“Bloom” by gloATL.
7 p.m. Fri. Feb 12; 4 p.m. Feb. 13 and 14. Free. In the corridors of Lenox Square, 3393 Peachtree Road N.E.; www.fluxprojects.org.
By Pierre Ruhe
Louis Corrigan has thought a lot about the arts in his hometown. About who goes to galleries and performances. About how that art is paid for.
What he’s realized can be boiled down into a simple statement: “It doesn’t take that much to do something here,” he offers. “One person can have a huge impact.”
A 44-year-old investment research analyst, Corrigan created (and funds) Flux Projects, a nonprofit dedicated to innovative temporary public art throughout Atlanta.
Corrigan has pumped $200,000 into Flux for the coming year and hired a veteran arts manager, Anne Archer Dennington, to run it.
At the nadir of the Great Recession, a six-figure gift to a startup project with the goal of sparking innovative art is “unheard of,” says Jan Selman, executive director of the Arts Leadership League of Georgia, a nonpartisan advocacy group.
“As a philanthropist, he’s not taking the safe route,” Selman says. “You don’t see that kind of venture capital in the arts coming from an individual, not these days.”
The first official Flux event is designed to attract maximum attention: Lenox Square on Valentine’s Day weekend will be the site for “Bloom,” a performance by choreographer Lauri Stallings and her gloATL dance company, with musicians from new-music ensemble Sonic Generator and def poetry from Big Rube, a hip-hop producer from Atlanta’s taste-making Outkast/Dungeon crew.
The Lenox event, Corrigan says, is designed to “reach a broad audience who might have an interest in the arts, rather than reach an arts audience with interesting art.”
It’s not really a subtle distinction, he insists. As an arts community, “we basically need to do things that will make ourselves visible to people other than ourselves.”
Lenox Square Mall draws 100,000 shoppers on weekends. The Fri. Feb. 12 performance of “Bloom” starts about 7. The weekend performances start about 4 p.m. during the thickest swell.
In parallel with Corrigan’s ambition, Stallings believes that “the hundred-thousand people in Lenox Square are the hundred-thousand who do not attend dance or opera or theater. It’s exciting to think about the ramifications.”
The choreographer and the money guy met after gloATL’s 2009 debut — called “Rapt” — a site-specific dance-light-music spectacle, held outside on the Woodruff Arts Center’s underutilized plaza. Finding common ambitions and kindred spirits, they soon hatched grand plans.
“One of the first things he asked me was, ‘What do you need?’ ” recalls Stallings. “I couldn’t believe it. No one ever asks artists what they need. We’re used to making do with what we’ve got.”
Stallings’ mind-set — making innovative dance performances despite our civic inertia — seemed to trigger a vision for Atlanta he held deep within.
Corrigan grew up living in apartments on Roswell Road north of Buckhead. His father had sold advertisements for Atlanta magazine, but when he was laid off, the family’s primary income came from his mother, a secretary for Eastman-Kodak.
Education was paramount to the family, and he attended private schools: Christ the King Elementary and Maris High School.
“I didn’t grow up in any sort of privileged home,” he says, “but my father was a big Atlanta booster, trying to improve the city. A lot of the things I do are a fulfillment of his ideals.”
His mother had been interested in stocks and taught her son the ins and outs of the market, and it became his teenage hobby.
In college at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and graduate school at Emory University, he studied English literature and writing, with no formal training in business. “I never got past Econ 101,” he says with a wry laugh.
Yet by 1996, he was versed well enough in the stock market to land a spot with the Motley Fool, an online investment site. After three years writing on the Web, at the apex of the dot-com bubble in 1999, a startup hedge fund in San Francisco hired Corrigan as an analyst. The Bay Area’s underground arts culture, which took nothing away from the prestige of its ballet, museums and orchestra, left an indelible impression.
When the bubble burst he returned to Atlanta.
Corrigan’s meaningful entry into arts philanthropy came in 2004, when he joined the board of Atlanta Celebrates Photography, where Dennington was then director.
“Louis was an entrepreneur who lent his specific talents for our public arts projects,” she says. “He saw the arts’ ability to build community and economic development.”
Today, Corrigan is outspoken about his love of art for its own sake and his sense that many of the city’s most prominent philanthropists don’t seem too engaged with what the Atlanta scene has to offer.
He says he buys an annual membership to the High Museum and plans to donate a few photographs from his private collection to the museum, but he’s not one of the institution’s patrons.
“A stunning amount of money in the city goes to the Woodruff Arts Center, but they have a very different mission from my interests. I go to gallery openings all the time, yet I looked at the top 100 donors to the High and saw just two names I knew personally — obviously their donors run in different circles than I do,” he says.
Corrigan and Flux’s first big project was producing the 2009 edition of Le Flash Atlanta (total cost: $90,000), an in-the-streets arts festival in Castleberry Hill. Corrigan, extremely modest by nature, funded the festival anonymously. He had planned to keep hidden from Flux Projects as well — until Dennington pointed out that his public funding could spur others to take a lead.
“A lot of arts projects in Atlanta go down in flames, with a lot of hard feelings,” observes Corrigan. “But in this community you can do so much with so little. $200,000 is nothing in [a peer city] like Houston, but in Atlanta it doesn’t take that much. That’s a sad statement, but it also gives me a lot of hope.”
Pierre Ruhe writes about the arts on www.ArtsCriticATL.com.