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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Funding the Arts: Kingsport, Tenn., 'The Best Place to Be!'

Artist and philanthropist Alice Frederick purchased and donated
Artist and philanthropist Alice Frederick purchased and donated "Sky Wedge" to the City of Kingsport. The sculpture is at the intersection of Broad and Center Streets. (Photo contributed by Kingsport Cultural Arts Division)
Additional photos below »

By ANGELA WAMPLER | September 30, 2008

Initially chartered in 1917, Kingsport was the first city with a modern urban design. Nicknamed "The Model City," Kingsport has become known as a progressive community.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen had Public Art as an action item on their agenda as early as 2004. Bonnie Macdonald served as president of the Arts Council of Greater Kingsport at that time and was invited to a strategic planning retreat where the Board showed they were interested and believed it to be an area they could support.

Macdonald said, "Kingsport's Cultural Arts Division has been a department of Parks and Recreation for a LONG time. When I moved to Kingsport 25 years ago, the Cultural Arts Division had a grant program entitled 'Arts Enrichment' ...Over time the Cultural Arts Division began several other projects."

In late 2004 the part-time job Macdonald has now — administrator of the Cultural Arts Division — became available. She recalled, "Since I have an interest in the arts, I applied and got the job in May 2005. In September 2005, City Manager A. Ray Griffin asked me to head up a development team to study a city policy for Public Art. The team was made up of citizens as well as members of the city's planning department. In February 2006 our team made a presentation to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen which included the benefits of Public Art to a community as well as the options for funding.

By June of 2006 the Board of Mayor and Aldermen had adopted an ordinance that created an appointed Public Art Committee and a funding mechanism. Macdonald said, "We had a committee and a promise of funding. But we wanted to do something more immediate. In July 2006 we took a trip to Boone, NC to view the Rosen Sculpture Competition and met with Hank Foreman, its curator."

She continued, "In August 2006, Bristol hosted its first Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition. This effort was well executed and received very well by the Bristol community. It gave us encouragement to look further into this format. In September 2006 I met with members of the Arts Alliance Mountain Empire's Art in Public Places committee and received bountiful information about the challenges and opportunities of hosting a sculpture exhibition. Likewise, Kingsport's Cultural Arts Division and the Public Art Committee have queried several other successful programs in Tennessee (Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville) and North Carolina (Cary, Asheville, Charlotte and Boone)."

By December 2006, on the advice of Hank Foreman, Kingsport's Public Art Committee decided to pursue an invitational exhibit in which the curator would put together the pieces/sculptors that would be a part of the show. In May 2007 Kingsport mounted its first Sculpture Walk. Macdonald noted, "Foreman was very understanding of our limited experience and conservative community. His first show was all about sampling types of sculpture, materials of sculptures, themes of sculpture. There was something for everyone. It was obviously well received as four of eleven sculptures were purchased, primarily by private contribution, to remain in the community permanently."

Kingsport's Cultural Arts Division

The Cultural Arts Division coordinates Kingsport's Public Art program and works with the Public Art Committee whose members were appointed in 2006 by Kingsport's Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Programs of the Public Art Committee include the Sculpture Walk, Art in Public Places, and the Percent for Art projects.

The budgetary allocation for the Cultural Arts Division funds the staff, operating and maintenance costs. The operating budget also covers production costs and artistic fees for the Art Nights City Lights performing art series, as well as staff fees for coordination of programs with other agencies, such as the Arts Council of Greater Kingsport's Arts4Kids and Artist Registry programs.

Arts4Kids is an introductory arts program for children ages 5-12. As co-sponsors of various Arts4Kids programs, the Cultural Arts Division provides meeting space, artist hospitality, registration support, etc.

The Artist Registry is a program of the Cultural Arts Division, housed on the Arts Council of Greater Kingsport's website, Area artists are encouraged to register free of charge in order to provide a resource to the community.

The Cultural Arts staff members — Bonnie Macdonald, Martha Beverly and Beth Estep — work as arts advocates with the Tennessee Arts Commission, state legislatures and area arts agencies. The Cultural Arts staff supports local arts organizations and serves on other boards and committees. They also network with Arts Alliance Mountain Empire, Birthplace of Country Music Alliance, and East Tennessee State University.

The Cultural Arts Division hosted a day-long Arts Symposium for area arts agencies and the public on September 23. The keynote speaker was Betty Hurst, Director of Rural Entrepreneurship for HandMade in America, a non-profit organization promoting craft and culture for community and economic development in western North Carolina. Breakout sessions included "Marketing for Musicians," "Owning an Art Gallery/Creating a Community" and "A Case Study on the River Arts District of Asheville, NC." Afterwards, artists and art enthusiasts were invited to tour Kingsport's downtown arts venues.

Kingsport's Public Art Initiatives

The term "percent for art" refers to a program, often a city ordinance, where a fee, usually some percentage of the project cost, is placed on large-scale development projects in order to fund and install public art. The purposes of this public art are to beautify public buildings and urban environments, and to draw attention to the wealth of artistic expertise in the area.

On July 1, 2006, Kingsport's Board of Mayor and Aldermen established a funding mechanism or "Percent for Art for Public Art." According to the ordinance, "Public Art in the City of Kingsport may be funded from the Capital Improvement Plan Contingency Fund. The Public Art Reserve Fund may receive up to one percent (1%), not to exceed $25,000 of eligible Capital Improvement Projects, provided there are sufficient funds in the contingency when the project is closed out."

