This past weekend, I had the good fortune of chauffeuring visiting exchange artist Janet Crymble to Nashville, Tennessee, the Mecca for any country music-loving person and a must-see for her while she was in America. Having never been to the city before, I was expecting cowboy boots, Southern drawls, and country music. While we certainly got a good dose of all of the above, there was one thing I certainly didn’t expect to see: public art!
As soon as we found a parking spot downtown, we saw artists at work on a Johnny Cash-themed mural across from the Country Music Hall of Fame. Their materials were as simple as stencils and spray-paint, and their results were fantastic.
After a whirlwind tour of the Hall of Fame, where we saw a dizzying array of embroidered suits, gold-plated cars, and well-worn musical instruments, we headed uptown toward the Nashville public library. Once there, I was again surprised to see public art, this time in 3-D form. While the entrance to the library boasted a purely ornamental (and appropriate) stack of books, across the street were works of art that were also functional: bike racks in the shape of giant padlocks!
After a day of exploring downtown Nashville on foot, we headed back to our car to drive to an outdoor concert. Once there, we were able to see just how much work the muralists had accomplished that afternoon. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I would like a black and white mural, but the nearly-finished product was definitely working for me.
That night, as we explored some local bars and beers, we passed Nashville’s Frist Center, a wonderful art gallery with equally wonderful public art at its entrance. Lit by night, the sculpture was whimsical and eye-catching (can you see the little bugs on there? They really make this piece come alive).
Before we knew it, Saturday had drawn to a close and we were preparing to return to good ol’ Danville. On our way out of town, we stopped in West Nashville at a trendy little enclave known as Hillsboro Village. Not only were there great restaurants, shops, and people watching, there was MORE public art! The first thing we spied intrigued me because it brought the art gallery to the outside world in an unobtrusive and unpretentious way.
While many people might never think to go to an art gallery, by using this simple display, thousands of people can have a gallery experience without even realizing it. This little box was in between two restaurants with a tiny sign that said “Smallest art gallery in the world.” What a great idea!
As we headed back to our car, we espied one last piece of public art, a good old-fashioned mural. Not only were the bold colors and design appealing, but the subject matter was, too (this coming from a life-time dragon-lover).
On the way towards Danville, my head was spinning with all of the public art that I had seen in one short weekend, from paintings and sculptures to installations and bike racks. It was suddenly clear how vital public art is in any community. For one, it adds personality to any space, making it unforgettable to the people who live and visit there. Public art allows communities to express themselves in unique and arresting ways, and helps residents feel more connected to where they live and work. If they’re large-scale, they serve as unmistakable landmarks, too. Best of all, lots of public art can be functional as well as beautiful, which is probably my favorite thing about it. Already I can imagine Danville overflowing with its own unique sculptures, murals, park-benches, fire hydrants, and parks–wouldn’t you like to see Danville’s small-town twist on big-city art?