PushPush Arts, an innovative arts incubator that has been promoting and supporting the arts in Atlanta for 25 years, is nearing completion of an exciting new development in downtown College Park.
ION College Park is an adaptive reuse arts campus offering support and structure to artists in the form of affordable housing, art studios, galleries, stages, and community art spaces.
PushPush Arts was founded in 1997 by artists Tim Habeger and Shelby Hofer. Originally named PushPush Theater, the husband and wife pair has fostered and supported thousands of artists, projects, and films over the years.
PushPush Arts was first housed in the FloatAway Building in Morningside before expanding into a larger location in Decatur. Today, they are preparing to launch their biggest venture yet: a nearly 23,000-square-foot property in College Park.
Throughout PushPush Arts’ long history, there have been plenty of defining moments. In a 2010 survey, 80% of their artists were able to bike or walk to the facility. When they asked again in 2019 that number had dropped to 10%. This set off alarm bells for Habeger and Hofer.
“All of our artists were moving out because of the affordability problem,” said Habeger. As a result, the artists had diminished access to their facility and programming.
For the team at PushPush Arts, access is paramount. It’s central to everything they do and what they stand for. After realizing that they were not able to serve their artists as well in their location, they started looking for a better space that would be more central to their artistic base.
Cherie Ong from Good Places, one of PushPush Art’s community partners, suggested that they consider creating an adaptive reuse art space on the grounds of the 125-year-old College Park First United Methodist Church. The property was too large for the church’s current needs and instead of selling, they opted to partner with PushPush Arts in the imagining of a new comprehensive arts campus on the site.
Comprised of four buildings on a campus that is accessible to MARTA, ION College Park is also conveniently located just minutes from the airport. The property is within walking distance of downtown College Park as well as the upcoming mixed-use 6 West development.
“We created this plan to build a welcoming center for the arts in College Park,” said Habeger. “That’s where a lot of our artists were coming from anyway, and the southwest corner of Atlanta was woefully underserved for the fine arts. So that’s where we started four years ago.”
Residents renting or owning property in the arts complex will have free and low-cost access to workshops, events, performances, live music, art exhibits, and comedy shows, just to name a few. Both residents and those who live in the surrounding neighborhoods will be able to come together to develop a lasting sense of community centered around art.
“A resident on our campus is not only a participant in creating this cultural scene but they are also homeowners, or living and working affordably, in a way that doesn’t push people out but instead invites people in,” explained Kaleigh Malloy, Development and Marketing Manager for PushPush Arts.
As renovation and construction efforts near their completion, the team at PushPush Arts will begin moving to the property at 1805 Harvard Ave. in late summer or early fall. The opening of the cafe, art gallery, performance space, and six artist studios will soon follow. Meanwhile, the affordable housing building which will supply 60 one- and two-bedroom apartments, gallery space, a workroom, and a community center is set to have a soft opening sometime before the holiday season.
“Ultimately our mission has always been to amplify artists through their work with inclusion and programmatic operations,” explained Malloy. “Our vision has been to create a hub for artists where they can sustain themselves creatively and financially. This project is the actualization of that.”
Despite the fact that College Park is home to a significant artist population, there has never been an arts center in the city limits. “We have seen an outpouring of support from the community and Mayor Motley Broom,” said Malloy. “It’s an extraordinary group effort.”
Habeger explained that as they developed the program they considered models of organizational structure from other industries such as the software industry. They were interested in encouraging, fostering, and then retaining talent.
“We don’t want to keep losing artists to cities where they can sustain themselves better,” said Malloy. “We want to invest in IP and in content by artists here in Atlanta. We want to keep them here, produce their work here, and allow artists to have upward mobility through opportunities for homeownership and opportunities to create. Not just to survive but to thrive.“
When using terms like open-sourced, Habeger clarified that the concept essentially allows access for the public to get involved at every level. From a project’s genesis to its completion, PushPush Arts invites creatives and innovators to participate as volunteers, interns, apprentices, collaborators, professional partners, or sponsors. “There is always an access point,” said Habeger.
PushPush Arts makes big things happen by working with key players from their extensive network of community partners both locally and abroad. Some notable collaborators for ION College Park include Good Places, an organization that focuses on neighborhood revitalization in community-centered real estate development.
Tapestry Development, a qualified low-income housing tax credit developer, is dedicated to the preservation of low-income housing in Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. The KNDGM Group is a majority Black-Owned developer focused on breaking cycles of poverty in the face of gentrification. The design and development firm eightvillage focuses on place-based ecologies that are sustainable and empathetic in nature. The College Park First United Methodist Church is the first-ever church in College Park, and they will remain a key partner in the ION College Park project.
“We believe that there are things we can do to create great content here,” he continued. “The South has got something to say. Atlanta can sit at the table with any city in the world to talk about race, equity, a troubled past… everything that any major city deals with. Atlanta really has a lot to offer, and for the arts, we believe we can accelerate that and help to give them a first-class cultural city to live and work in.”
If you’d like to get involved with ION College Park, follow along with progress on the PushPush Arts website. Studio spaces will soon be available to rent, interested parties can email email@example.com for more details.