Viva Italia! train excursion raises money for sculpture park completion.
Sculptor John Henry has a dream for Chattanooga—and slowly but surely that dream is coming to fruition. “I think you can say that this is no longer a dream, you know, it’s very much a reality and we’re just taking the steps to make it concrete,” says Henry about the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park.
The 33 acres off 23rd Street are no longer an environmental blight, but are soon to become host to sculpture from around the world. What was once a broad outline is now being fleshed out. The park is well on its way to becoming a first-class attraction, drawing locals and tourists alike.
Henry says that the first phase of the project is already underway, as permits have been acquired and plans have been drawn. “Phase One is probably half of the whole,” he says, “we’re supposed to have three phases, but the first phase really takes in a lot. It does not provide the visitors’ center, but it does provide the parking lot. You know, there’s a lot of little parts of things that it won’t do, but it’ll get it up to a sculpture park, where it looks like one and operates like one, so at the end of phase one, we will be legitimately on our way. The second phase will be a whole lot easier.”
In addition to more than 20 large scale works of art, the first phase of the Scultpure Park, according to the website, will include sprawling walking paths, beautifully landscaped gardens and will be yoga-, kite- and dog-friendly. All that’s needed now is a little dirt. “We are waiting for dirt,” Henry says, “which is supposedly on its way, so as soon as we get the dirt, then we can start the landscaping and that shouldn’t take too long. We’re really pushing hard to be open by spring. And we may miss that a little bit, but we’re really pushing, trying to accomplish that.”
Upon completion of the first phase of the project, the park will be up and running, open to the public from dusk until dawn daily. The opening will be a grand event, likely spanning several days and including a series of opportunities to involve the community and create great buzz about this cultural attraction in Chattanooga, which Henry believes will become a vital piece of its artistic and economic landscape.
“Sculpture Parks around the world are really economic generators for what we call cultural tourism,” he says, citing examples such as Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which boasts 600,000 guests annually, and the Grounds for Sculpture in Trenton, New Jersey, which welcomes more than 150,000 guests per year.
He explains that, just as people will come to visit various museums in town based on specific artistic or cultural interests, the sculpture park will likely equal or surpass that draw, “and it’s just one more reason with art in the back of their minds to come to Chattanooga,” he says.
And, ultimately, bringing growth, culturally and economically, and creating a welcoming atmosphere for the community in Chattanooga is what it’s all about. Henry says the support from the community has been amazing and that the work being done is very exciting. In addition to a capital campaign that is currently underway and great contributions to the project by its board of directors, the 2nd Annual Tennessee Museum Train Ride Excursion: Viva Italia!, raising money and awareness for the park, will be held Tuesday, Sept. 30, beginning at 5:30 p.m.
The evening will kick off with handcrafted cocktails at the home of Pamela and John Henry, and continue with entertainment by a stand-up comedian, an on-board Ambassador’s Challenge and scenic tour of Chattanooga, and an elegant Italian-themed dinner aboard the train. Viva Italia! is nearly sold-out, but reservations may be made by calling (423) 266-7288 or emailing email@example.com.
“It’s not as much a fundraiser as it is an awareness exercise,” Henry points out, “to get people in Chattanooga to know what we’re doing and know who we are and help us envision the future.” The park “is not a household word in Chattanooga,” he says, “but I assure you it will be.”