The Atlanta chapter of the monthly breakfast lecture series, Creative Mornings (CM), is about to get a little funkier. This Friday, October 19, Monica Campana of urban street art organization Living Walls, will present a 20-minute talk to an audience of creative professionals at the High Museum.
Campana has earned both praise and criticism as co-founder of Atlanta’s first international street art conference, which aims to aesthetically shift urban landscapes and solve planning challenges through public art and discourse. Blake Howard, co-founder and creative director at brand strategy firm Matchstic, invited her to speak.
“My main metric for finding a presenter is: do I think they’re interesting?” Howard says. Campana’s efforts and achievements through the all-volunteer organization have held Howard’s attention for some time—and that of the rest of town. Living Walls, which launched in 2010, was recently recognized by the Atlanta Urban Design Commission for best organization of the year, and Creative Loafing selected Campana as one of “20 People to Watch.” From coordinating with city leadership and anonymous graffiti artists, to collaborating with various galleries, art institutions, and community figures, Campana and her team have impressed many with her ability to get stuff done—stuff that results in nice murals to look at, in some of the most dismal stretches of wall space in the city.
Howard says Campana’s drive towards producing more beauty was a major factor in asking her to participate. She is the latest in an impressive roster of CM speakers that include brand strategist Matt Rollins, fashion designer Sid Mashburn, and photographer Zack Arias, all of whom have delivered presentations about their work, artistic philosophy, and personal and professional development. “She has a movement of artists doing things to beautify the city,” Howard says. The mix that Living Walls seems to have perfected—successfully combining artistic pursuits with objectives that have positive impacts on business—is precisely what Howard hopes will inspire attendees.
“There are varying degrees of value for everyone,” Howard says of what people get out of the morning talks. “But specifically for creative professionals, I hope they walk away with best practices, are more motivated, and want to do things that better this city.”
Taking a Worldwide View
Campana shares a similar mission as Howard —to better the artistic landscape of Atlanta. But she’s also interested in speaking at CM as an exercise in getting the larger philosophy of Living Walls “out there.”
“Good ideas don’t always come from people who went to school,” Campana says. “They may not have that much professional experience. But public art is accessible to everyone.”
She literally means everyone. Having just returned from South Africa’s street art festival, I Art Joburg, where Campana gave a talk about the work Living Walls has done, she is starting to see that part of her job is to make people understand how she does what she does.
“People were amazed that no one gets paid,” Campana says of how Living Walls operates. “I think I was able to inspire some people to make things happen—and without a lot funding.” The experience was an interesting takeaway for Campana, since the festival was sponsored by Adidas. Campana, an art-school-dropout (SCAD and the Art Institute) has always been “really against” big corporations lending support. Since, well, that support tends to come with a lot of suggestions on how to move forward, Campana says. After talking with the bright and determined Campana, a 29-year-old native of Lima, Peru, you could say she doesn’t dally around or drift in directions she doesn’t want to go. She says that in building an organization around street art and improving urban neighborhoods, she was able to bridge her youthful rebelliousness with activism.
As a teenager immigrating from Peru to the United States in 1998 (the “worst year in music in this country,” according to Campana, who is decisively not a fan of ‘N Sync or Christina Aguilera), she took some time to find her bearings. Years passed before she felt like calling the U.S. her home. Working on Living Walls helped shift her point of view—she started to take ownership in the communities around her and invited others to do the same.
Local Ideas Can Create Movements
That’s what made Howard excited about launching a CM chapter in Atlanta—his desire to see creatives in this city make connections to create “greater things.” While attending a design conference in Chicago last year, he was invited to an 8:30 a.m. casual breakfast where designers drank coffee, nibbled yummy things, and listened to one of their own share insights. Everybody went back to work 90 minutes later, and Howard tracked down CM founder Tina Roth Eisenberg to find out about launching a chapter down South. Email marketing service MailChimp had already expressed interest, Howard says. They would be a sponsor if Howard organized it. Thirteen lectures later, the chapter is still going strong, with reservations for the free tickets typically maxing out in minutes.
Both Howard and Campana express excitement about Friday’s talk—not just because the event has become a kind of reunion, or because starting a Friday morning off with free coffee and inspiration is good mojo. Campana is only the second woman to present at Creative Mornings Atlanta (Katie Hawkins of CNN’s iReport was the first), and she is not rooted in the design world, either. This talk seems symbolic, even if unintentionally, coming months after the Living Walls conference featured 30 female artists—a big deal in a scene that has historically shone the light on men.
Howard says he’s noted the contrast. “I really want this to represent the diversity of Atlanta,” he says, of the chapter. He welcomes suggestions, too—from professionals in a range of disciplines, to speakers who are interested in presenting, to people who may want to make recommendations or forge introductions. Presenters are not paid, Howard says, and that the person has to be truly passionate about what they do. Campana is pleased to be included and just happy that people are talking about diversity in the realm of art and design, because it really comes down to inclusivity.
The importance of expanding the often niche world of design to include creatives of all stripes—graffiti artists, graphic designers, the university educated and the self-taught, seems like just the kind of party Creative Mornings should be hosting. So what if the party takes place before your hair has dried from the morning’s shower?
“I want Atlanta to be perceived in the right way,” Howard says. He looks forward to when the general perception of Atlanta’s design community is regarded in the same way campaigns from New York, Chicago, and London are. Howard wants Atlanta to be seen by outsiders as the creative hotbed he believes it is. For him, the learning and networking opportunities at Creative Mornings is one way of doing that. The rest is in the work— the creative pursuits that everyone returns to around 10 a.m.—after the coffee has run out.
Registration for Monica Campana’s talk is now open for waitlist only. Creative Mornings Atlanta regularly updates its Twitter page, and videos of past talks in Atlanta and at other Creative Mornings chapters are available here.