Whitney & Micah Stansell: A Bridge to the Arts

It’s hard enough for two artists to create together as colleagues, but the challenge doubles when it’s a married couple. Husband and wife Micah and Whitney Stansell, residents of College Park, Georgia, are frequent collaborators and skilled artists who know a thing or two about creative differences. 

Graduates of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and Georgia State University, the two have collaborated on a host of artworks, including drawings, sculptures and paintings. Their art tends to be temporary: in 2012, they put their heads together to create “The Water and The Blood,” an audio and video exhibit at the High Museum of Art (film by Micah, costumes by Whitney). However, they’re doing something out of character this year by creating a piece of art that’s both permanent and more accessible — and it’s right in their backyard. 

The couple lives, works, and raises their three children not far from Hapeville, Georgia — and although their work has been featured in exhibits as far away as Beijing, Vienna, and Los Angeles, their next creative project will be built in their own neighborhood. The Stansells have been commissioned to turn a public bridge into an art installation as a part of the city’s Blueprint 2020, a plan to transform the city of Hapeville into an art-focused community. As David Burt, Hapeville Arts Alliance director, said, “In the age of big-box shopping and internet stores…downtown has to be vibrant, it has to be a destination, a place that people want to go.”

After meeting in Birmingham, Alabama at Samford University, Micah, 40, and Whitney, 39, married in 2002 and settled in the College Park neighborhood where Micah grew up. He holds an MFA in Digital Filmmaking, and Whitney, a native of Greenville, South Carolina, is into painting — as you might expect, much of their art focuses on the unvarnished beauty of Georgia and the powerful tradition of Southern storytelling. 

What could be a better way to celebrate Georgia than to contribute to its infrastructure? The Stansells were the winners of a $45,000 commission to complete the project in January 2019, and will finish the creative process by the end of the calendar year. Pedestrians will be welcomed by a large glowing “Hapeville” sign along the side of the bridge, and during the day, thousands of tiny aluminum disks covering the bridge will reflect the sunlight, creating a shimmering effect. “The disks turn the bridge into a giant kinetic sculpture that reacts to, and reflects the environment around it,” the Stansells wrote in their proposal for the project. In the past, the bridge has been underutilized in the neighborhood, possibly because of its drab appearance, but the power couple is hopeful that their efforts will revitalize the community. 

Public art is a valuable element of Atlanta culture, from the Krog Street Tunnel to Pianos for Peace — the nonprofit responsible for placing freestanding, colorfully painted pianos around the city — but it’s been a subject of debate whether the Stansells’ latest work of art will contribute to gentrification of the area. “Our idea is that (by) putting in a permanent public piece of art, it becomes a destination. It becomes a place for you to go and experience the space,” said Micah. Their hope to breathe new life into the space will be realized in 2020, but only time will tell whether this vision of interactive art becomes a reality.
-Abby Palazzo