Public art has been both celebrated and scrutinized in Chattanooga. Acclaimed for its beauty and cultural significance, it is often derided when taxpayer dollars are involved. Just recently, two new pieces of public art have surfaced in our downtown community, free of frazzle and cost.
Last week, the Hunter Museum installed a nine-foot sculpture by Tennessee artist Red Grooms. The work, “The Lindy Hop,” was inspired by the African-American dance that was based on the Charleston and named for Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight in 1927. The sculpture depicts a couple dancing on a base that reads “Savoy Ballroom,” the location where the dance was originally popularized in Harlem. Grooms captures the dance’s signature “air steps” in a spirited celebration of origins.
“The vibrant colors and the dynamic movement captured by the sculpture make it a wonderful addition to the collection of outdoor sculpture found throughout Chattanooga,” said Katrina Craven of the Hunter Museum. Craven said that “The Lindy Hop” is on long-term loan to the museum and will be at the Hunter for at least three years. “The Hunter is thrilled to be able to showcase work from this well-known artist who is also a native Tennessean.”
Also new to downtown is “We Inspire,” a piece generated and painted by students from Brown International Academy and Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy. Displayed on nine-foot vinyl panels, the work was installed on the railroad overpass located on Martin Luther King Boulevard and University Street. The art was funded by the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, the Tennessee Arts Commission and Mark Making.
“ ‘We Inspire’ serves as a visual animator,” said Frances McDonald, executive director of Mark Making. “It suggests vitality and intended effort which beget interest and then hope which beget action.”
McDonald said that residents consider their MLK neighborhood to be the “jewel of downtown” and “a diamond in the rough,” suggesting a need for small, animated actions that can serve as “tipping points” of change.
The MLK Neighborhood Association, who saw the railroad overpass as the largest, most neglected square footage in the business district, approved the project.
“People are excited when they see art in the streets,” McDonald said, “It suggests intention, thoughtfulness and moreover, change.”
She said the “We” in the title are the 70 artists who created the piece. A fifth grader, when asked to personally consider “revitalization,” said she would pick up one piece of trash per day as an effort to make her community a better place. Mark Making’s question, then, was what would an adult think or do after observing her action. “They hope to inspire, goad, shame, adults with power to action.”
Mark Making has three additional projects going up on MLK this spring. Whether long-term and regional or short-term and community-driven, public art, at no cost to the public, is a gift that continues to generate livelihood in our downtown community. We welcome it freely.