My friend and I almost missed the M. Rich building, its subdued dark green awning obscured by the lack of newness and overwhelmed by the more contemporary buildings and signage around it. We stepped into the ground floor through the unlocked door, noting the long-abandoned coffee shop to the side. The building seemed vacant; I mentally crossed my fingers as we entered the creaky elevator. When we emerged on the third floor, the site of Dashboard Co-op’s third comprehensive artist presentation, Boom City, we gasped.
Sunlight filled the 16,000-square-foot space from a central staircase that opens up to a vaulted glass skylight. The exposed brick walls and well-worn hardwood floors are a contemporary renovation dream; the built-in offices spaces with Doric-esque moldings and suspended grids of lights seem ready-made art booths. My friend exclaimed, “This space would be great for hosting an art fair!”
The M. Rich space, vacant for the past two and half years, is being reawakened. Though by the time of our visit (Wednesday, January 23) only a few works were on display, and there was intense cobweb growth on the staircase. The space seemed full of possibilities. This ability to see the potential of Atlanta’s forgotten spaces and convey this vision to others is at the heart of Dashboard Co-op’s success.
This wasn’t always a component of Dashboard, however. When Dashboard founders Beth Malone and Courtney Hammond launched the organization, it was an online platform for artist-professional development (read Susannah Darrow’s interview from 2010 here). Its mission has changed drastically over the years in response to the needs of the artistic community. Dashboard has grown from working with Atlanta and New York artists to incorporating artists from New Orleans. Dashboard was recently named one of 20 recipients of a prestigious Rauschenberg Seed Grant, which will provide $30,000 over three years for each of the awarded organizations.
This has inspired Hammond and Malone to consider reaching out to artists in the other seed grant cities–Detroit, Portland, Providence, and New Orleans–as well as the other grant recipients to discuss collaborations.
As the organization approaches its three-year anniversary and confronts the expectations and possibilities that come with such a grant, it seems a good time to look back on Dashboard’s history.
Over coffee early one Saturday morning, Beth Malone shared her side of the Dashboard story with me.
“We started in 2009 when Courtney had just graduated art school and felt she didn’t know how to be a working artist–she only knew how to make art. [And we thought] if Courtney didn’t know how to do it, how were other artists learning to fundraise, and write proposals or find representation or whatever. So we decided we would try to be the mediator between the artist and a lucrative career, and [we would] try to figure out how to support them when they get out of college. So we started as a promotional support and development organization to host workshops, website development, budget development, proposal writing, gallerist introductions, [and] networking, and then [we] also started with the website to give them a professional-looking portfolio, and then the [yearly] show was just a way to show a body of their work to the public with the hopes that a gallerist would see it.”
They began with a mixture of artists in Atlanta and New York but soon realized there were competitors. “We realized a lot of groups were doing it already and better than we were,” laughed Malone. “C4 had just started but were doing it really well, and Wonderroot was doing it, too, so we realized there wasn’t much of a need.”
As Malone and Hammond readied their first Dashboard artist exhibition, they realized there was another aspect of their work where they could make a difference. Malone recalled, “We started moving into these vacant spaces, which happened just because we couldn’t afford a paid space, and [we] were asking people if we could use their space, purely out of thriftiness. But once we started, we realized we really liked the idea of rejuvenating a neighborhood and raising cultural awareness for a space, while maintaining a platform for artists and showing their work.”
This revitalization of spaces through art turned out to be invigorating both for Malone and Hammond and for the spaces. For their Ground Floor exhibition in the fall of 2011, Dashboard filled five vacant storefronts on Edgewood Avenue with works by eight artists. Within a year of Ground Floor, all five spaces were leased. Though Malone is careful to say this can’t definitively be attributed to Dashboard’s presence (with the exception of the space leased by James McConnell and Mark Basehore of Beep Beep Gallery), several of the spaces had been vacant for years prior.
The participating artists saw results as well. Immediately after Ground Floor, Nikita Gale was approached by several galleries, and within a year she had her first solo exhibition in a commercial gallery with 1961 at Poem 88.
“Working with Dashboard Co-op was a defining moment for me as an artist based in Atlanta,” stated Gale over email. “During my submission and interview process, we had a very lengthy discussion that must have taken at least a week or so just to make sure that the relationship made sense and that it would be beneficial for me as an artist …. It’s an organization that is filling a very important space for young artists in Atlanta, because for a long time, it felt like the step between the DIY/emerging/lowbrow arts spaces and the commercial for-profit galleries in Atlanta was non-existent. I feel confident saying that Dashboard has definitely filled that void in an interesting way.”
Malone considers Gale one of Dashboard’s success stories. But the dissolute state of the gallery scene in Atlanta, which has seen several spaces close their doors in the past few years, is troubling to Malone as it undermines a crucial aspect of the organization’s mission.
“These galleries are so important to the work we do,” she said. “We really see ourselves as a middleman between these small underground galleries and established galleries. Without the [established spaces] we’re not sure where to send the artists, and we don’t want to send them out of Atlanta. We want them to stay.”
