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King Commons art installation will honor Johnson City's 150th

David Floyd • Jul 27, 2019 at 6:11 PM

A few months from now, three 10-foot tall passion flowers, each with 50 bright filaments, will sprout from the center of the history circle in King Commons Park.

The history circle, with its four concentric rings featuring 31 engraved blocks listing important dates in Johnson City’s history, will be part of Legacy Plaza, the signature project for the city’s 150th anniversary celebration.

“We have the tradition of history that we’re putting in the history circle, and then these very colorful and vibrant flowers to me just spoke about the imagination of the future,” said Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock. “And so it kind of brings those two things together for me in a really unique way.”

The $147,000 art installation, which the Johnson City Commission approved during a regular meeting on July 18, was commissioned as part of Johnson City’s sesquicentennial celebration and will be completed by artists Jeffrey Reed and Jennifer Madden of Reed Madden Designs in California.

The three passion flowers each represent a star on Tennessee’s Tri-Star flag, and the 150 total filaments are a nod to the city’s 150th anniversary celebration. The passion flower is the state wildflower of Tennessee.

White light will shine out of the filaments, and the city will be able to change the color of the lights to correspond with various holidays or events, like Christmas or the Blue Plum Festival.

The $147,000 approved in the city’s agreement with the artists includes a $24,900 “honorarium,” which will be forfeited if the project is not complete by Nov. 30.

A selection committee composed of representatives from the city’s public art committee, the downtown historic zoning commission, planning commission, the sesquicentennial commission and Barge Design Solutions issued a national request for qualifications.

From a pool of 102 responses, the group narrowed their options down to four finalists, who appeared in person to present their proposals for the centerpiece. “Passion Flowers” ended up being the winning selection.

Five members of the public art committee who weren’t part of the selection committee also chose the project as their first choice and the sesquicentennial commission ultimately voted in favor of the piece.

“We had tons of amazing projects, so it was really hard to choose,” said Vanessa Mayoraz, a member of the public art committee who also sat on the selection committee.

"It was important to have a sculpture that was connected to Johnson City," she said, “but that was also not turned towards the past but more ... was something that would kind of give a hint of the future.”

The committee also liked the balance between the traditional, realistic elements of the design with the addition of technology, she said.

Commissioner Todd Fowler was the only member of the Johnson City Commission to vote against the project during the group’s meeting on July 18.

“Our original mission for the Sesquicentennial Commission was to come up with something down at King Commons,” he said. “What we wanted was something about history and a fountain that would change colors, have the water kind of dancing to programmed music. Everybody wanted that, and they were going to raise the money for that.”

Because the fundraising wasn’t sufficient, Fowler said the city decided to proceed with a different option. Fowler said he would have preferred that the city continue to raise money and go ahead with the fountain instead of using part of that funding for the art project.

“It was a vote against what they’re using the money for, not against the art project itself,” he said.

Fowler said the city was hoping to attract people to downtown Johnson City. He’s sure that some people will come to King Commons Park to see the art installation, but he believes a fountain would have drawn bigger crowds.

Brock said the fountain was cost-prohibitive.

“It was just something we couldn’t do,” she said.

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