Art has been viewed as something that expresses an idea, emotion, or worldview. There are a plethora of ways people all over the world have used art to publicize projects, inspire others, and create forums of positivity.

PBS has done just that by choosing to use street art as a part of their American Portrait initiative. This initiative is a major multimedia storytelling project in celebration of the network’s 50th anniversary. 

PBS and production partner Radical Media have commissioned artists to create public murals in seven cities across the country, including Atlanta, Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Dallas, highlighting messages of hope, family, and resilience from the American Portrait project. The Atlanta installation is located in Little Five Points at Outback Bikes. 

“‘American Portrait’ has been a project unlike anything PBS has done because of how it’s been executed,” said Bill Margol, a representative for PBS. “It originally started three years ago after the events occurred in Charlotte, VA. PBS looked internally and said we have to respond to this. How do we speak to the division going on? The question that we got from this was what does it really mean to be an American today? It is such an important question and it’s such a loaded question politically.”  

He added, “We wanted to pick cities where we could get maximum exposure. We wanted cities that represent diversity and were big enough so that people were going to see the murals during a time when people can’t go to galleries and art shows.”

Each mural installed across the country is accompanied by a quote that was hand-selected from the story responses submitted from the prompts given. The Atlanta installation was unveiled on Jan. 16 and will stay up for months to come. The artist chosen for the Atlanta mural was Brooklyn-based artist, Jon Key. 

“Atlanta is this amazing city with so many different neighborhoods and areas that have so much different character and that extends to the people as well,” Margol explained. “The different groups that call Atlanta home have different voices and (different) takes on life. Every one of them is saying I am not invisible. 

He added, “Atlanta is a collection of communities and is a community within the larger Georgia community. We can see the past election season showed that even more. It felt like the right idea for this city because it’s such a melting pot with so many different flavors.” 

Margol said that the narrative PBS wanted to paint for Atlantans and other tourists to grasp from its mural was simply the concept of inclusion and collectivity amongst each other. 

“When we look at Atlanta’s quote, it was submitted by a woman who was living with mental challenges and talked about the issues she’s been facing. She ends with the idea, I am not invisible. We are not invisible (people with mental illness). This applies to many groups. Groups who have faced injustice or have been marginalized,” 

Margol continued, “Jon talks about being queer where he had to seek out and find his group. Although he is Brooklyn-based now, he was raised in Alabama so this quote really resonated with him. We tried to find artists where their work mirrored the quote. He came up with these intertwined figures in the mural. It’s this idea of support. I am not invisible and we are intertwined together. It just felt right.” 

Offering people access to these murals became a focal point of the American Portrait project, Margol explained. During brainstorming, the idea of street art really popped as an organic way to get their message across.

“We chose street art from an accessibility standpoint. People can walk by it and see it,” Margol said. “Doing it in a gallery could be harder for people to access. It’s all about commonality and access. 

“There’s an attitude to street artists, they’re out there and aren’t afraid to state an opinion and put a vision out there for the world to see,” he added, “Their canvases are these huge walls that speak to the importance of not only the artist’s visions but also the quotes we’ve chosen.” 

As part of a nationwide campaign for tolerance and unity, PBS has premiered a mural project that features street art installations in seven U.S. cities, including Atlanta. Created by Brooklyn-based artist Jon Key, The Atlanta installation is located in Little Five Points at Outback Bikes and features a quote, “I am not invisible,” submitted online by an American Portrait community member. (Photo: PBS and RadicalMedia)

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