From babies in space to building sized murals, Dashboard Creative Director Courtney Hammond has an eye for distinct art. So it makes natural sense, then, that the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs would tap her to curate the first Elevate Arts Festival back in 2011. With 15 events and 40 performances over the course of 66 days, the now annual festival brought art and some much needed attention to the South Downtown neighborhood.

“The year we did the South Broad murals, we had over 100 press pieces in just a couple of weeks,” Courtney said. The 2012 project allowed five days for five artists to paint large-scale murals on Broad. “Public art is for the public, but it’s also for garnering local and national attention as to the identity of Downtown and what we wanted it to be. Being big and loud was a good thing.”

And while the press is important, Courtney stresses the smaller-scale community engagement fostered from the different projects between neighbors and artists. Muralists were invited to dinners hosted by residents during 2012 where they experienced, "real community movement over food through discussions of history in the area and the current state of affairs—it impassioned the artists to do the best they could."

Alongside other programs and passionate citizens, South Downtown has continued to define itself through the state of flux involving rumored casinos, venues and new plans for nearly vacant spaces like Underground Atlanta. Elevate celebrates a different theme each year in line with the Mayor’s initiative. In 2013, the topic was “Transit,” and they were able to activate a MARTA station with performance art.

“It’s always important that people know public art isn’t just bronze sculpture,” Nicholas Hemenway of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs said. “It can be performances in the street or photographs on the side of a building. It’s educational and brings people together to meditate on art.”

Courtney, who worked on Elevate from 2011 - 2014, saw a wave of change from bringing more people out Downtown, from trouble-making fronts shutting down to helping instill a general sense of pride for residents in the area who hadn’t felt connected to the community in a long time.

“Downtown started to embrace what was happening,” Courtney explained. She recalled, while standing on the street, someone opening the window 10 stories above and asking, “Hey, whens elevate?” It was then that she thought, “OK, we’re doing something good. This has the substantial legs to do something great.”

Elevate 2016 is coming up October 13 - 21 in South Downtown supported by a crew of local curators focused on bringing local, national and international art to the ATL.