The Rauschenberg grant may allow Dashboard to mediate this gallery crisis somewhat. Malone said they’re considering developing a permanent space for exhibiting the work of Dash artists, but she could not provide details by the time of the interview.
She did mention that although Dashboard currently does not take a commission for the sale of artwork, if they take on a permanent space, they’ll be forced to incorporate a commission structure.
The grant has been a fiscal shot in the arm, but also a point of affirmation for Dashboard. Though Dashboard has in the past received funding from Fulton County and Possible Futures, “when we received that grant, it made the world feel very, very small and accessible,” said Malone. “Before that, we would never have been able to think about Portland and Detroit. We were already developing relationships like that [in New Orleans], but this made [more of the country seem possible].”
“A big goal for this year,” she continued, “is traveling our shows to other cities [like New York and New Orleans]. We also want to travel shows to other Rauschenberg grant cities.”
“We also want to see our current artists propose smaller shows,” said Malone. A Dashboard artist currently has two years of official affiliation with the organization. Besides the web presence and the roll-out exhibition, Dash artists also have the opportunity to propose a show. “It could be a solo show, or they could work with another Dash artist or someone outside of the Dash co-op …. Anything we’re excited about, we take,” said Malone. “We’ve realized that, critically, we do best with our small shows, and it’s really exciting for us to get coverage of those shows and to expand our curatorial chops. They’re so thematically fun to do versus our big shows.”
Notable smaller shows for the duo include 100,000 Cubicle Hours at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (ACAC) and Nathan Sharratt’s Come. Inside. Me., for which Malone and Hammond secured an empty house on Ormond Street.
Malone and Hammond, both Georgia natives, bring a spectrum of art-world experience to Dashboard. Hammond worked as a gallery assistant before Dashboard was founded, and Malone had been an arts writer. Currently, Hammond is the project supervisor of outreach and education for the City of Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs Public Art Program, while Malone is the coordinator of teen programs at the High Museum of Art. Together, they’ve worked in every area of art in Atlanta, from commercial to government-sector to major private institution.
Malone notes they’ve also benefited from the mentorship and guidance of several figures in Atlanta art, including Susan Bridges of Whitespace gallery, Marcia Wood of Marcia Wood Gallery, and Stuart Horodner and Stacey Lindner of ACAC. She also cites Chris Appleton of Wonderroot, Monica Campana, and the teams at BURNAWAY and MINT Gallery—all organizations of similar age in Atlanta.
When I first moved to Atlanta in the fall of 2010, there was a lot of enthusiasm for these groups as well as criticism that Atlanta periodically experiences an in-flux of organizations that disappear as quickly as they appear. With the latest group of organizations approaching the three- to five-year mark, I had to ask, “Are these organizations becoming more established or dissipating?”
“I think we’re all obsessed with sustainability,” Malone replied. “When Dash started, we didn’t have a three-year plan or five-year plan, we had no idea. But we have moved to a point where we keep getting reinvigorated by things. New artists help us reinforce our passion for it [along with] grants like Rauschenberg or Possible Futures.”
“I don’t see us slowing down,” she continued. “Living Walls is getting international recognition. Dash and Eyedrum and Living Walls just got the [Rauschenberg] …. As the funding keeps coming our way I don’t think anyone is going anywhere. I hate to say it, but it is a financially driven thing, and as long as the funding is maintained, we’re going to keep on doing this.”
Dash’s Class of 2013 features 12 artists, including Mike Stasny, recent SCAD graduate and recent New York resident Pablo Gnecco, photographer Stephanie Dowda, and musician Ben Coleman. The works will range from sculpture to textiles, painting to performance.
For many of these artists, it’s an opportunity for growth, as well as a source of validation. Dowda is creating an installation, a first for the photographer. “Without the push of Dashboard, I would not have come so easily to the idea of an installation,” said Dowda. “Working with Dashboard is like working with an octopus; all the arms can assist you in so many different ways, it’s astounding.”
“You truly know that anything is possible, and through the support and network of Dashboard, it will happen,” she continued.
Coleman is creating a one-time performance for the opening. He would only say it involves multiple performers who will “be tapping into mythology, geography, biology, and sorcery,” a description purposefully vague because “the element of chance and surprise are integral to the piece.”
“The energy surrounding this event is palpable,” wrote Coleman in an email, “and has definitely infused and guided my creative process. The piece we’ll be performing would not have happened in any other circumstance.”
Disclosure: Nikita Gale is a member of this publication’s board of directors. In pursuit of topics that significantly contribute to cultural discourse, as well as our commitment to transparency, our policy is to disclose instead of exclude.
Dashboard Co-op’s Boom City opens this Saturday, February 2, at the M. Rich Building, located at 115 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive Southwest. The opening will last from 7PM until midnight. There will be a closing event on Saturday, March 2, at 7PM.
Gallery hours: every Monday and Wednesday, 6-9PM, and by appointment.
Cocktail party: Sunday, February 17, 6-9PM, ticket required, more to be announced soon. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.