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Call to Artists

Sydney Franklin • Jul 22, 2013 at 10:36 AM

Small steps have been taken and big plans have been made over the past three years by the Johnson City Public Art Committee to enrich the city through visual artwork. Now, the group is set to send out a “call to artists” for the Public Art Corridor that will run alongside State of Franklin Road from the edge of East Tennessee State University to downtown. The City Commission gave the Johnson City Area Arts Council the go-ahead to handle donations and sponsorships for the project in mid-June. Now, committee members are ready to get the ball rolling. “It has taken more meetings than I can count to get to this point, but we are on the brink of seeing some wonderful public art in Johnson City,” said Catherine Murray, committee member and ETSU professor of sculpture.At this time, the first year of the program is fully funded by private and public donations. Phil Pindzola, director of public works, said that a national call to artists would occur in the next few weeks once the new name of Founder’s Park is announced. The committee anticipates it will take two months from the initial call to complete the selection process. Locals can expect the Public Art Corridor to hold eight to 10 pieces of public art. The committee is giving artists whose proposals are approved one-year lease agreements for the space and a $2,000 stipend for their work. “During each 12-month period, anyone desiring to purchase a piece of art can do so and have it reinstalled as a private piece of art or donate it to the city to be permanently displayed,” said Pindzola.The committee hired Steve Bickley, a curator from Virginia Tech University, to guide the selection process. The City Commission will provide final approval for all pieces. Formed in 2010, the 12-member public art committee has held onto a three-year goal that public art would have a greater presence in the city. “When we started, we considered all kinds of parts of town,” said committee member Marcia Songer. “We even considered gateways coming into town. But what we have ended up doing is concentrating on this one thing that is most workable now. In the future, we hope to go in many directions.”The first major project by the committee is the corridor, which will serve as a sculpture walk similar to exhibits found in cities like Kingsport. The committee researched public art displays and community parks for inspiration in different cities including Chicago, Chattanooga and Portland, Ore. “Public art could be sound. You could be walking around and hear a sound and you stop,” said committee member Sarah Davis. “It could be a rush of wind and a sound. It could be lights. It could be a part of a community garden. The ideas are infinite.”The project has been a long time coming, but will give Johnson City residents a new reason to spend time in the downtown area. “Both the corridor and the Founders Park projects will help to demonstrate the vitality of Johnson City,” said Murray.Roy Harmon, chairman of the Kingsport Public Art Committee that was formed in 2006, said their sculpture walk exhibit has “proven to be the cornerstone of the entire public art program.”“It provides general encouragement of visual arts in downtown Kingsport and I wish Johnson City the same degree of success we’ve had. It really enhances the quality of life of the residents,” he said.The Kingsport sculpture walk has gone through seven seasons since 2007, with 10 new pieces on display along Broad and Main streets through next March. To jump start the program, private individuals and companies donated funds for the first few years, raising $20,000 each year in sponsorship. Now, the city of Kingsport offers support for art programing through the Percent for Art program, which gives .75 percent of major city capital projects for public art efforts. Bonnie Macdonald, director of the Kingsport Public Art Program, said she expects Johnson City will develop its own unique flavor for public art.“I would expect that Johnson City would embrace it wholeheartedly because, of course, ETSU has an excellent art department and you have sculptors that live within your midst,” she said. “Our whole region is rich with that type of creative energy.”Macdonald said a program like this provides opportunity for the community to meet new artists from different cities and those artists have the opportunity to meet the community in which their piece is exhibited.Similar to Kingsport’s system, anyone in the Johnson City community has the opportunity to purchase any of the sculptures on display, either for private purpose or permanent public display, according to Pindzola. After one year, the displays would be removed and a second solicitation for sculptures would occur to create a continual annual renewal. “The process would continue indefinitely,” he said. Besides the sculpture walk, Songer, Davis and the Public Art Committee have endless ideas when it comes to other possibilities for public art in Johnson City.“We talked about public art not only being impressive things, but these small surprises that you don’t even notice unless you’re looking and becoming more aware,” said Songer.The Public Art Committee is about to go forth completing its three-year goal of two successful projects with Founder’s Park and the Public Arts Corridor. In the Johnson City Public Art master plan, five-year goals and 10-year goals are also listed that included collaboration with public schools and local neighborhoods.These art installations will “further the recent progress the downtown has made toward developing a more beautiful, family friendly and culturally rich community,” Murray said.

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