Miranda Kyle has recently taken the helm as the newly installed arts and culture project manager, and ArtsATL sat down with her to get a sense of how she came into the role and how she envisions the new direction for Art on the BeltLine.
ArtsATL: Can you tell us how you came into this role?
Miranda Kyle: I was an [Atlanta BeltLine] fellow in 2014 while I was a graduate student at SCAD, and I was already pretty active in the DIY scene around Atlanta, curating independent exhibitions and things like that, getting together with my friends and throwing shows. And I came on as a fellow and got to absorb the scope of the project, because the BeltLine as an infrastructure project is so huge and expansive it can be a little difficult to access unless you’re in the middle of it, so my fellowship provided a very unique insight about all the interlocking components and the role that arts and culture plays in giving folks an accessibility point into everything else.
And so I went on and finished graduate school, and they brought me back. There were some personnel changes over the summer, and they brought me back temporarily to make sure things transitioned smoothly. And then when they put out the open call for an interview, I was one of a handful of folks who interviewed for the position and they decided I was a good fit for the role. So I officially came on as the program manager in October.
ArtsATL: How do you see Art on the Atlanta BeltLine’s role in supporting larger Atlanta BeltLine initiatives?
Kyle: How Art on the Atlanta BeltLine happened back in 2010, it was supposed to be the way that folks could understand how the trails were working. The idea was, you put a big piece of artwork out on this hiking trail, and people were supposed to be like, “Hey did you hear about this piece? Let’s go check it out.” And it got people out onto the trail, exploring where it was going. Building on that legacy of exploration and discovery, we are continuing that vision, just on a bigger scale.
As we open new sections of the corridor, there will always be pieces of artwork in those spaces. And the sections of the corridor that are well established, like the Eastside trail, have a large quantity of pieces from our continuing collection and provide an opportunity for us to be a little more experimental and daring with the programming and visual art that could go there . . . so how we continue to engage people on the Eastside trail in that spirit of discovery is by thinking bigger and braver.
ArtsATL: So what is your curatorial vision for this year’s Art on the Atlanta BeltLine?
Kyle: I’ve been repeating this mantra, “Courage and Collaboration.” There is no budget cap this year, and historically we’ve capped the budget on what the artists can do. The average award is usually $2000 to $6000, but our goal this year is to make sure that artists are getting a livable wage for the work, experience and skill that they are applying to whatever they’re executing.
And it’s not necessarily to have 200 pieces of visual art on the trail; maybe we end up with 50 incredible pieces that were well funded, and the artists felt like they were truly respected throughout their process and they were able to make money, because we want our artists to thrive; we want to sustain our creative community here. We have incredible artists here in the city; they just need the opportunity and the money to realize their big vision. And we want to be able to hold space and provide that opportunity.
ArtsATL: What is the overall budget for this year’s work?
Kyle: I don’t know yet. We have our sister organization that does our fundraising, Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, and they work with our CFO to create a budget for me. Because we’re so early on in our planning process, I don’t have that number yet. What I do when they do give me that number, I look at how much I need for production and how much I need for machinery, and that amount gets set aside. That helps me determine how much I have left for artwork. Within that number, depending on our jurors’ scores, we will fund as many projects as we can within the budget that I’m given.
ArtsATL: How is the jury selected?
Kyle: We put out a call and we work with our partners to make suggestions and nominees for people they feel like should be on our jury panel. In all of our information sessions, NPU meetings and listening sessions we had last fall, we made sure we told the community, “If you know of an artist, an arts professional, arts historian or someone who’s working in an arts adjacent field and they are a professional in that field . . . nominate them.”
In years past we’ve never published who those jurors were, but we feel like in the name of transparency and to elevate the expertise of who those jurors are, they’re all going to have a profile; you’re going to know who they are, what they’re working on, why they’re an expert and why they were chosen. We feel that’s a really important thing. We want people to know who these professionals are that are influencing public art.
ArtsATL: Can you talk about the level of community involvement in this process versus prior years?
Kyle: The number one part of that is making sure that the swath and breadth of Atlanta’s creative universe is represented on our jury panel. While the jurors are charged with scoring all of these proposals, they also can act with a deeper understanding of a variety of proposals versus a homogenous, or singular-experience jury panel.
By asking our community constituents, stakeholders and organizations that we collaborate with — like the National Black Arts Festival, Hands On Atlanta or Atlanta Film Festival — in asking these organizations to also put forth nominees from their respective networks, we are creating advocates for the variety of creative communities in Atlanta.
ArtsATL: Are there too many cooks in the kitchen?
Kyle: That goes back to the whole community idea. . . . There are probably 100 incredible arts professionals that we could ask to be on our jury panel this year, but we wanted to make sure it was localized to Atlanta and that it was representative of as many possible communities across our creative culture. With a number between 10 to 14 jurors split between two distinct categories (visual art and performing art), it’s not too many cooks; it creates a democratic process. That’s the way we approach it.
ArtsATL: With so much emphasis on collaboration in this process, do you feel that there may be some compromises with quality?
Kyle: That is always going to be a concern, and that gets into the question of: Do you choose art that’s easy or do you choose art that’s challenging? Or is it simply a question of continuing those conversations about how do you quantify what is good art or what isn’t? Art theorists have been arguing for forever about what is or what isn’t good art. As much as I would like to say I have an answer for that, I don’t think anybody really does.
We’ve never wanted to compromise quality, and I think with us not capping the budget this year and investing in the artists’ process, that we will actually see a marked increase in quality work that will be produced.
ArtsATL: This year’s Art on the Atlanta BeltLine will be a success if . . . what happens?
Kyle: I think quantifying the success of an exhibit is difficult. I think that I will consider the 2018 exhibit a success if it gets people talking about it; if it gets people talking about the art they saw and the performances that they’ve seen, and it gets them [excited] about the next thing they could see on the BeltLine. I’ll consider that a success.