In Fall 2016, I worked on a group project called Artport, analyzing non-traditional museums, global perspectives, and humanity within the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Ever since I was a kid, I loved going to the airport, because it meant I didn’t have to sit with my parents and siblings in a car for a billion hours listening to NPR and eating trail mix that gave me a headache. As I grew older, instead of the excitement of flying in a plane, I loved airports for their efficiency. Flying out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport as many times as I have in my life, I came to realize that Hartsfield-Jackson was more than an extremely efficient, well-organized airport. Unbeknownst to me, Hartsfield-Jackson displayed hundreds of pieces of artwork and was home one of the largest Airport Art Programs in the country. It was fascinating researching and creating Artport for my final project, and I loved learning about the curation of a non-traditional museum such as the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport.
The first step in our project was to outline our (my partner Courtney Serra and I’s) aims and objectives. We were interested in exploring the curation of the permanent and rotating exhibits of the Airport Art Program, but we also had a few questions that were the driving force in our project. How does art elevate the Hartsfield-Jackson airport? How do location and security affect the accessibility of the art? How do you curate a museum that no one is there to see?
The final question was what we discussed most with David Vogt, director of the Airport Art Program. Mr. Vogt took us on a tour of a few different exhibits in a variety of mediums, from multiple artists, all curated in different ways. He explained to us that art that was more complex was placed in areas where people often waited for long periods of time. An example of this was a collection of beautiful and dynamic pieces of art from the National Parks Service, located in the T-Gate terminal. This display not only had nature photographs, but intricate pieces of art, like sculptures, woven blankets, and works of an activist nature. They were curated alongside videos of artists explaining their work and mission. We saw numerous travelers looking at the art while waiting to board their planes. On the other hand, one of the most permanent exhibits, a collection of rock sculptures from Zimbabwe, were placed in an area with a large traffic flow where not many people stopped and looked at the art. This made sense, as the massive pieces were beautiful and eye-catching, and people would be able to enjoy the artwork even as they traveled on the moving sidewalks connecting gates.
It was interesting to talk with Mr. Vogt, and discuss with him the challenges and work that involves the curation and maintenance of a large art program. We learned that Hartsfield-Jackson has one of the largest collections of art in the United States, but unlike the San Francisco airport and others, Hartsfield-Jackson is not museum accredited, and thus often has trouble acquiring artists for their rotating collections. We also learned that the program often facilitates art sales between artists and travelers interested in the art. In the atrium, a photography exhibit had price tags next to the art, and Mr. Vogt told us that artwork from elementary schools and high schools were most often sold. Mr. Vogt also told us about a program within the airport that displays the work of airport employees, from retail associates to custodians. He said they get hundreds of works from thousands of employees.
In order to present what we learned from visiting the airport and talking to employees, we knew we couldn’t display our information in a powerpoint. We instead tried our hand at non-traditional curation and created a website. This was a much more interesting way to present what we had learned, and it allowed us to directly contrast galleries and works of art while showing larger images of the airport as a whole. This also allowed us to display quotes from readings that shaped the project, such as Berger’s Ways of Seeing and Karp’s Exhibiting Cultures: the Poetics and Politics of Museum Display in direct contrast with images, allowing for further understanding into the quotes we used and why we used them.
Creating the website also helped me reflect on the project because I had to return to the very beginning of our process to create the website. I had to sort through the many pictures I took and had to choose what was not only informative to the viewer, but aesthetically pleasing. Ultimately, this project was eye-opening. Not only did I learn about curation, but I also saw Atlanta and its culture in a way I had never seen it– through the airport. After finding and researching this not-so-hidden gem of Atlanta, I will never be able to fly into or out of Atlanta without giving a mini-tour of the artwork and describing all I have learned about its curation and importance. Now I will enjoy going to the airport even more than I did as a kid, and I’m thankful for that.