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Creating public art the right way

Johnson City Press • Jun 7, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Natural beauty always has been Johnson City’s strength. Few communities can boast the mountains, rolling hills and waterways that make our surroundings so enticing.

The city itself has been getting a much-needed makeover of late, adding some curb appeal to the natural setting. Flooding mitigation, new parks, better sidewalks and building renovations have contributed to a brighter Johnson City.

The latest bright spot is the installation of public art in Veterans Park adjacent to South Side Elementary School in the Tree Streets neighborhood. Fittingly, the sculpture is in the shape of two trees with bicycle wheels in the branches. The $14,500 project was organized by a local nonprofit arts organization and its founder Virginia Salazar-Buda, a Tree Streets resident. Artlandia raised $10,000 in private donations and received a $4,500 grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission to complete the project, which had been four years in the making.

Salazar-Buda believes “Cycle of Support” is the first public structure in a Johnson City residential neighborhood. Tree Streets residents also expect to install a second type of tree-oriented public art this summer — leafy street murals at certain intersections they hope will both beautify the neighborhood and calm traffic.

Why it took 150 years for these types of neighborhood projects to happen in Johnson City is beyond us, but they are welcome additions that others should emulate. We can imagine similar projects in Towne Acres, Sherwood Forest, Carnegie, the Gump Addition, Roundtree, West Gilmer Park and other long-standing neighborhoods.

Of course, public art has long been a focal point here. The iconic Lady of the Fountain in downtown Johnson City was the subject of postcards advertising the city in the ’30s and ’40s, and a replica was installed in the fountain on Buffalo Street four years ago.

The city’s two new downtown parks, Founders Park and King Commons, both feature public art. Founders is adorned with a path of guest sculptures by various artists, some of which have been made permanent by private sponsorships. King Commons literally has the city’s most highly visible example of a public art — the lighted, 60-foot-tall Johnson City sign converted from the old Giant Foods/U-Haul structure.

The Johnson City sign was made possible by a public-private partnership, as both donors and the City Commission kicked in funding. That’s the way it should be done.

As Johnson City prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2019, it’s encouraging to see organizers looking toward another public-private partnership to enhance the city’s appearance. On Monday, the Sesquicentennial Commission formalized its pitch for a “legacy project” at King Commons commemorating the anniversary. It would consist of a splash pad connected to a water fountain with light and music features. The project also would include a natural adventure area with a play fort, climbing logs and stepping stones. Sounds like public art to us.

The estimated price tag is $3.5 million with a goal of raising $2 million from private sources. That would leave the City Commission less than half the bill.

Again, that’s the way it should be done.

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