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Volume 24, Number 4 — April 2017

Kingsport, The Model City, serves as model for the arts

Sculpture Walk, Carousel and Bench projects (shown) are among the art projects undertaken by the City of Kingsport to promote the arts.
Sculpture Walk, Carousel and Bench projects (shown) are among the art projects undertaken by the City of Kingsport to promote the arts.

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | June 26, 2013


Kingsport (known as The Model City) not only has several arts-related events, such as First Thursday events, a Sculpture Walk, Carousel and Bench projects and others; it has a stand-along Office of Cultural Arts, whose executive director is Bonnie Macdonald. Additionally, the city supports the arts through its "Percent for Art" program which authorizes a sum equivalent to .75 percent of major city capital projects for public art efforts.

The "Percent for Art" program has placed permanent public art installations in several places in downtown Kingsport. "Learning Curve" by Lynn Basa is a site-specific work adjacent to the Kingsport Higher Education Facility. It features products traditionally manufactured in Kingsport, including the colorful and translucent Tritan material (manufactured by Eastman Chemical Company), which is used to portray the John Nolen plan for downtown Kingsport. Nolen was the city planner and landscape architect who originally designed the city.

"Birds of a Feather" by local artist Patti Lawrence is installed inside the three-story atrium of the Higher Education facility. Nearby the downtown parking garage has recently benefited from the installation of "Musical Benches" and playful banners. The conceptual design for the benches is by Cindy Saadeh, a local gallery owner and artist. Appalachian Ironworks fabricated the benches. Each bench features a different genre of music.

Quilts are also starting to blanket downtown businesses. They aren't fabric quilts, but rather 4-by-4-foot murals that are painted by artist volunteers. The mural designs are based on quilt patterns.

"Quilts are part of our family heritage," Macdonald says. "They are handed down through a family member or close friend. When we hang a quilt block on a building, we might remind the viewer of the generations of families who have been supported or have spent time in that business or location through the years." The Quilt Trail was made possible by a grant from The Appalachian Resource Conservation and Development Council.

The city and the Office of Cultural Arts are responsible for maintaining the public art. "Art in a public realm is protected by the public," Macdonald says. "It is also subject to weather and mishap just as a street sign or lamp post. In seven years, we have had a few minor incidences with our public art but no more than a street sign or lamp post might have encountered."

Downtown Kingsport has First Thursday events every month, and many art studios like Cindy Saadeh Fine Art Gallery and Star Trails host special exhibitions and receptions. First Thursday also features a concert series, Twilight Alive.

Kingsport's seventh annual Sculpture Walk has been installed, and a self-guided tour is available via Guide-By-Cell. Tours are regularly given by special appointment. To arrange a tour, call Kingsport's Office of Cultural Arts, 423-392-8416.

"All our projects have grown over the years," Macdonald says. "I believe the pure numbers of people can be shown to have increased over the past five years. The dollars invested can certainly be tracked. Certainly in our downtown Kingsport area, we are seeing vibrancy of community as well as increased number of retail and food opportunities.
When businesses and citizens are willing to support these projects, that is evidence of their contribution."

To participate in any of these arts-related projects, contact Macdonald at the Office of Cultural Arts.

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