Atlanta’s creative community gathered at the High Museum of Art, Thursday, Nov 17 for an incredible night of poetry, storytelling, art and music. Hosted by local arts organization, NEXT-Atlanta and MARTA-Artbound, the event was the culminating act of The NEXT Movement Season 1 – showcasing Atlanta’s leading arts and activist voices of color. Together, we laughed, we sang, and we created community!
Faith Carmichael, the executive director of NEXT, opened the evening by telling the standing-room-only crowd, “This night is the fruition of two years of dreaming about bringing these incredible artists and art activists together. What started in living rooms and backyards has culminated in this event here at the High Museum.”
The NEXT Movement is a multi-platform arts and social action campaign created in partnership between Atlanta-based arts organization NEXT and MARTA Artbound. NEXT and MARTA Artbound commissioned five local artists to create artwork across various genres that address the global pandemic and the racial reckoning that have rocked communities of color over the past three years.
MARTA Artbound Director Katherine Dirga joined Carmichael onstage to celebrate the NEXT-MARTA partnership and introduce the artists, saying, “Through this partnership with NEXT, MARTA has been able to amplify its role as a community connector and an arts leader, engaging Atlantans around the critical issues that affect us most.”
The performances began with an engaging and humor-filled tale from storyteller and poet Jon Goode, who reminded us that “by being yourself, you can get where you’re going to go, even if it takes longer than you’d like.” He also performed his commissioned piece – a powerful poem titled, “(Re) Train of Thought.”
Okorie “OKCello” Johnson then took the stage and described what it is like to be “a Black man on a cello”. He began with a rendition of his composition “Fire,” filling the entire room with spellbinding notes that inspired a hush in the audience. He finished his performance with a fresh take on the Archie Bunker theme, inviting us instead to sing, “These are the days we’ve been waiting for.”
The evening was also the fulfillment of a dream for artist Melissa A. Mitchell, who told us, “When I walked in here tonight, I realized I was walking into an answered prayer.” Melissa had set an intention to have her work showcased at the High, and here she was, presenting her art, her successes along the way and where she hopes to go next.
Poet and author Carlos Andres Gomez described for the audience how, even though he has lived in Atlanta for just three years, he calls it home thanks to his participation in the NEXT Movement. “It’s a family,” he said, before performing his commissioned poem “Good Trouble”: “I owe my kids a world that is not yet here,” he read… “through this good trouble.”
The final artistic performance of the evening came from musician CC Sunchild, who swayed and sang at her keyboard while the audience joined in, singing “la-di-da” in call-and-response, while clapping or snapping their fingers. The lyrics of her last song of the evening, “sitting side by side, loving on each other, feeling each other’s energy,” perfectly summed up the experience of the evening.
The last half-hour was given over to five leading Atlanta art activists who have been integral to the growth of Atlanta’s creative class as a national and international powerhouse. They included: visual artist Charly Palmer; curator and visual artist Tracy Murrell, the High Museum’s curator of African Art Lauren Tate Baeza; CEO of The Integral Group and leading art patron Egbert Perry; and National Black Arts Executive Director Stephanie Owens.
The evening came to a rousing close with an impromptu shared performance led by the five artists and participated in by everyone — followed by a 5 minute standing ovation in appreciation for the audience as much as the artists.
By the close of the night, we all felt part of the NEXT family. That, together we had been, as one audience member said, “taken to church!”
NEXT Co-Founder/Executive Director