Underground Railroad-inspired artwork that plays off African-American quilt-making –– and requiring an artist’s fee of $300,000 –– is slated for Nashville’s new 28th-31st Avenue Connector, the long-awaited road project bridging north and west Nashville together.
The Metro Nashville Arts Commission voted last week to hire Iowa-based artist David Dahlquist to oversee the first public art project for the new connector near Charlotte Pike and Centennial Park, awarding him a $300,000 contract. Construction on the new corridor began in May, with Metro officials eyeing an early 2013 opening. Installation of the public art project will follow the same timeframe.
“He was really inspired by the history of signal-making and quilt patterns, particularly during the Underground Railroad movement,” said Jen Cole, director of the arts commission, alluding to the network of secret routes that led many African-Americans to northern freedom during the era of slavery.
“Quilts, particularly those made by African-Americans, were hung out by windows, and the quilt patterns themselves and the stitching were used as signals in communication to connect people along the Underground Railroad,” she said.
Dahlquist’s design is an abstraction of six different quilt patterns and stitching that will go along fencing on both sides of a street bridge crossing a CSX railroad line. For now, renderings are just conceptual. The art will be made of metal and painted to appear copper.
“Basically, the idea is for him to work within the existing bridge with alternating quilt and thread patterns along the bridge,” she said.
Cole said the commission’s choice of Dahlquist came after members whittled proposals down to four finalists. She said the commission asked artists to incorporate their proposals into the “complete-streets” concept that the new connector upholds.
“It was important for us that the art, rather than be free standing, be integrated into the streetscape,” Cole said.
Additionally, artists were asked to consider the history of the area and “the role of connection” in bridging the neighborhoods together. A cultural impetus behind the 28th connector is to bridge North Nashville, predominantly African-American, with the West End area.
Dollars to pay for the 28th Avenue connector’s public art come from the Percent for the Arts program, a law passed during Mayor Bill Purcell’s tenure that channels 1 percent of all net proceeds of general obligation bonds issued for construction projects to public art.
So far, projects paid through the Percent for the Arts program are “Ghost Ballet” on the East Bank of the Cumberland River, “Citizen” at the downtown public square and, most recently, a set of bronze statues called “Exploration and Discovery,” erected at the square.
In the months ahead, the arts commission is slated to hire an artist to work on projects at six transit shelters along the connector.