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It’s happening in Atlanta right now, and it’s massive — hundreds of events online and in galleries, coffee shops, museums and outdoor spaces. It’s the 23rd annual Atlanta Celebrates Photography Festival, ACPFest 2021. Ostensibly an October event, some openings happened in September this year and some overflow into November. This is the last festival to be organized by longtime executive director Amy Miller, who stepped down in June after 14 years at the helm. Photographer and educator Stephanie Dowda DeMer took the leadership reins two months ago, and is overseeing the event as it unfurls day by day. DeMer knows the organization well, having served on the board of directors from 2012-14, part of the time as treasurer.

There are other changes too, in part because of the pandemic. Fifty percent of the events are online, an increase over previous years, and the much-loved print guide is now entirely digital. As always, the guide is populated by members of the community who are having photography events, whether it’s a show for emerging artists, a museum exhibit, a public art piece or a talk. “It’s a really cool app,” says DeMer. “You can create your own schedule and search by artist or venue. At any moment you can log in and have a fine art experience in your own home.” Most events have the capacity to be virtual, DeMer says.

Photo by José Ibarra Rizo

This touching photo by MINT+ACP fellow José Ibarra Rizo is featured in his exhibit.

The festival organizes and curates about half of the events, including artist talks and public art such as  The Phoenix, an interactive photo mural in Midtown featuring dozens of photographs by 20 Atlanta-area photographers, showcasing the city’s collaborative spirit.

There is the ongoing collaboration with Legal Aid, Picturing Justice, which leverages the power of photography to tell stories about those most vulnerable in our community. The nonprofit’s inaugural MINT + ACP fellow José Ibarra Rizo will also be showing his work.

Because a lot of galleries are still closed or backlogged, the nonprofit has partnered with exposure.co, which creates online platforms for visual storytelling. “Some people have done amazing things with it, like Virginie Kippelen,” who created a story about the Flint River. “I look at it and wonder, how did she do that?” DeMer says. [Full disclosure: Kippelen is a freelance writer for ArtsATL.]

She is excited about some new venues too, like the Hapeville Depot Museum and Visitor Center, which is being activated with an in-person walk of photos in the space.

The ACP Family Photowalks offer an opportunity for families to explore the city’s natural spaces, cameras in hand.

Then there are the non-ACP events that are timed to coincide with the festival, such as the Lucinda Bunnen show Inward, Outward, Forward at Atlanta Contemporary, ELEMENTAL at Spalding Nix Fine Art and Reflections, a photography exhibit presented by African Americans for the Arts at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center through November 12.

The festival prides itself on encouraging community involvement. If you — yes, you with the camera — want to exhibit your photos in your local coffee shop, Atlanta Celebrates Photography says: Go for it.

“The fact that the festival is both really big and everywhere serves us really well. It’s about experiencing Atlanta as a creative hub for photography in one condensed month,” says DeMer. Given the challenges, “I feel really proud that it is happening and that a lot of artists are participating.”

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