The first "Percent for Art" project was the installation of a safari-themed mural on all four sides of the Riverview Splashpad bathhouse.

In February 2008 Kingsport's Board of Mayor and Aldermen allocated $90,000 for the next three years as an endorsement of the program and to provide matching funds for the private funds that were being offered by citizens for the purchase of 2007 Sculpture Walk sculptures. In April 2008, when the Public Art Committee presented results of its investigation into funding mechanisms, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen passed a revised Percent for Art ordinance which allocates funding to the Public Art Committee when a capital improvement project begins construction.

Kingsport's Art in Public Places Initiative provides a rotating exhibition showcase for local regional and touring artists at the City Hall Lobby Gallery and the Renaissance Center Atrium Gallery. The venue also hosts traveling exhibits. These have included "The Plan of Nashville," "The Secret City ? the Story of Oak Ridge" and "Richard LeFevre: Civil War Watercolors" from the Ewing Gallery of Art and Architecture at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; a Southern Arts Federation exhibit, "Rhythm and Roots;" "Artistic R-evolution" from the Natural History Museum at the Gray Fossil Site; the Turchin Center's "Ukiyo-e Japanese prints;" and a local favorite, "The Notable Trees of Tennessee."

In addition, as a result of Kingsport's annual Sculpture Walk, four outdoor sculptures have become permanent fixtures in the city's downtown district. Two of them were purchased in part by monies from the city's Public Art Fund, and the other two were purchased by local individuals and businesses.

Artist and philanthropist Alice Frederick purchased and donated the sculpture "Sky Wedge" to the City of Kingsport. "I was delighted by the Sculpture Walk and the quality of art it brought to our city," Frederick says. "It adds so much to our downtown. It is important to have art in our lives. I hope this donation might encourage others to help add art to our community."

Jennifer Egan committed the first $10,000 toward the purchase price of $32,000 for "Yo-Yo's Muse," a kinetic sculpture, spinning, drifting and floating in response to the breeze. At the base of the sculpture is a cello-shaped form. Egan recently lost her mother who, prior to her death, suffered from Alzheimer's. "My mother was a cellist," she said. "This piece is just beautiful and I'd love for it to stay in Kingsport and remind us all of the gift of music and art."

John and Angela Vachon purchased and donated the "Four Elements" to the city. The young entrepreneurs, doing business as Urban Synergy, are rehabilitating several downtown buildings, recruiting businesses and residential tenants — and they love public art. Both are originally from Kingsport and have a strong desire to see this region emerge as a national player. Their website,, declares, "Urban revitalization is a catalyst that revives and renews the city's core, energizes the community, and stimulates economic development. Downtowns provide a unique experience that you can't get anywhere else."

John said, "Downtown Kingsport is really changing, it's being revitalized. The Sculpture Walk is a rare opportunity to expand and bring attention to downtown. Our purchase of the 'Four Elements' sculpture is a symbolic gesture of community support. The sculptures, the new streetscapes, new roundabouts, new businesses all symbolize the rebirth of downtown Kingsport. People are looking at downtown as their neighborhood, and the public art really tops that off."

The fourth sculpture to find a permanent home is "Hello, Goodbye," purchased by Rogers Petroleum, Inc. The corporation thought the sculpture would be a great addition to the landscaping at their new Zoomerz gas station, greeting people coming and going at the corner of Ft. Henry Drive and Eastman Road.

Because the property adjoins Memorial Park, project engineer Don Horn had several discussions with Kitty Frazier, director of the Kingsport Parks and Recreation Department. "Kitty introduced me to the Sculpture Walk program, and her passion sold us on it. The owner [of Rogers Petroleum] and our founder became interested, and we went to the Mayor and Aldermen meetings. One thing we noticed at those meetings was a lot of people promoting [Public Art] in an effective way, encouraging audience members and businesses to get involved. It's a city-wide program."

Going forward, the Cultural Arts Division anticipates an allocation to the Public Art Fund based on a new ordinance passed in April 2008 that will allow for permanent public art to be commissioned for capital improvement projects such as a higher education facility being built in downtown Kingsport and a fire station being built on Rock Springs Road. This anticipated allocation will be approximately $120,000.

The enthusiasm for public art is contagious — moving from Kingsport all the way to Kent, Ohio. Kent City Manager David Ruller recently received a request from the Artists Network of Kent, asking the city to consider adopting a program to allocate one percent of funding for all capital construction projects to support public art. Ruller told city council members a similar program was adopted in Kingsport, Tenn., where he served as director of public works before relocating to Kent, and that Kingsport's program has had a positive impact.


— - KINGSPORT: Community Partners

— - WYTHEVILLE: Department of Museums and Heritage Education Program

— - STATISTICS: Budgetary Commitments to the Arts offers a breakdown by city/town of line item appropriations for the art.

— - BACK to main story.

Rogers Petroleum, Inc. purchased "Hello, Goodbye," which will greet people at their new Zoomerz gas station at the corner of Ft. Henry Drive and Eastman Road. (Photos contributed by Kingsport Cultural Arts Division)

"Yo-Yo's Muse" was purchased by several individuals and Kingsport's Public Art Fund. It is located at the corner of Watauga and Ravine Streets. (Photos contributed by Kingsport Cultural Arts Division)