Image courtesy of Emily Chapman. Art courtesy of _CheckTheBox_. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.
I grew up just outside of Decatur, an intown suburb of Atlanta that bills itself as “a city of homes, churches, and schools.” (Yes, really.) Though it’s not really Atlanta, in a metro area that still includes suburbs 2 hours outside of town, it is close enough. The town is basically what Berkley would be if it happened to be in Georgia; there are competing, longstanding independent coffee shops, and art fairs, and an annual book festival. A lot of earnest high school students are always around, playing ultimate frisbee.
It’s a lovely town. I would be charmed if I discovered it as an adult. But I didn’t, and as a result I’ve maintained an uneasy relationship with it into adulthood: I like it, I should like it, I am a product of it, but it seems like cheating to stay in it. I’m not establishing myself as an adult in any meaningful way if I’m still getting coffee at the same coffee shop I’ve been loitering at since I was 15, even if it’s a wonderful coffee shop (and I drink beer in it, now). So, I’ve been staying away, finding new coffee shops in my new neighborhood a few miles away. It’s been a good choice, I think.
But I was reminded how much I like the place this weekend, when I went back for the second annual Great Decatur Art Hunt. The event grew out of Free Art Friday/#FAFATL, a city-wide group of artists (loosely affiliated in some cases, unrelated in others) which drop art around town for folks to find. This was a concentrated version of that: starting at noon on Saturday, the artists gathered to drop art and watch as folks gathered it. Decatur was such the neighborhood for it: lots of families with small kids who wanted to participate, high walkability for finding drops on foot, a huge number of earnest people who Want to Support Art.
And people came! I thought I would be alone, but I spotted probably 40 folks, phones out to track the hashtag, out hunting for art by themselves or with friends or with their children. Everyone was so friendly—folks who’d seen each other hunting would share their finds, and cheer each other on, and give tips for where the photo clues might be placed in Decatur. (The “old people in love” statue was a popular placement spot, as was their friend the inexplicable Thomas Jefferson bronze.) I’ve written before (constantly) about how living in Atlanta can feel claustrophobic and shut up and small. But sometimes, that same smallness leads to a sense of community and belonging—I was out looking for art with all the other nice kid mid-20s hipster doofuses, and they were so nice and so friendly, and there was a farmer’s market happening half a mile down the street because of course there was. I wouldn’t have half the stress about staying or going that I do if I didn’t feel like I belonged here.
Sometimes the smallness of the community young adult earnest art geeks on the east side of town, south of Ponce is, like, super literal: in what was of course is the most recent installment of “Emily’s life is written by a lazy sitcom author,” on the way back to my car I ran into a dude that a friend of mine has been trying to set me up with for a month. I tagged along with him for an hour or so as we walked around looking for art that hadn’t been sniped by children. We wound up talking about how small the city is, because that seemed relevant under the circumstances. Art was located, I wound up talking about SMTP (I’m the worst), I sweat buckets and got a sunburn.
Afterwards, my sister joined me at the coffee shop of my misspent youth, and we headed to the local ping pong bar (no, not that one, the other one, with the artisanal soda booze), where I snagged a second piece of art as it was being left, and chatted with its creator. Minus the sunburn, it was an entirely pleasant way to spend a morning.