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 emerging public art creative professionals. 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.
Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI) sat down with the 2020-2021 Scholar-in-Residence, Nedra Deadwyler to learn more about her research.
Q: What inspired you to apply for the Residency Program?
A: I have wanted to apply for an opportunity with the BeltLine for a long time. I recently earned a M. A. in Heritage Preservation and, I saw this as an opportunity to develop my craft as a public historian; the skills related to the documentation of history, recording oral histories, and writing narratives that are educational, interesting, and insightful. Being a public historian is a personal expression of appreciation of my family. I grew up in a multi-generational ecosystem, meaning we spent weekends and holidays with extended family. Our family venerated relatives through storytelling and traditions. Conducting research provides me an opportunity to learn more about Black life in general and in Atlanta specifically. Being in the Residency program is an opportunity to work on professional aspirations, namely, researching, writing, and practicing being a participant observer, basically developing my skills as a public historian.
Q: Can you tell us about your research?
My research is inspired by a project that I started in 2013 called Civil Bikes which was inspired by a driving tour of the Alabama Civil Rights Trail. While sitting in the backseat of a car, I thought about how much more impactful the tour would have been on a bike. The point of view cycling provides aids in understanding how geography shapes history; it is easier to interact with places and people. Civil Bikes was about using the concept of place as an opportunity to hear historical narratives that beyond the pages we read in school.
My research is also inspired by another initiative of mine called Preserve Black Space. I am from Atlanta, but I also lived in New York and Seattle. Those are among a long list of cities where neighborhoods saw dramatic change that came from displacement and gentrification. There is a profound need to preserve people, culture, and place, in order to maintain places that inspire and maintain authenticity.
I have identified seven locations around the Atlanta BeltLine, collected information using digital archives, and interviewed several individuals as a way to engage cultural memory. The discussions range from tree canopies to food systems, historical and personal events and then grounding them to place. Initially, I had planned to go out into these communities and collect stories through conversations with both legacy and transplant residents, but COVID forced me to work almost entirely with digital archives. It has been an interesting year, and it is all the more important to finish.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish from this work once completed?
I see this as the continuation of the research and documentation on these creative projects. My goal is to continue the work until it is completed and products are tangible gifts for Black historic neighborhoods, Atlanta, and a playbook inspiring stewardship of the rich cultural heritage embedded in the landscape.
To learn more about Nedra’s research or to read her white paper, visit: art.beltline.org
Here is a link to Nedra’s BeltLine Live Stream artist talk on June 30, 2021