By Anna Norris
Spanning multiple parking levels, a red fire hydrant marked with the Chinese flag and captioned with “Emergency Only” dominates a parking deck near Underground Atlanta on Pryor Street.
“After we put it up there, no one had any idea that it was political,” said Alex Parrish, journalism major and Director of Communications for Living Walls, the City Speaks. “They just thought it was a fire extinguisher.”
Living Walls, the City Speaks is a non-profit organization that promotes street art and urbanization.
Parrish, a member of PRSSA, started out as an international economics major, switching to political science and then English, finally finding her niche in public relations. Parrish said that it came naturally to her, especially because her mother majored in public relations when she was in college.
She uses her experience in journalism to her advantage in her official duties at Living Walls, which include drafting all official literature, scheduling radio and print features and coordinating a media team including photographers, videographers, graphic designers and web developers. She said she is also is responsible for event planning and writes for Brooklyn Street Art for every Living Walls feature.
Her duties do not end there, because Living Walls is a volunteer organization and every action counts. Parrish said she does everything from buffing walls and doing laundry to mixing paint and grocery shopping.
Parrish said she became involved in Living Walls when a friend of hers, an anthropology major, sparked her interest to go to the first Living Walls conference in 2010. She was able to intern with Living Walls through the Communications department last summer.
“Beforehand, I had many friends who were graffiti writers who had their own take on the city,” said Parrish. “So it was interesting to see the way that Living Walls incorporated street art into a city that I thought was overwhelmed by graffiti writers.
“I like the way it redefines our perceptions of what’s legal and what’s illegal. It makes us question ‘What should we value in our public space?’ because it’s something we see every day,” she added.
She also said that Living Walls eventually wants to manage the artists they cooperate with.
“We are trying to engage our public space via street art,” she said. “But people neglect to notice that we also incorporate a lot of Atlanta artists in our program.”
Living Walls arranges an annual street art and urbanism conference, and has worked with 40 artists from around the world, including local Atlanta street artists. Three of the murals painted during the 2011 Living Walls Conference are within walking distance of Georgia State campus.
Towering over Underground Atlanta and directly visible from Classroom South, a silhouette of a man praying spans an entire wall of the Comfort Suites Hotel. Across the street from the fire extinguisher is a mural of two people holding broken and flaming Twin Towers. These murals were painted by Sam3, Escif and LNY, respectively.
“Street art has the ability to redirect our attention from corporate statements and money and economic values towards a more varied perspective on our public space,” said Parrish.
“You can just ask a wall owner to paint a mural, and still communicate with your community and public without actually having to have an economic incentive behind it,” she said.
Her background in political science has fostered her appreciation for the artists who visit to paint murals, many of whom are involved in global politics and carry their messages with them to Atlanta.
“They have the ability to absorb cultures, and they travel a lot,” said Parrish. “And for me, that means something.”
Parrish said that she is well in tune with the downtown Atlanta neighborhood, and that she has realized the potential in the area.
“Last year when we started painting downtown, I realized how much potential we have in the area,” said Parrish. “This whole area could be revitalized as an art community.”
Parrish hopes that one day Living Walls can open up a gallery near campus to provide more of a cultural base. She said that Living Walls tries to reach out to students to help the organization as it grows.
See the article on The Signal‘s website.