ELEVATE, the annual Atlanta arts festival, transforms regular ol’ South Downtown into a cultural art extravaganza, and has been doing so since 2011. From October 13 through 21, South Downtown will be full of innovative art, including LED installations, performances, visual art and more. Working alongside the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, ELEVATE highlights what makes the city we all know and love so unique, as well as the vision ATLiens have for a better Atlanta in the future. The festival has targeted issues like transportation, social interaction and, this year, the curatorial team is exploring the theme, “Microcosm.” The team is comprised of Monica Campana, Pastiche Lumumba, Allie Bashuk and Mark DiNatale, and each curator brings a different perspective and approach to art and community. Here, we get to know curator Pastiche Lumumba, from his background to approach for the festival, in more depth.
Hand-Picked Atlanta (HPA): What’s your art background?
Pastiche Lumumba (PL): I went to Georgia State University for film and video, and then I did some photography and some studio art as well.
HPA: How did you get involved with ELEVATE?
PL: Last year I was in the festival as an artist and this year I’m in it as a curator. Allie Bashuk had began working on a proposal and invited me to participate. I had worked with Allie on Wonderfarm and a number of other things, so we’ve been friends for a couple of years.
HPA: ELEVATE emphasizes each curator brings something unique to the table. What sets your curatorial style apart?
PL: I’m very focused on the musical culture that exists in Atlanta, so one of the artists that I chose is Danielle Deadwyler. Her performance has a lot to do with domestic labor and sexual labor that still happen within the context of melodrama, and how that unfolds in the city. Another thing I’m excited about that I had to have is a panel about trap music and its origins and aesthetics, and how those things are very much rooted in Atlanta. That’s one of the things I was very adamant about bringing to the table. That, and also things like Southern Fried Queer Pride, which is an organization in the city. It’s about bringing in things about Atlanta that I would normally hear from outside of Atlanta – the things that our culture exports as a city. Atlanta exports culture, fashion, music, dance – all kinds of things, and that’s not the type of thing I’d normally see at a festival or a type of ELEVATE that’s run by the city.
HPA: The theme this year is “microcosm”–what does that mean to you?
PL: To me the title of a festival reflects the location of a festival, both temporally and spatially. Spatially and geographically South Downtown is a transitioning neighborhood. Right now we’re at an intersection of what that street used to look like maybe 5 years ago, and what it’ll look like 5 years from now. What it means to me to be in this specific turning point, is that we should be looking around to see what has happened in the past and deciding what we want from the future. We’re at that moment right now. I want people to realize that we are at a moment where it requires thought and action.
HPA: Has the theme affected the way you go about selecting artists?
PL: Definitely. Tiona McClodden is someone who used to live in Atlanta and went to school here and moved away at least half a decade ago. She’s a video artist who has literal receipt for the ways that people interacted in certain parts of the city upwards of 5 years ago, which is around the same time that I got into the scene. Also, a lot of the organizations run on that street are either newly on that street are new themselves, so it’s been a challenge in that the city doesn’t have an art district, so the art festivals we have are on the street. There’s a whole thread of tenuousness – it’s all precarious right now. Especially with land development and people with money and people without money and political space. That definitely plays into what I’m trying to highlight curatorially.
HPA: Have there been any surprises along the way?
PL: I picked two artists, Danielle Deadwyler and Tiona McClodden, and while doing interviews with each of them I found out that they knew each other and went to school together. That was a delightful surprise. Other than that, I think that for me this is a newer type of experience because I’ve never worked on a project of this scale. It’s also a different format than it usually is, because previously the city has had one curator for this festival and now it’s a team that specifically came together because we had different ideas. I wouldn’t say that it’s a surprise necessarily, but it’s a constant learning curve to be working with that many people. To have this many people on my creative team and then also be working with a whole separate entity that is the city.
HPA: How many pieces have you sourced for the festival?
PL: Personally probably about 5 or 6. I say that only because we have worked on a lot of things together. It’s weird for me to think about artists and/or performances or events that I picked because I come from a background of doing everything individually. With this I’ve been picking comedians and going to shows and finding people to do comedy and musicians and panelists, on top of organizing the panels themselves, talking to artists and hooking them up with the venues and doing all of these programming things. It’s a hard thing to quantitatively answer.
HPA: How did you choose between performance or visual art, or anything else?
PL: Part of it is responding to what the other curators are doing and all of us kind of filling in gaps for each other. The other thing for me is that I want people to get a certain feeling when they walk down the street during opening night. I want people to feel comfortable, but to also be challenged and have things to talk about. One of the first people I got involved with was comedian David Perdue. I saw him at Comedy at Star Bar and he was talking about racism and race culture and all these things that happened on this street, but with a very astute comedic edge. It softened the conversation for us to have outside of that entertainment aspect of it. That’s what I wanted to do with all of the artists. Danielle is doing the performance of black female sexual and domestic labor, which is something that is often exploited. This is where we’ve had some conflict with the city, because we can’t necessarily hire strippers to do their job, but we can talk about it through this much more accessible venue or platform that is the performance. For me a lot of choices came from how do I get someone to start this conversation in a way that’s palatable for an audience.
HPA: You’re an artist and have actually been in ELEVATE in the past. How is it different to be on this side of the festival?
PL: It’s definitely more frustrating because I have less control over the logistics of what’s going on. If I’m doing my own personal projects, which I did last year, I can get a car to drive, or if there’s a tool that I need I can just talk to people and make it happen. Now I have to be the one to make that happen. I’m a curator, which is a creative position, but I also have to be the liaison between the technical director and the artist, both of whom I know personally and know what they want, but I have to play phone in between them, which for me is a little tedious. The thing that is fun, however, is that I do really care about other people’s work. There are these brilliant artists who are saying awesome things and are saying them in a much better way than I could with my words and possibly even with my art. To create this cohesive thing, which I think we’ve talked about as a team, is one of my main goals. When people walk into the location that is ELEVATE, I want them to get a story, to get a full feeling. To see things all in the same place, so it looks like you’re surrounded by this art. I think that’s something that is going to go really well and look very close to how we planned it. It’s a lot easier to create a production as a curator than as an individual artist, because as an individual artist you don’t have as much power to decide how your work interacts with other people. I take that responsibility very seriously; how we put these things together so that they don’t clash and so that everyone feels good, both on the production side and the audience side.
HPA: Is there anything else we haven’t discussed you think people should know?
PL: It was a long process. It wasn’t just all of the team sitting together over beers one night, deciding to submit a proposal. It was a process of “let’s bring in this person. Let’s propose this. Let’s revise this. Let’s send this to the city.” It was a very long process to bring us to where we’re at. It was sort of an iceberg that started huge and got smaller and smaller and got focused. What you’ll see in October is a result of months and months and months of planning and tweaking to make it the best we can make it.
Hand-Picked Atlanta Editorial Intern Emily van den Berg is an ATL city girl hailing from a small-town in Holland. She spends most of her time reading, imagining what it’s like to be a superhero and setting up her Netflix queue. She believes that every dog she meets is her new best friend and often wonders if their owners will notice if she takes them with her.