In Atlanta, ‘Dungeons’ Nor Pyramids Are A Place For The Homeless

“Operating Under The Krooked American System Too long
OutKast, pronounced out-cast
Adjective meaning homeless, or unaccepted in society
But let’s look deeper than that
Are you an OutKast?”
–Big Rube, “True Dat”

“I think about all the homeless folk, when it rains…”
–Khujo Goodie, “Is That You God?”

In November 2014, Atlanta-based artist (and one of my personal favorites) Fabian “Occasional Superstar” Williams erected his highly-anticipated Dungeon Family Pyramid along the Atlanta Beltline towards the back corner of Piedmont Park. He spent nearly six months painting and building the 8-foot tall, 12-foot wide structure. The announcement of the project came on the heels of Outkast’s 20th Anniversary reunion tour and the city of Atlanta’s excitement of seeing their prodigal sons and the rest of the DF resurfacing to national visibility, together for the most part.

“I want to create a semi permanent monument that pays homage to the creative achievement of the Dungeon Family,” he explained in his Kickstarter campaign attempting to fund the project. “To me, pyramids are a symbol to the viewer that something significant has occurred here…The pyramid structures that have been left behind from ancient civilizations rival or even surpass modern construction in just about every continent. The Pyramid is a remnant of a society that celebrates the mastery of its architecture, culture and wisdom…The Dungeon Family Pyramid will be an artistic homage to their iconic achievements. As nomadic travelers view it, even if they are unaware of the cultural influence of the artists who will be depicted on the structure, it will be evident by the style and representation of the figures that they hold great significance.”

Initially, the pyramid was going to have four panels featuring the DF’s most popular members, Outkast (Big Boi and Andre 3000 having separate panels) and Goodie Mob, with the fourth panel adorned with hieroglyphic writings. But after some stern consultation from other DF members like Backbone, the pyramid was redesigned to feature all of the original members (Backbone, Witchdoctor, Cool Breeze, Ray Murray, Sleepy Brown, Big Rube, Mr. DJ and Rico Wade) as well as satellite and second generation members including Janelle Monae, Killer Mike and Joi. The pyramid was topped off with a custom-built glass capstone with future plans to include laser lights that could be seen from a distance.

While the Kickstarter campaign was unsuccessful, the project did secure funding from the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Beltline Art Committee via Elan Buchen who oversees Art On the Beltline. In the contract between Williams and the Beltline, the funding was to be used to build the project and maintain it. It was also stipulated that the project was to be a temporary art work, that would eventually be removed as either end of tenure or failure to keep the project in good standing.

Most that have walked or biked past the pyramid have stopped to admire it. However earlier this year, a handful of people began to vandalize and even inhabit it.

The first instance happened in March when the glass capstone at the top of the pyramid was damaged.

According to Atlanta Beltline officials, Williams was notified of the damage as soon as they saw it. Williams suspects that a passerby threw something at it to crack it. He also says the piece costs “a few hundred” dollars to make, let alone replace.

“From our contract, [Fabian] knows that the piece has to stay in good repair,” says Ericka Davis, Communications and Media Relations Director for the Atlanta Beltline. “He acknowledged that and said he would seek a solution.”

The capstone was removed and was never replaced.

“That takes money to fix,” Williams says, laughing for emphasis. “That’s not something where I can say, ‘oh, let me find an open evening to find some glass, gather these special chemicals I have laying around’ and just put it back together.”

In May, the Beltline contacted Williams again after they noticed that a panel from the base of the pyramid (ironically, the “Backbone” panel) had been jarred loose. Inside, there was evidence of someone actually sleeping in the pyramid.

“I wasn’t really tripping at first,” admits Williams. “Even when I put it up, it was cold outside and I said, ‘somebody is going to sleep in this shit,’ because its just too warm inside, and its the size of a small shed. I knew someone would make it into a shelter, that’s what I would do. Especially with the Dungeon Family’s music, it is representative of that segment of the population who is left out and disregarded. I felt like it made sense.”

But not to everyone.

The public art that is displayed on the Beltline does come with stipulations. One of them being that they can not have enclosures where people can enter and potentially settle in. Up until Williams built his Dungeon Family pyramid, there had never been structures featured that were large enough for people to fit into. In his initial pitch to build the pyramid, Williams actually wanted to include a door that would allow people to walk inside. But sensing a future problem, the Beltline did not approve that request.

“Fabian has a good heart,” says Ericka Davis, Communications and Media Relations Director for the Atlanta Beltline. “But he wanted to have a door, some lights and put some books in there. We were like nooooo, this is art. You aren’t creating a homeless shelter, you signed a contract with us for art. What if you don’t do the lights right, it burns down and the person dies?”

Per the contract with the Atlanta Beltline, Williams was obligated to repair the damages to his pyramid, which he did, sort of.

“I kept returning and putting the panel back,” says Williams. “[Atlanta Beltline] may not have noticed it because whoever was sleeping in it kept coming back, knocking it down, but I kept coming back to put it back. I didn’t want to glue it on there because I figured they would really fuck it up trying to break it.”

But that’s exactly what ended up happening anyway.

