Arts Commission biding time with public art

Tuesday, September 4, 2007 at 12:16am

A month after Metro installed its first publicly funded sculpture, the city’s Arts Commission appears to be patiently biding its time until Mayor Bill Purcell leaves office and a new Metro Council convenes to, again, ask the Metro Parks Board for permission to install a significant series of sculptures on downtown’s public square.

So far, only Alice Ayock’s Ghost Ballet for the East Bank Machineworks on the Cumberland River’s east bank facing Lower Broad’s eastern terminus has been erected.

Last September, the Arts Commission approved a $350,000 purchase of a series of artworks for the square, and, thinking the matter was done, found itself caught off guard when Sandra Duncan, who heads the Commission’s public art program, saw that she had been placed on the Parks Board agenda in January to request final approval for the art.

The Commission thought it had received final permission from Parks to install the art in April 2006, before the art was chosen, but the Parks Board is adamant it only gave “conceptual approval” to the project. In May, the Board placed a one-year moratorium on any new permanent installations in the square.

“We were more or less stopped in our tracks — and much to my chagrin — because I thought we had gone through the whole entire process. But we were stopped.” said Nancy Saturn, the Arts Commission chair, in a recent interview. “And the reason I haven’t been as exercised about it is that we’re about to have a whole new situation in our city, a new mayor, a new Council, and I believe we will find a way to restart.”

Saturn said she wishes Purcell, who championed the Public Square, had shown more support for the art.

“The official word was that it [the moratorium] was through Parks, but I’m certain that the Mayor, for me, has always had his finger on every bit of the pulse of our city, so I have to feel that he had his finger on the pulse of this, but I have no way of knowing that,” Saturn said. “But I do feel that we were stopped in a way that we were not stopped on the Alice Aycock — so you have to read between all the lines I imagine.”

The concept of ‘approval’

The Parks Board held only one vote to approve the Ghost Ballet sculpture, which technically sits on Parks property, an approval that it gave more than a year before the sculpture was selected and unveiled by the Arts Commission.

Metro attorney Tom Cross, however, said he thinks the Board nevertheless kept to the requirements of the public art ordinance when it demanded two votes on the public square art, emphasizing the Parks Board made first approval “conceptual.”

Former Metro Councilman Jim Shulman — who has expressed some sympathy for the Arts Commission — said he considered filing legislation to deal with Parks-Arts dispute this spring, approaching Arts Commission representatives with his suggestion. He was asked to hold off.

“I went to representatives of the Arts Commission — they asked me to wait based upon the fact that a new mayor was coming into office,” Shulman said.

Did Purcell delay project?

Jeff Ockerman, who chairs the city’s Public Art Committee — an entity technically separate from the Arts Commission, which selects public artworks and presents them to the Commission for final approval — appeared to express concern that Purcell was working to delay the project in a May e-mail to Arts Commission executive director Norree Boyd.

“My very cynical take is that the Mayor is stringing you along so the MNAC [Arts Commission] loses whatever opportunity it has to appeal [the moratorium]. I'll be very interested to hear what he tells you,” Ockerman wrote Boyd in an email obtained by The City Paper through the Tennessee Public Records Law.

“If the projects for the Public Square aren't going forward, Metro owes an apology not only to the artists but to the Public Art Committee members and the Selection Panel. I would hope the Mayor would offer this, but I don't expect it. Perhaps you can make that suggestion – but I don't believe the apology should come from the MNAC or its Executive Director,” Ockerman continued.

In an interview last week, however, Ockerman said he does not feel there was “any real concern” with the mayor himself. It was a matter, Ockerman said, of simply working with the Mayor’s office to try to reach an accord with the Parks Board.

“Clearly we didn’t reach a resolution. We’re kind of at an impasse,” Ockerman said, adding he believes the mayor has a role in mediating between departments.

Sandra Roberts, Purcell’s spokeswoman, was adamant Purcell had nothing to do with the moratorium.

“I think the mayor is very comfortable with the process for establishing public art, and he’s got great faith in the Arts Commission. He also has great faith in the Parks Board and their ability to set policy about the parks that they govern,” Roberts said. “The last thing the city needs is a mayor who votes thumbs up or thumbs down on a proposed piece of public art.”

Talking points

Deputy Mayor Curt Garrigan, the Parks Department former assistant director for planning and facilities, confirmed this week he met with three Arts Commissioners — Ockerman, Jane Alvis, and Joseph Presley — in March to discuss the matter at the commissioners’ request.

Garrigan said he helped draft the moratorium document before he joined the Mayor’s Office early this year. Garrigan added that he told Duncan last fall the Commission would have to request final approval for the art.

