The first piece of Johnson City Public Art titled "Magnolia Bluff" by Baton Rouge artist Aaron Hussey was installed in Founders Park Friday. (Photos by Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press)
Of the many things the new Founders Park will accomplish, it will give people an exposure to art they might not get elsewhere.
Late Friday morning, Aaron Hussey of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was on hand to help move his 15-foot, 900-pound Magnolia Bluff piece into the recently floodwater-tested Founders Park and was liking what he was seeing.
“I like it,” Hussey said about the placement of his name plate on the base of his piece of art. “That will be good.”
Johnson City Public Works crews were helping display the piece, which spent a year being displayed in Kingsport before being moved into Founders Park as the first of several pieces to be enjoyed by local parkgoers.
Eva Hunter with Keep Johnson City Beautiful said she has lofty goals for the new park, whose new pieces of art could include push-button capabilities where a recording of the artist could explain the piece to groups of students interesting in learning about art.
Hussey likes the way that sounds. He said museums can be a little stuffy for a lot of people, but a public park like Founders will be perfect for families, students and everyone who might mosey through the park between East Tennessee State University and downtown Johnson City.
“One of the things about public art is it’s outside of the walls of a museum,” Hussey said.
He said you won’t see that kind of foot traffic in a museum, but can expect walkers, joggers and people walking dogs to “happen upon his art.” Having his art outside in public spaces is the ultimate for the artist because he said it’s always good to be able to connect his pieces with the people who will enjoy it.
Public art, like Magnolia Bluff, has caught on in a lot of bigger cities, but says places like Johnson City are starting to catch on to all it has to offer.
He was paid a stipend and traveling expenses to get his piece to Founders Park, but every dollar spend pays off much more than was invested.
“I’ve seen recent studies that have shown that for every dollar spent on public art, it brings out at least five or six that amount,” Hussey said.
City Director of Public Works Phil Pindzola said the inclusion of public art in the city is just a piece of the puzzle to spruce up the area and generally promote arts in the city and at ETSU.
“Those are all accents of a nice place to be,” Pindzola said.
His intention is to get just about all of the 15 total pieces in place before the Blue Plum Festival on June 6-8.
Hunter says she believes the value of the art effort and was already seeing the massive piece paying off by the foot traffic moving through the park at just before lunchtime.
“We realize the value of this green space and what it brings to downtown,” she said.
Hunter said there will be more pieces put in the park around midday Monday, adding to the park, which has done well recently with a bout of heavy rains. Water issues were the catalyst of the park’s design and what it would accomplish for the city, but with recent sod and the unveiling of the public art, the park continues to grow in popularity.
Johnson City came upon Hussey and the other artists who will have their pieces displayed in the coming weeks through networking. He said his name is on an email list, and once he heard that Johnson City was looking for art, he submitted several proposed ideas, which is fairly normal, and was happy to learn that his Magnolia Bluff piece had been selected.
For more information about public art in Johnson City, check out the city’s page at www.johnsoncitytn.org/art.
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