As 16-year-olds go, Emma Menzies is ambitious. The rising junior at Grady High School is an AP art student and editor of the school’s award-winning literary magazine, with her sights set on a possible career in architecture. But it wasn’t so long ago that Menzies was just a child, and an urban-reclamation project opened down the street, the Atlanta Beltline, that changed the way she saw her native city, in every sense.
Now Menzies’s creativity has made her part of the Beltline project, if peripherally, in a way she hadn’t thought possible.
Family friend Thomas Markovic, of Morningside’s Flagler Avenue near Ansley Mall, caught wind of Menzies’s acrylic painting skills and commissioned her to beautify his new section of fence. It faces the Beltline’s future Northeast Trail, a corridor currently being cleared out by Georgia Power. (Neighbors report the trail could be paved, per discussions with officials, in 18 to 24 months.)
Menzies’s whimsical mural depicting the diversity of Atlanta life (and home decor) was unveiled during a neighborhood party this past weekend, where she scored interest about future mural commissions for other neighbors. “It was such an amazing experience to create this with people cheering Emma on, happy to come back every day to witness the progress,” says her mother, Britt.
For this installment of the My Atlanta series, the crafty teen lends perspective on growing up in an amorphous urban environment right now, her creative process, and why even high-schoolers think e-scooters are kind of a pain.
I’ve lived in the same house my whole life, in Morningside. It’s an older house, with a huge driveway up to the backyard, across the street from Cowtippers and Atmosphere [Bistro].
My mom is a pretty artistic person. She’s an author and illustration for children’s books and her company. I grew up doing arts and crafts all the time, and really got interested in it.
I’m going to be [an AP art student] this upcoming year. Ever since I got to Grady, I knew it was a pretty art-driven school, and I knew I wanted to get into that. AP art was pretty much the ultimate goal.
I’ve done a mural at my school, in like a blank-white courtyard area, but it wasn’t nearly as big as the fence. They’re usually just on small canvases that I end up putting in my room.
I just came up with the [fence mural] idea while thinking about it at school. I remembered this time when I was walking down the Beltline, and at the entrance to Ponce City Market, there’s an apartment across from there. It has these huge windows where you can look into everyone’s apartment, and I just really liked a certain one of the rooms. It has a canvas up, and paintings all around, and plants—just really pleasing to the eye.
I started [painting] in late May, and I’m still not quite finished with it. Still doing little finishing touches, here and there.
I don’t really have a title for the mural. I just wanted it to kind of represent Atlanta, in a way, and kind of chose the diversity that is all around Atlanta. So I showed that in each one of the rooms. [But] it’s not just rooms. I wanted to show how Atlanta can’t be show in one aspect, but how there’s so many different things that you can see, and you can just tell that by how people live.
Oh, it was not paid. He just wanted to have a student from Grady paint something on his fence; he has children who attended Grady, so he knows the talent that comes through there. He just thought somebody would want to get in on it, and that was me. It’s really exciting that I’m one of the first [artists] to be on that sector of the Beltline, so I can have that under my belt, I guess.
I really enjoy Atlanta. I feel like it’s a really great place to live, especially at the age I’m at. Because, especially around the Grady community, everyone’s just extremely accepting of everyone, and there are just so many different experiences and people that live around here, you just get to meet and have a good time with. So it’s really special to live here.
Every one of my friends feels pretty similar to how I do. The experiences that we’re able to have around here, it’s just one of a kind. We love the Beltline. Since there’s an [entrance] right near school, we’d sometimes walk the Beltline on Fridays, go to Ponce City Market. It’s a great source of entertainment, too, a full day’s worth of activities.
It’s really interesting: I haven’t traveled all around the U.S., but pretty much all over the eastern side. It is kind of different in Atlanta than most places, just how urban it is, and how open most people are.
A lot of my friends live around like Candler Park and the Inman Park area. Not all around Atlanta, because you still have to be in the [Grady] district. It usually takes like 20 minutes to get over there, with traffic.
A lot of the traffic is just really not appealing, when you’re trying to get to each other, if you live far away. Recently we’ve been talking about the e-scooter situation, and the pros and cons of it. A lot of us are happy that they’re there, as quick transportation, but it also becomes urban junk sometimes, how they’re displayed. It’s kind of a mess. That’s been a common thing that we [teens] talk about.
I know a couple people who have no interest in getting their [drivers] license or anything, but I always wanted to start driving as soon as possible. As soon as I turned 16, I got a license, and got a car as soon as I saved up for it. That’s just my perspective.
I’ve always kind of been interested in architecture, just the art and math aspects of it, just because I feel like those are my kind of strong-suits. But it’s really open at this point.
Yeah, probably I’ll end up living somewhere else other than Atlanta, just because I’ve lived here my whole life and want to experience something different. But it definitely wouldn’t be a bad choice to come back here.