$4M for­est walk most pop­u­lar art at air­port

‘Flight Paths’ was put in last year af­ter de­bates over es­ca­lat­ing costs.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - BUSINESS - By Kelly Ya­manouchi kya­manouchi@ajc.com

A mas­sive $4.1 mil­lion art in­stal­la­tion that sim­u­lates a walk through a for­est in an un­der­ground walk­way at Harts­field-Jack­son In­ter­na­tional has quickly be­come the most pop­u­lar art­work at the world’s busiest air­port.

The 450-foot art in­stal­la­tion ti­tled “Flight Paths” was in­stalled last year in the un­der­ground pas­sen­ger walk­way and be­tween Con­courses A and B. It came to life in the peo­ple-mover tun­nel 13 years af­ter it was first en­vi­sioned by artist Steve Waldeck.

At­lanta Mayor Kasim Reed this month called the art­work “one of the most spec­tac­u­lar pieces of art in the en­tire South­east.”

It’s “both au­da­cious and peace­ful,” help­ing to ease the stress of trav­el­ers, Reed said. “This is an ex­pres­sion of our cul­ture.”

It’s not un­usual for trav­el­ers take to so­cial me­dia to post photos of the il­lu­mi­nated ceil­ing and videos of their walk through the vir­tual for­est, com­plete with bird sounds and a sim­u­lated rain­storm. The tree canopy is made up of thou­sands of laser-cut alu­minum leaves, il­lu­mi­nated by 24,000 LED lights. Thirty-one species of birds that can be heard.

The art project “had an in­cred­i­bly long ges­ta­tion pe­riod,” ac­knowl­edged Harts­field-Jack­son art pro­gram man­ager David

Vogt, cit­ing de­lays due to the strug­gling econ­omy and other fund­ing chal­lenges.

The bud­get for the project bal­looned from $1.3 mil­lion in 2003 to more than three times that amount by the time it was com­plete, due to in­creased costs for elec­tri­cal work with LED lights and to re­design ma­te­ri­als to com­ply with cur­rent safety codes.

“I think it’s crazy,” said John Sher­man, then-pres­i­dent of the Ful­ton County Tax­pay­ers Foun­da­tion, about the price tag. Two At­lanta city coun­cil mem­bers voted against a 2012 mea­sure for the project when it came with a nearly $4 mil­lion price tag, in­clud­ing coun­cil mem­ber Yolanda Adrean who raised ques­tions about the cost of the piece and other is­sues.

When the coun­cil’s fi­nance com­mit­tee in 2015 voted unan­i­mously in fa­vor of ad­di­tional fund­ing to bring the bud­get to $4.1 mil­lion, Adrean said she was re­as­sured that the artist would be able to com­plete the project thanks to the com­ple­tion of a 60-foot pro­to­type.

Now, “Flight Paths has be­come the most pop­u­lar piece of art­work that we have here at the air­port,” said Harts­field-Jack­son gen­eral man­ager Roo­sevelt Coun­cil. The At­lanta air­port “in­tro­duces At­lanta to the world” and the air­port art pro­gram “serves as a cul­tural in­tro­duc­tion to the city,” he said.

The stretch of peo­ple-mover tun­nel with the art in­stal­la­tion has also be­gun to serve an un­usual pur­pose for frus­trated pas­sen­gers: It has be­come an im­promptu place for stranded trav­el­ers to stretch out and try to get rest af­ter their flights are can­celed.

This month, Reed and air­port of­fi­cials un­veiled an in­ter­pre­tive sign ex­plain­ing the work, the species of birds heard, how the video of sky and fly­ing birds was cre­ated, and Waldeck’s back­ground and vi­sion.

Reed said the art in­stal­la­tion helps to main­tain At­lanta’s sta­tus as the “cul­tural cap­i­tal” of the South­east “It lets trav­el­ers know right away, right out of the gate, that At­lanta isac­ity com­mit­ted to the arts,” he said.

Waldeck was in­volved in the in­stal­la­tion, but air­port of­fi­cials said his health has de­clined over the last year due to Alzheimer’s dis­ease. He was not able to at­tend the city’s cel­e­bra­tion of his work.

Still, Waldeck had cre­ated a thor­ough blueprint for the am­bi­tious in­stal­la­tion and he “was able to re­al­ize the mas­ter work of his ca­reer,” Vogt said. For the many oth­ers in­volved in the project over a pe­riod of years, it “was a la­bor of love,” he said.

Marc Shellist, who man­aged the in­stal­la­tion for SVI Themed Con­struc­tion So­lu­tions, said the aim was to “cre­ate a jour­ney” and “an im­mer­sion event with a chang­ing nar­ra­tive.”

“It’s not un­like an ac­tual walk through the woods, where things are sim­i­lar, but never ex­actly the same,” Shellist said. It’s “a mod­ern, im­pres­sion­is­tic for­est.”

Harts­field-Jack­son spokesman An­drew Gobeil re­ferred to “Flight Paths” — of­ten sim­ply called “the for­est” — as “an­other icon for ATL and for the city of At­lanta.”

The ma­jor­ity of the more than 104 mil­lion pas­sen­gers Harts­field-Jack­son han­dles in a year are just con­nect­ing through the air­port, of­ten ex­pe­ri­enc­ing At­lanta only be­tween gates or con­courses.

Vogt said the aim of the art pro­gram is “to make this more than just a passthrough, but an ex­pe­ri­ence, some­thing you re­mem­ber.”

KELLY YA­MANOUCHI/STAFF

“Flight Paths” by Steve Waldeck was in­stalled last year in the un­der­ground pas­sen­ger walk­way and be­tween Con­courses A and B at Harts­field-Jack­son In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

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