In an effort to commemorate the restoration of the historic David T. Howard Middle School and to honor the ongoing legacy of nature, history, and citizen-led advocacy, APS officials recently joined several community members and representatives from the Freedom Park Conservancy to announce ELDER, a site-specific public art project.
A sculptural installation by Atlanta-based artist Masud Olufani, the project will incorporate the shared histories of the David T. Howard school site, the Helene S. Mills Senior Center, and the Old Fourth Ward community into the project. Original plans for the redevelopment of the site included the loss of 60 mature and historic trees on the property, including some more than a century old.
To address the loss of these trees, concerned neighborhood citizens initiated an appeal process—facilitated by Trees Atlanta —in which APS and project firms Stevens & Wilkinson and Lord Aeck & Sargent devised a revamped plan that ultimately resulted in the additional benefit of preserving several trees and increased capacity for public engagement via public art.
During the Feb. 28 ceremony, the 150-year-old tree was unveiled. Superintendent Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen, members of the Atlanta Board of Education, and others participated in brushing the tree of debris, all in an effort to prepare it for installation.
“It serves as more if a simple way to engage and connect with the tree – much like preparing the body in transition for the next phase of the creative process,” explained Nancy Boyd, vice chair of the Freedom Park Conservancy. “We started using the brushes early on when engaging elders in the project as a simple productive way to engage. We view it as more spiritual or ceremonial.”
Olufani’s installation will transform a 100-year American elm into a sculpture that incorporates the histories of David T. Howard High School, the senior members of the community, and the historical importance of trees to the Freedom Park community into a combined artistic narrative.
“Freedom Park enjoys a unique designation as an Atlanta public art park,” Freedom Park Conservancy Board Chair Harriett Lane said in a press release. “And with ELDER, we look forward to using public art as a platform to bring community, nature, and history together in a really amazing way.”
The finished ELDER sculpture will be installed in Freedom Park, across from the David T. Howard Middle School, will be on public display from March through October 2020 in commemoration of the reopening of the school in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood.
This public art project is funded, in part, by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Georgia Council for the Arts. This project is also generously supported by Meredith Artley and Naka Nathaniel.