Now I'm mad. #DungeonFamilyPyramid #dungeonup

A video posted by Fabian (@occasionalsuperstar) on

Last week, Williams saw that a hole had been kicked in the pyramid. In just a matter of days the pyramid had now went from a piece of art to a place of refuge to a potential “broken window.”

“That really bugged me out,” says Williams. “When they kicked it in, they broke the panel that holds the entire thing together. I don’t understand why they would do that, especially since one of the panels was already removable at that point. They got tired of bending down, I guess.”

With the pyramid now missing a top, having a loose panel, a hole kicked in it and even having two sleeping bags, food waste and old sneakers inside of it, the Atlanta Beltline seemed to have gotten tired too. Soon after the hole was discovered, they informed Williams that it was time for the pyramid to go. They gave him one week to remove the showcase-turned-shed from the premises.

“Fabian’s piece from the beginning, came with challenges,” says Davis, who insists that she and her constituents loved and enjoyed the piece just like everyone else. “In the contract we agreed that his piece would be installed in August, he had some difficulty getting it together, so we held it out and allowed him to get in when he could, which was last November. We even extended the time that it could be up, considering that he turned it in late. We have discussed with him the times when the piece has needed repair, and became a place for shelter. If we have a human life form using a structure that we are legally responsible for and that person gets cut or it collapses, we would be responsible for that person’s life. So obviously, we cannot have a person living in it. We would not be responsible stewards of the community or the Beltline if we had someone living inside [the pyramid]. It was never meant for anyone to be inside, it was supposed to be an art piece.”

“But why the urgency,” asks Williams. “They all of a sudden give me one week to move it? It’s not a street sign, it’s the size of a shed. In my personal opinion, I think people in the surrounding community and people who live off the Beltline just didn’t want it there.”

To that, Davis responds, “His piece was always temporary. It was never intended to be there forever. It’s not a thing were we are telling Fabian, ‘hey we are done with the Dungeon, get out.’ Trying to make sure that all of the art on the Beltline stays in tact is not only our responsibility, but the responsibility of the artist as well. We ourselves can’t even protect the sanctity of his original piece. When it becomes shelter, its not art anymore. Fabian had a great six month run. For a temporary piece, that’s pretty good, most are only up for three months.”

Adding, “There is no disagreement that we love the piece, but there is also no disagreement that it needs repair.”

The accidental shelter didn’t stay homeless for long, if at all. After posting the news of the pyramid’s removal and need for a new host on social media, an outpour of responses flowed in. One of them came from painter “CP The Artist” who actually assisted Williams in painting on the pyramid. He tagged Nuri “Farmer I” Icgoren, founder of Urban Sprouts Farms in one of the photos.

Icgoren, a former school teacher, biologist and farmer purchased a foreclosed three-and-a-half acre property in Atlanta’s Lakewood area in 2011. He has since converted it into what he describes as an “urban art playground and farm” with future plans of being an agricultural hub and commercial grocer.

He swiftly contacted Williams and volunteered to house the pyramid at his complex. On Monday, June 8th, Fabian and a team of people, including Icgoren and Elan Buchen from the Atlanta Beltline dismantled the pyramid, loaded it on a truck and transported it to Urban Sprouts. Williams has no concrete timetable on when the pyramid will be resurrected. He has to replace the capstone, repair and possibly redo the hieroglyphic tiles and touch up and treat the paint.

“It wasn’t just homeless people fucking it up,” insists Williams. “There are tire marks on it from people putting their bikes on it.”

Icgoren is anxious either way and can’t wait to house it.

“It should be in Southwest Atlanta anyway, not in Midtown,” laughs Icgoren. “I would love to have the Dungeon Family come see it, the youths see it, maybe even have the DF do a small concert there raising awareness in SWATS about food.”

Even if that doesn’t happen (though we wish it would), the pyramid has already raised a bit of awareness to some issues. The obvious one being Atlanta’s homeless population. In 2013, there were 6,664 homeless people counted in Metro Atlanta. If you were to take a walk outside though, you’d swear that number was too low. You’d also wonder how there are so many homeless people in a city with so many abandoned homes and empty apartments/condos.

The second issue revolves around public art in the city. Can it stand to be better monitored? #BLACKLIVESMATTER is definitely a cause worth rallying around, but is it fair to scribble it (or anything else for that matter) on a mural an artist spent days working on?

“I learned a lot of lessons on public art, costs, expectations, and society,” admits Williams about this experience so far. “I feel like this the universe telling me to do something about the problems we have and getting others involved. People who live here ignore homeless people, hell I used to be one of them. It is a systemic problem, the more we ignore it, the more it will grow. We have to approach it form a creative and intellectual standpoint, it can be solved. It has got me thinking how my work is received, I want people to feel. This has been a good and bad experience at the same time.”

He adds, “I’m going to build another pyramid and it will be shelter. I just don’t know where yet.”

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One Response to In Atlanta, ‘Dungeons’ Nor Pyramids Are A Place For The Homeless

  1. oyasdaughter2003@yahoo.com says:

    The pyramid has spiritual significance in khemetic society; not a tomb but a space to power energize and be a conduit of energy; Isn’t that what art is? Not something stagnant and pretty to look at but a mechanism to empower and enlighten. What could beltline authorities have done different in resolving this issue and how can Atlanta be more sensitive to its homeless population?

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