It began as a 2020 goal for Elisabeth Herrera-Very to put herself out there.
Following an almost ten-year career as a public-school art teacher, Herrera-Very was in the midst of a career change when she saw an ad on social media for the 2020-2021 Art on the Atlanta BeltLine Residency Program.
Launched in 2019, the Art on the Atlanta Beltline Residency Program is designed to offer real-world exposure operating within the realm of public art and infrastructure while providing a platform to educate. The first public art residency in the City of Atlanta, it takes a multi-disciplinary approach, offering one-year residencies in the fields of art, curation, and scholarship.
Initially interested in the scholar-in-residence position, with the idea to connect people through a compiled list of community organizations, Herrera-Very was ultimately selected as the Program’s Curator-in-Residence.
“I applied for the open call, and you can imagine my shock when they said, ‘Elisabeth go for it!’, I was certain it was going to go to someone more accomplished or ambitious. I actually had to research what curation involves,” confessed the art education specialist. “It’s not too different from my work in public schools: pushing people forward and encouraging them in the artistic process.”
As COVID gripped the globe, Herrera-Very wanted to figure out a way to connect people and create an opportunity for people to do something together in a covid-proof way. Beginning with the concept of connecting people to tangible resources, like the Little Free Libraries, Camaraderie: A BeltLine Box Project evolved from a mutual aid project into a sculptural storytelling project and awareness campaign.
“It’s not as much an art project as a narrative project that highlights the community-oriented work of diverse organizations and entities in the city,” she explained. “My goal is to communicate to BeltLine users that you are not alone: your people are out there, and there are so many cool projects happening in the face of this [COVID] madness.”
In order to find a diverse array of voices, Herrera-Very did online research to find art and community organizations off the beaten path who were making a difference in their respective communities. She finally settled on The Bakery, re:imagine/ATL, Freeside Atlanta, the Wren’s Nest, Southern Fried Queer Pride, and Best End Brewing Company.
“I now have this diverse hodgepodge of organizations who couldn’t be more different, but they are all working on this same project and they’re all giving me really similar feedback. This project allows them to have something to work on and gather together as an organization without the people they serve and bring some positivity back into their organization.”
With the help of the Freeside Atlanta Makerspace, who constructed the boxes for the project, she invited each organization to fill their box with objects to communicate who they are and what they bring to the community. The result is an eclectic narrative project that invites the public to discover more about each organization through both the installation as well as through QR codes that direct people to each organization’s website. Camaraderie: A BeltLine Box Project will be on display as a temporary exhibition on the Westside Trail from May 8th through the end of June 2021. It will include a collaborative art making experience accompanied by her artist talk in this video.
“Through this installation, I hope to communicate to anyone who feels alone that they matter. You are heard, and your voice is valuable.”
Following this early dabble in public art curation, the future looks promising for Herrera-Very. As part of her continued efforts to “put herself out there,” she will have her art on display at The Bakery and over the summer she will participate in a new style of teaching with a summer program through the Georgia Teaching Artists Registry in Columbus, Georgia, which offers a non-instructional way of teaching art to kids.
“The Art on the Atlanta BeltLine Residency Program has been a great experience. I was given freedom to do whatever I wanted, which was actually the hardest part for me, coming from public education,” she reflected.
Among the most important lessons learned she would advise future residents, “Stay true to your voice and be ready to reach out.”
To learn more about Camaraderie: A BeltLine Box Project or to view Herrera-Very’s Curator Talk, go to art.beltline.org.