonging. There is, on the one hand, where your body is in relationship to the artwork. On the other hand, as your line of sight changes, pushing your body inward, you have a choice to engage or not.”
The 2019 Residency Program enabled Beamon more public engagement and artistic substance than in previous research and reflected for her “what scholarly work should be doing publicly”. It also provided the opportunity for her to engage in black geography studies for the first time, which will hopefully open new research doors. Her final work, entitled, “Public Art as Moral Topography: A Look at the Changing Face of the Atlanta BeltLine,” is slated to begin the scholarly publication progress in 2020.
Learn more about the Residency Program at art.beltline.org/residency