Before the moratorium was passed, Parks Director Roy Wilson sent an email to two of Purcell’s staffers — Garrigan and Chris Koster, who is now a Parks employee — regarding the art. Wilson sent what appears to be a set of talking points on the subject on the morning of the April 3 Parks Board meeting, asking, “How’s this for starters?”

In one paragraph, Wilson emphasized the relatively large size of the Commission’s selected art: “The Arts Commission's proposed art involves 17 separate pieces, fog machines, light displays, etc. This would considerably ‘crowd’ the square and we need the time to be more selective,” Wilson wrote.

But Wilson said his communications with the mayor’s staffers were simply routine updates provided to the mayoral liaisons to the department.

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By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 7:00

In one paragraph, Wilson emphasized the relatively large size of the Commission’s selected art: “The Arts Commission's proposed art involves 17 separate pieces, fog machines, light displays, etc. This would considerably ‘crowd’ the square and we need the time to be more selective,” Wilson wrote.******************************Not to mention maintainance, vandalism and possible theft.What Fraturnity wouldn't want their own fog machine?

By: arkay61 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

17 pieces??? On such a small lot? Why don't ya'll just buy a bunch of concrete deer statues and yard gnomes to crap the place up with. It would be a lot cheaper. Besides, fog machines and light displays sounds like an cheesy outdoor disco. The park has a clean simple and spacious look, leave it alone.

By: JDG on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Your tax dollars at work. This is an even bigger boondoggle than supporting sports venues.

By: serr8d on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I don't think the sports venues are boondoggles, JDG. But this...I 'fixed' it...(twice, now);D

By: 37205Democrat on 12/31/69 at 7:00

What would ya'll rather have? A giant statue of Johnny Cash? Perhaps a guitar! How imaginative! How about a guy with a giant head on a rearing horse with rebel flags flying all around? Oh wait, we already have that.

By: serr8d on 12/31/69 at 7:00

37205, that statue is well off the beaten path, pretty much off everyone's radar. These things aren't.Check with Louisville. In the '80's, they erected a great 'fountain', complete with colored lights (and probably fog machines as well) right in the middle of the Ohio river. It lasted a few years, then disappeared under the flood waters. We won't have that kind of luck with this...it'll be there, at least until PSC wants their scrap back...

By: 37205Democrat on 12/31/69 at 7:00

The statue is on 65 and the first piece of "art" you see when you get to Nashville. A pathetic representation, IMO. RE: Louisville: That that was supposed to be a fluer de lis, the symbol of L'ville. Some of us recognize that everything doesn't have to be so literal...

By: theplantsman on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Based on what the so-called “Arts Commission” would have us believe is “art” then I have a suggestion that could save Nashvillians hundreds of thousands of taxpayers dollars. I suggest that we have every resident that has junk in her/his yard to paint it, name it and display it on the street side of the property where it can be viewed by those tourist that want to see a city of neighborhood art. Since, there are no “Illegal Aliens” in Nashville, merely “undocumented workers” then based on that premise Nashville does not have “junk”. We merely have an abundance of raw materials of which to begin “The Greatest Display of Art on Earth”. (Unless PS Metals decides to compete against us) Yes, I realize this is ridiculous, but it is no more ridiculous than having the junk this so-called “arts Commission” would display. BTW, the Arts Commission and it associated garbage is one of those extravagances that the taxpayers should eliminate.

By: WickedTribe on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I think public art is a great idea. How is it any different than general parkland except the entertainment factor is man-made instead of natural?However, putting all 17 pieces in the same square is absurd. Even if they're all smaller scale than Ghost Ballet, that's ridiculous. They should be spread throughout downtown and maybe mid-town as well.

By: SNAKEO63 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

WHAT IS THIS LEFT OVERS FROM OPRYLAND TEAR DOWN? I BELIEVE LOCAL ARTISTS COULD HAVE BEEN UTILIZED AT A MORE TAXPAYER FRIENDLY PRICE.

By: arkay61 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

NO Democrat, leave it like it is with NO goofy artwork. The park looks great as is. Clean and uncluttered. I don't understand this need to squander tax payer money on sight-unseen art projects by a bunch of elitists who need to get REAL jobs instead of whining. It is bad enough we squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars on that east bank monstrosity that looks like something a bunch of school kids stole from the metal recycler and stuck on the bank as a practical joke.

