This map attempts to give an approximate account of my two walks along the Eastside Beltline. The routes that I walked on have been highlighted, and several artworks that I saw marked. However, all locations are just estimations and should not be relied on. Further, Google’s routing mechanism manipulates the walking paths slightly so that it may have thrown off the highlighted areas slightly. Nevertheless, the map should give readers a good idea of where I walked and where I found various images.
A couple of weeks ago, I took my second walk along the Beltline, this time, joined by my classmates, two professors (Joe and Brennan), and several guests along the way (author Hannah Plamer and Beltline originator Ryan Gravel). This walk took place during late morning and early afternoon on a Thursday, as opposed to the first visit, which happened on a Sunday evening.
The weather distinguished this trip from the first strongest. The atmosphere boasted a brilliant sun and a delightful breeze, the kind of ideal mix of hot and cool that only the summer-to-fall transition can generate so perfectly. Though most potential visitors were probably working, the trail featured a much larger clientele than the rainy and dreary Sunday.
The breaths of runners still populated the air, but in greater magnitude, with the steps of each runner conglomerating into a background rhythm. Bells sang throughout the walk as bikers warned the flocks of walkers that they were passing them. The wonderful climatal torrent complimented the poems of Walt Whitman that we had read the prior night for American Literature exquisitely.
As my first description emphasized, art is everywhere on the Beltline. We walked through the part that I had visited before but also went to several areas that previously I had never seen. On one long length of fence hung a gallery of various photography projects. The subjects of these pictures spread across a vast diversity, from pictures of sports or refugees, and the rainbow of emotion: despair, joy, anger.
We observed several other benches similar to one that I wrote about before, except that these benches related only because they too are art, yet they display wildly different concepts. One was constructed of wood and round stone, like a sofa for the Flintstones. Another doubled as a musical instrument.
Even though the Beltline features similar amenities throughout its course, it manages to feel wildly different. As you walk, you will still see odd benches and different-sized sculptures, and so on, but they all feel so distinct that you barely realize that fact until you write a report on it afterward.
The Beltline started as a thesis by a Georgia Tech student, later turned into a grassroots political movement, and today serves as a cultural epicenter and a hallmark of civic pride. The first section of the Beltline, the Eastside, opened as recently as 2012, yet it already possesses a dazzling richness of art. In many ways, walking down the Beltline feels like walking through the world’s most unique art museum.
Along the Beltline, you will see sculptures most often, and they take a beautiful myriad of forms, few of them the familiar classic form (you will find no Roman emperors here). The sculptures that you will see resemble structures, people, bicycles, and more. Some you will struggle to see because they barely rise above the unmolested grass, while others tower above you. Several sculptures have for backgrounds bright skies, yet many have gray walls. Interestingly, some pieces double as benches, beautiful to look at and comfortable to sit on. Some artists designed sculptures that act as gates and landmarks, notifying walkers of exits. Like the Beltline itself, the sculptures blend aesthetic and utility in remarkable ways.
The environment creates less space for painting,but artists persist. Below bridges, painters have walled the tunnels with expansive murals, like a beautiful form of street art or graffiti. Again looking at the mix of practicality and beauty, stores along the trail have added paintings on the backs of their stores that symbolize and inform what services they provide.
Sadly, I cannot yet comment on the music on the Beltline because the rain drove musicians away. I found only one performer, a singer and guitarist, during my walk, using a bridge for protection. I passed by a piano covered in flowers from the Pianos for Peace project, but someone had covered it to shield from the rain.
Of all the distinctions, perhaps the greatest difference from an ordinary museum was the clientele. Though undoubtedly less busy than a usual day (again, the rain’s fault), people still flocked to the path. The visitors included joggers and bikers exercising and gasping for breath, friends dressed in nice Sunday clothes strolling and chatting, and families walking and biking. Most striking to me, some folks only used the trail to walk from their homes to buy groceries. It is hard to imagine that another art museum covered in a plethora of sculptural forms, lined with grand canvases, capped off with trees and skylines, a place equally for families, runners, and church-goers, and usable as a route to daily errands exists anywhere else in the world.
(All pictures taken by me or the Atlanta Beltline official website)
Everything feels like art along the Beltline, and the art present does not limit itself to sculptures and murals, even the benches are something special. Pictured above is one of those benches. This bench, titled “Nature’s Way,” is situated in a small clearing, backdropped by trees and an apartment complex. Rather than being completely straight, the structure zig-zags several times, and the surfaces feature different patterns of yellow and black that symbolize scenes like flowers and farming fields. Of course, you can also sit on the bench, not just look at it.
Unfortunately, the rain suppressed most performers, whom I assume usually dot the Beltline. However, I found one musician along my walk: a man playing an acoustic guitar and singing. I did not recognize the song that he played, but the voice reminded me of something like a stripped down Motown song. He took shelter in a quasi-tunnel created by a bridge above which both protected him and his guitar from the rain, and produced a lovely application to his voice. Like at a subway station in New York, he left his guitar case open in front of him, and walkers dropped in change while they passed.
A plethora of stores have fronts or backs along the Beltline, and, like the Beltline itself, they take advantage of art to mix practicality and aesthetic, in this situation for advertisement. The Midtown Butcher Shoppe, pictured above, is one of these. The back of the store, lined along the walking path, features a red hare, representing the brewing company, preparing to cut up meat. On the left side, the store has painted a mini-menu of stand-out words that advertise what the store offers: Prime meats, prepared meals, fine wines, craft beers, growlers, and catering. Also like many stores, they have put a door in the middle of the back for easy Beltline access.
Underneath a bridge, two parallel walls each feature a mural. The above picture features one of them. In the center, an enormous black and dark yellow bee emerges from a similarly sized and colored flower. Several smaller bees, also the same black and yellow, spiral out from the center, surrounding the largest bee and flower. Chinese letters flank the bees on either side. Closest to the bees, the letters are bigger and change along a spectrum vertically: the highest row is a very bright yellow, nearly white, followed by two rows a standard yellow then darker yellow below, and ended with a shade that resembles a dark red. Outside of these letters are smaller and scattered black letters. On the leftward side out of the picture’s range, the artist has signed his or her name.
Quickly after entering the Beltline, I found my first piece of art (and would later be stunned by the quantity present): a sculpture, in the image above. In short, the sculpture shows a skateboarder, standing several feet taller than the people passing by. Both the skateboard and skateboarder are constructed out of typical piping, red for the rider and blue for the board, with skateboard wheels that look like little car tires.