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Volume 24, Number 11 — December 2017

Arts All Around: Art in Public Places

It Takes a Dedicated Committee

By Barbara-lyn Morris | June 27, 2007

Throughout July, myriad final tasks of Bristol's Art in Public Places (AiPP) project will occupy a team of dedicated volunteers. Operating under the auspices of Arts Alliance Mountain Empire (AAME), the AiPP committee is marching forward, for the second consecutive year, toward the August 1 installation of new sculptural pieces in downtown Bristol. The project is the result of more than a year's work by members of the AiPP Committee, with Candice Snodgrass as its leader. Some committee members also serve on the AAME board; others were recruited from the community at large.

The work of the committee in 2006-07 has included the basic underpinning of strategic planning, evaluating year one, raising funds for year two, and negotiating agreements with both cities for exhibition spaces. A major responsibility of the committee was the selection of a highly respected juror. Contrary to popular opinion, the AiPP Committee does not select the pieces to be exhibited. That is the job of an independent judge, who is selected by the AiPP Committee. In 2007, the judge is Vaughn Whitney Garland.

Other important tasks include preparing and sending a call for entries; organizing and executing a pilot student educational "walk and talk" with Jon Mehlferber and Marvin Tadlock, professors from Virginia Intermont College; and overseeing the dismantling of the first installations and the installation of the new pieces. Preparing and illustrating a first-class catalogue and walking guide, as well as publicizing the project, constitute major chunks of work. Celebrating the opening of the second Art in Public Places project takes place at a grand opening reception to be held at the Paramount Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday, August 2.

As is the case in almost any endeavor, there were numerous challenges and opportunities along the way. One significant problem to be solved mid-way through the 2006-07 exhibition was the unfortunate damage to one piece, "The Extraction of Arrows" by Catherine Murray of Jonesborough, Tenn. It had to be removed and repaired by the artist, who was understanding and gracious in the process. The work was reinstalled in a new location, the Bristol Tennessee Courthouse and City Hall.

All the while, committee members report thoroughly enjoying the challenges, primarily because of the friendships and great sense of camaraderie that have developed among the tireless group of servant leaders. Here is a flavoring of the responses from current committee members when asked, "Why do you choose to do this particular community service?"

Charles Burns, retired Bristol Virginia School System administrator and dedicated community volunteer: "I feel the Art in Public Places Committee has brought art to another level in our area. Even the controversy over one of the pieces last year ignited more conversation about sculpture and the role of arts than I have ever heard in this region. Such dialogue is important modeling for our students who face much controversy in their lives. The challenge to broaden our appreciation of the amazing talent at our disposal is at hand; I hope we do not fail to embrace it."

Candice Snodgrass, district manager, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and chairwoman of the AiPP committee: "It's so gratifying to see this project continue to develop from the first year with even more impressive pieces of sculpture. My experience is that there is a groundswell of support from many citizens and the city governments of Bristol Tennessee/Virginia. I predict it will continue to grow each year."

Mary Jane Miller, interior designer and area arts advocate: "Having spent time in the St. Louis, Mo., area which boasts one of the finest permanent sculpture collections in the country, I thought: 'Why not such a tradition in Bristol?' I love the controversy and varied opinions surrounding some of the sculptures. That's what 'art' is all about. Furthermore, the potential educational and economic growth is empowering to all the volunteers involved."

— Barbara Niemczak, the immediate past and founding chairwoman of AiPP, when asked why she would continue on the committee, said: "I am blessed to look at this project as a native Bristolian. I grew up on State Street and spent many a Saturday in my youth weaving in and out of the sidewalk crowds on my way to the Paramount with my 10 Coke caps for admission or to Bunting's for a hot dog or just to cruise through all of the stores to see and be seen. What a thrill it is for me now as a retired educator to have public art be a part of the renaissance of our downtown historic district. Its thriving arts culture can help make our city a tourist destination and very attractive to families and businesses. They just might choose to make Bristol their home. The wonderful sculptures that grace our main street tell us — especially our young people — that art should be an important part of a growing community."

— Ben Swihart, local businessman and the committee person responsible for the design of the exquisite materials relating to the AiPP project: "Sculpture and other public art are commonplace in many communities. It's been a privilege to be involved with a group of people who are bringing cityscape enhancement here. I believe strongly that art and diversity are keys to economic growth and enhanced quality of living."

Sandra Woolley, local arts advocate who travels annually to Florence, Italy, where she serves on the advisory board of Friends of Florence: "The visual arts have the potential to enhance every community from the Italian birthplaces of the Renaissance to our own hometowns. The visual arts are food for the soul and we all deserve to be well fed. It is heartwarming that the Bristol communities have embraced the installation of art in public places right here!"

Bernard S. Via, a local attorney and civic volunteer, answered the query most succinctly: "Our cities need culture. Period!"

Dee Sproll, president of AAME and ex-officio member of AiPP, spoke from the perspective of both a community volunteer and art historian: "When we think of public art, we may automatically associate the concept with the great historic cities of the old and new world. Countless tourists flock every year to cities here and abroad to savor the beauty and mystery of the world's greatest public art. Charlotte, Charlottesville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville come to mind as having made news with successful public art programs. As citizens and businesses are becoming aware of the possibilities and accepting the challenges that public art brings, the current public art movement is approaching a golden age. It's good that our community will be part of that."

In the interest of fair public disclosure, I share with readers that this committee has been a continuing commitment of mine. Why? It has been one of the most visionary, daring arts ventures in our Mountain Empire region and holds great promise for growth, both as an exhibition and as a vehicle for arts education. I enjoy the creative nature and selfless dedication of the committee members. It is rare to find a diverse group of people who to the individual has only the interest of the project at heart — that's a real servant leader.

I appreciate being part of putting our area on an emerging public art map of communities engaged in the serious pursuit of offering the general public an experience with art as part of everyday life. Next month, I will share my reasons for making that "emerging art" status statement.

Meanwhile, mark August 1 and 2 on your calendar. Watch the new pieces being installed and join in the opening celebration.

Related Story:

Art in Public Places Juror Discusses the Process





Bristol's Art in Public Places committee members include, from left, Sandra Woolley, Candy Snodgrass, Bernard Via, Charles Burns, Barbara Niemczak and Mary Jane Miller. Not pictured: Barbara-lyn Morris and Ben Swihart.