By: theplantsman on 12/31/69 at 7:00

37205Democrat, the “first piece of art” that one sees traveling north on Interstate 65 is Mother Nature’s living environment. However, the statue of the great battlefield tactician - General Nathan Bedford. Forrest sits on PRIVATE property; constructed with and maintained with private funds. If the so-called Farts Commission wants to use private funds to purchase a building and fund its own crap, then good for them. As to what would I put up? Ornamental trees and Shade trees, flowering shrubs and perennial flowers. The entire City would be one of Mother Nature’s great organic fragrance gardens. Locally, a good example is Vanderbilt University and Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. I would divert the taxpayer’s money that is wasted on the Farts Commission and use it to pay prize money for the best neighborhood Ornamental Gardens in each council district.

By: skeptic1 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I guess the broken roller coaster sculpture(which I hate)is representative of Nashville's destruction of Opryland. They allowed a genuine tourist attraction that boosted the Nashville economy to be replaced by a really boring, overpriced mall. And does all of the so-called art have to be abstract junk? Doesn't the Art Commission know anyone who can produce art works comparable to the War Memorial's classical pieces?Alternatively, since it is a public park, why can't we have more trees or some topiary statues to counteract all of the concrete?

By: 37205Democrat on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Plant, have you walked the sculpture garden at Cheekwood? I doubt it as the rabbit would have you in a tizzy.

By: skeptic1 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Since they have removed all of the foliage from the little park across from the library downtown, maybe these crazy abtract steel sculptures are all that would be safe from the homeless there. I always look at that park and the mural sadly from a distance. It smells too much like manure to get very close. I suspect the homeless used the fountain for more than washing their clothes. If this town is going to go out of its way to attract the homeless, you might as well replace the park with a row of public toilets, showers, and washing machines. A useful abstract version of fountains (showers), twisted metal (washers)and fog machines (toilets). Then maybe the smells from the park will be subdued.

By: theplantsman on 12/31/69 at 7:00

37205Democrat, no. I have not; however, once the summer’s heat has eased I shall give it a stroll. Nonetheless, compared to putting the Farts Commissions crap in public places that forces those that are offended by indecency such as Musica in the center of the Music Row traffic circle to witness it, Cheekwood Botanical Gardens are behind closed gates and fence and requires admission/permission to gain entry.

By: theplantsman on 12/31/69 at 7:00

WickedTribe, name ONE vulgar, profane plant?

By: b_ellen on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I like art. Find that even some strange things have come to have a place in my heart despite my initial impression. In Shelby Park there is a concrete THING that looks a bit like a bell and a bit like a bus stop: you got to love something like that. The catcher's mask in Hillsboro Villiage, or whatever it is really. David in the War Memorial, and the kids in the Roundabout. I liked the little Athena when I was a child, now there is the awesome one--pity the doors are always closed.All that said, the square is already cluttered. What idiot wants to wall in the only little bit of open space left? Find a vacant lot somewhere for the installation. Hey, there's a big one down the hill--where they used to burn trash or something.

By: junebugfan on 12/31/69 at 7:00

That pathetic excuse for "art" is the most ridiculous looking thing I've ever seen!We paid how much for that garbage?!!! I thought it was something that had fallen from the space station, then they had to tie it down with all of those cables to keep it from rolling into the Cumberland and blocking barge traffic. They should just roll it onto a barge, float it downsteam a few hundred feet, and roll it back off at Steiner Liff. Can't we find a better way to spend our tax dollars? With the exception of the new symphany hall, which is absolutely beautiful, every new building, sculpture, etc. popping up in Nashville appears as if it came straight from the cartoon "The Jetsons". Oh well, at least this latest "art" will give folks tuning in to future nationally televised Titans games another good laugh at out expense - literally!

By: JeffF on 12/31/69 at 7:00

The Arts Commission has gotten out-of-hand. A wise group of individuals would pay for local flavor and allow local artists with a true love of Nashville to represent that love with their creativity. Instead hundreds of thousands of dollars are sent to artists in other cities intent on impressing their patrons with the biggest and most uninterpretable pieces of sculpture.The law that sets aside PBA funds for public art displays needs to be amended to require the use of local artists. And it is okay to have a panel of citizens judge ad recommend since they are the patrons. That is not censorship. I wish this was in place before the out-of-scale ad context work on the roundabout and the broken roller coaster on the riverbank were installed.BTW people: I have just discovered the joys of the Foxfire web browser with its built-in spell checker. I HIGHLY recommend it. Hopefully it will go along way to make me a better poster. It is a shame though that the new NCP format will lesse my opportunities.

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 7:00

How about the "art commission" trying to get the private sector to donate art?My favorit piece in NY is the Merrill Lynch Bull, which has been used on many ads in print and TV.

By: wgpugh on 12/31/69 at 7:00

The "Ruptured Railroad Track" is simply a deeeeelighted piece, so tellllling, so mysterious, sooooo...Nashville!