Creating Places: A Citizen Observer's Look at Nashville's Built Environment

Writer's Note: William Williams' interest in the manmade environment dates to 1970, at which point the then-young Williams started a collection of postcards of city skylines. The collection now numbers 1,000-plus cards. Among the writer's specific interests are exterior building design, city district planning, demographics, signage, mixed-use development, mass transit and green/sustainable construction and living. Williams began his Creating Places column with The City Paper in February 2005. The column in its original form was discontinued in September 2008 and reinvented via this blog in November 2008. Creating Places can be found on the home page of the website of The City Paper, at which Williams has worked in various capacities since October 2000.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Creating Places: A chat with MNAC leader Jen Cole

Jennifer Cole serves as executive director of the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the entity tasked with bringing high-profile public art to Davidson County. Of note, the MNAC will install 25 new pieces in the public collection during the next three to four years. Given public outdoor art can be key element of the built environment — and on the day the art-clad 28th/31st Avenue Connector opened — I though it might be nice timing to run this Q and A with the gracious Ms. Cole.  

MNAC is now taking bids for art on the Music City Center Roundabout. You have, in the past, ruled out a water piece. What might we expect in terms of size, night lighting, color scheme, materials, etc.?

The Selection Panel for KVB Roundabout met on Sept. 21 and selected six artists to create site-specific proposals for the Roundabout. The six are Vito Acconci from New York; Donald Lipski from Philadelphia; Roberto Behar & Rosario Marquardt/R and R Studios in Miami; Christian Moeller from Los Angeles; and Ursula von Rydingsvard from New York. The artists’ names will be announced after all applicants are notified, likely in early October.The artist budget is $750,000. We don’t know yet the site work will cost but my guess is the total price tag (site work and art) will be about $1 million. 

I cannot comment on what we might  see from a site-specific proposal, but each semi-finalist has produced work of the scope and budget scale we require from KVB. In addition, the panel felt these artists were best suited to respond to the project goals explicit in the public RFQ. The piece will not have a water component because there is no water source running directly to the roundabout and it would be too costly. Semi-finalist artists are encouraged to consider the piece should consider the following, among other elements:

* Engage pedestrian and vehicular viewers, both day and night
* Consider the elevation of the landscape, the vistas* 
* Consider the eclectic mix of old and new, history/future of the area* 
* Become a symbol of, or icon for, the SoBro/Lafayette/Gulch corridor* 
* Include detail that is relatable and offers additional rewards to those on foot or bike
*Support and echo the city’s commitment to complete streets and green infrastructure

We expect to finalize a timeline for this next phase in the coming weeks. I would expect a finalist to be selected by late spring 2013.

How critical is it that the piece be a statement piece?

Incredibly critical.

On the color scheme theme, I have often noted fire engine red is not an ideal paint color for outdoor art. For Ghost Ballet, the paint job is now very faded and looks jarring compared to the surrounding natural environment. In addition, the fire engine red and maroon gantry seem an odd color combo. What is the status of Ghost Ballet being repainted? And will it be a color other than fire engine red?

The color and materials of a piece are the discretion of an artist. (Legally, any public art piece color must remain that color when repainted unless the artist is willing to change it.) Metro Arts supports Alice Aycock’s work and her vision. It is standard public art practice to work with an artist when any capital maintenance is required.
The entire public collection has received a maintenance review. We are doing standard repairs to the bike racks as we speak. We will be taking bids on repainting the Ghost this fall and I imagine will complete the work in spring when conditions are more favorable for painting.

I've grown to like Citizen but have, over time, liked less and less the Exploration and Discovery trio of pieces. They are of quality design and craftsmanship and are simply too small. Your take?

No comment on the scale. The Scholar, one of the pieces in Exploration and Discovery has been subjected to numerous and repeated acts of vandalism since its installation. In consultation with the Parks Department, Metro Arts Commission voted on Sept. 20 to approve the removal and storage of the piece until a suitable alternate location can be secured. We are in conversation with the Public Library about re-locating Exploration and Discovery to the courtyard of the main branch on Church Street. We anticipate a timeline and final decision by the end of the year.

Some of the bike racks border on insane — and in good way. The massive mic at Music Row Roundabout is stellar. And I like the locks at the Main Library. What might we see in the future? 

We approved 10 new designs earlier in the year. Those designs are in fabrication and we are nearly complete with location assignment. Renderings of the new designs are available in our searchable public art map at our website ( Final locations should be public by the end of November.

