Walking into Neda Abghari’s home is not unlike walking into a flea market booth. The walls are covered in local artwork, empty antique frames, and several kitschy Christ and Last Supper portraits. Every room boasts ample seating from a number of antique couches that the Atlanta native and Iranian first generation American, Abghari has been collecting since high school. As we sat in her living room discussing the latest arm of her Atlanta Creatives Project, the Creative Community Housing Project, she joked that, fittingly, her house is an extension of the inside of her mind; it is well equipped for impromptu gatherings and photo shoots.
BURNAWAY: Tell us about the Creative Community Housing Project.
Neda Abghari: So basically the Creative Community Housing Project is [the Creatives Project] outreach initiative. The housing program is where we are connecting artists with investors who are interested in donating leases to our non-profit and we in turn place artists there who in turn give back to the community through arts based outreach. The Jung at Heart fundraiser we are having [on February 4th] is to put the word out and start accepting applications as of March 1. Next year the program should be under way. The artists are required to give back to the community for their outreach. The goal there is to bring the community together on many different levels because: 1. Our arts education funding is being cut, 2. Artists always need help with support, especially in Atlanta, and 3. There are individuals who want to help support the arts in Atlanta. We don’t really have an arts residency system in place yet.
So these donated spaces aren’t all in one place?
Not necessarily. It depends on whoever wants to help. So, say we have one investor who develops property who might be able to donate more than one lease. Or we might have a homeowner who can’t rent out their property and donates a home. The only requirement is that it’s a vacant space that someone needs and we’ll place an artist there.
The Creatives has always been focused on Atlanta artists and giving them exposure in and outside of Atlanta. Is this something you see as a project specifically for Atlanta, or do you have plans for eventually widening the scope to exchange with other cities.
When I originally started the project, it was called the Atlanta Creatives Project. I grew tired of everybody asking me what was going on in Atlanta when I was in New York. So, I decided to show them and started the project to inform New Yorkers on what was going on in Atlanta. Since then there have been other cities who have been interested. I’ve taken portraits in Miami and New York. My goal is to bring artists out from behind their work and build communities. It’s about opportunities to unify Atlanta; It’s about creating partnerships and bridging gaps. This is another vehicle to help artists. There’s so much opportunity to nurture the arts in America. In Europe there are many more programs for housing and supporting artists. We want this to be a national program and have Creative hubs in all major cities, especially with CCHP programs.
What sort of community outreach projects do you hope to achieve through the program?
Mainly community arts education. I used to be a high school art teacher, so that’s really important to me. The way we envision it is once we have all these artists in our network we want to build art curricula to support various schools where they are needed. So, if we have an artist who’s a printmaker, and a school who is need of a visiting artist, we’ll place them in a month-long curriculum. Or, for example, if a school needs beautifying, we’ll place a program and an artist there. It’s about which school can benefit the most, and what that school wants and needs.
Are you interested in collaboration between artists, like the Creatives program?
Yes, from now on, every time we have a show, we will have a corresponding community education program. In our last exhibition we worked with a middle school book club. A lot of these kids are disenfranchised. They don’t even know what’s going on outside of their neighborhood.
You were a teacher for several years, how do you think that has influenced this project?
It has had every influence. It is who I am. Teaching is one of my main passions. I love talking about art. I love meeting new people. I love everything about it. When I was teaching I always worked to bring local artists into our program. I taught for five years. My mentor Kevin Cole and I taught together and I learned from him how to develop my own voice as an artist. Once I went into commercial photography I wanted my work to continue to have meaning and to impact people. This is a roundabout way of doing that, but I’m trying.
What brought you back to Atlanta from New York?
The project. I was in New York and started The Creatives Project. I started photographing individuals in New York who were from Atlanta. I always felt that there were so many amazing individuals here and even when they leave Atlanta, they do well because of their talent and drive. I was working professionally, when I decided I wanted to do commercial photography and stop assisting. At the time I had a lot of freedom to do what I wanted, which created a way to reach back out to Atlanta. I decided to come back to Atlanta for a few weeks, which turned into a few months. It’s something that’s always been such a big part of my heart.
Why are you attracted to photography versus other forms of art?
When I was growing up I loved to draw. As for teaching, I love jewelry, drawing, painting, and print. I love all types of art. But photography is different because it allows me to interact with people more than any other art form. What I really love is the interaction and meeting people. I’ve always been a social butterfly. So it is a way to meet people and then take their picture.
So, what is your spirit animal?
The phoenix. The phoenix is a symbol of strength, rebirth, and regeneration. There’s a lot of personal symbolism behind it regarding stages of my life, mainly the story of the phoenix rising from the ashes: regardless of how intense the fall, there is always regeneration.
And it is the symbol of Atlanta.
I didn’t even think about that. That’s insane.
Atlanta Art Crush is an interview series brought to you by Susannah Darrow, Laura Hennighausen, and photographer Sandy Hooper. Look for profiles of our latest heartthrobs on the last Friday of each month.