What about the art component of the 28th/31st Avenue Connector? My concern about that art is that few walkers will get to stop and enjoy. I see the connector as being dominated by cars and, as such, will offer only a modest level of success with its art. 

Location and use are a major factor in choosing finalists and awarding contracts. The design team worked with the artist to support changes throughout the process that would reinforce both its durability and its integration into a complete street. The materials and lighting will, I believe, provide vehicular and pedestrian excitement during the day and at night.

MNAC is overseeing art in Shelby Park. Thoughts?

Denver–based, award-winning artist Lawrence Argent installed the work at Shelby Sept. 25-26. The work is a major piece of the Metro Park Department Master Plan and at a central location within the park that serves as the center/anchor for the pedestrian and cycle activation of the park. His work evokes the past, the present and the innate curiosity of the East Nashville community.We will dedicate the work formally as part of Artober Nashville at 10 a.m. on Oct. 13. The dedication will be part of a larger art-themed 100th Anniversary Celebration for the Park and all who love it.

Some Metro leaders — Charlie Tygard comes to mind — want to see more art in the county's suburbs. Your take?

Our public art plan includes locations throughout the county. We are mindful of the role public art plays in creating and enlivening public spaces and continue to look for those opportunities as projects evolve in outlying neighborhoods. 

The Watermarks initiative will be installed spring 2013. We are also working now with both the Bellevue Library design team and the Southeast Nashville (Hickory Hollow) design team to integrate public art in these two projects. Our plan will continue to place art in neighborhoods both through project integration and scalable pilots like the bike rack initiative.We work hard educating and conversing with elected officials at the local and state level about the importance of art, public art and art funding to their constituencies. 

Public art at the neighborhood level is part of a larger agency priority/strategy to ensure that all Nashvillians can access and experience the arts in their daily lives. In order to really be successful, we must coordinate our grant-making, our programs and our public art framework to respond to where people live — in and out of the urban core.

Tell me about the initiative in Donelson.

Donelson/Hermitage are a perfect example of neighborhoods coming together and leveraging art, artists and creative businesses to create or re-imagine a neighborhood brand.Donelson/Hermitage are home to dozens of artist studios, a growing gallery community, the Keeton Theatre, the Lakewood Theatre, the Dance Theatre of Tennessee, Arts at the Airport and the Opry. For decades, this neighborhood was home to stars and those behind the scenes of the Opry. New residents are eager to harness this history and tie it with some of the new, creative excitement. In the last six months, more than 50 businesses, McGavock High and community leaders have worked together to put art at the center of an economic and community revitalization effort.

“In Concert” — the mural project located at 2620 Lebanon Pike on the Johnson Furniture building — is the tip of the iceberg and not the actual story. Yes, more than 200 folks came out to pay for and paint this month-long neighborhood project.The story is that there are more than 3,700 followers on the Hip Donelson Facebook page and nearly 3,000 on Hip Hermitage talk daily about art, artistic ventures and supporting the creative life of the neighborhoods. 

The real story is that the creative centers of the neighborhoods are grounding larger economic development. The real story is that enclaves of musicians, artists and galleries are not just happening in the urban core. They are alive and vibrant and really driving economy and identity throughout the county.The mural is a manifestation of the larger collaborations and development that are fueled by art and artists.


  1. It's interesting that all of the artists selected as semi-finalists are from out of town - are there no local artists capable of tackling this project? - some mistake surely? -

    send the budget money out of town.....let's outsource some more!

    1. That is a legitimate concern, AMous 3:42.


  2. The statue of the little man with the telescopes is my favorite piece of public art in Nashville, I'm disturbed to hear it has been vandalized. The startling scale of the piece means that you don't notice it until you're upon it, so it feels like a discovery. Once you're close enough to appreciate it, it turns out to be this quiet little figure looking up at the tall buildings around him, engaged with his environment (in a way rare for sculptures aside from cathedral gargoyles) but largely unseen, like a scientist surrounded by the vastness of the world he studies.

    I'd rather have it vandalized than moved to the library courtyard where its scale will seem ordinary, and no matter how carefully situated, you won't come upon it as a discovery and it won't be looking at anything. And if the two less imaginative pieces in the trio go with it, it will seriously compromise the aesthetics of the library courtyard. The children especially look to me like something you'd see cast in resin in Loew's garden center. There's a place for kitsch, but it isn't the neo-Renaissance elegance of this quiet and special heart of the library.