Public art honoring Nashville’s lunch counter sit-in demonstrations of the 1960s civil rights movement could be headed to downtown Fifth Avenue following Metro Arts Commission action.
The arts commission Thursday approved a $75,000 budget for future civil rights-inspired art –– its design and artist still unknown –– near the Fifth Avenue pedestrian crosswalk outside The Arcade, the area in Nashville where black college students 50 years ago staged nonviolent sit-ins inside restaurants that served only whites.
The project, however, is contingent on capital funding for a “Fifth Avenue Arts District” streetscape project for the next fiscal year. Mayor Karl Dean is set to unveil a proposed operating budget and capital-spending plan on May 1.
The commission’s action Thursday comes nearly a year after original Freedom Riders addressed the Metro Council to ask that public art be dedicated to Nashville’s sometimes-forgotten role during the civil rights movement. The council’s Minority Caucus also rallied behind that cause.
Nashville, unlike many cities across the Southeast, lacks an outdoor public monument or memorial remembering the civil rights era.
“We’re very excited about this opportunity,” the art commission’s Executive Director Jennifer Cole said. “Our biggest drawback was finding a location.”
Cole said the commission’s public arts committee reviewed more than 20 publicly owned locations for the art. “If this moves forward, I think based on its location near the sit-in movement, my guess is that the call for artists would focus specifically on the sit-in movement.”
Cole added that the committee would continue to explore other opportunities to honor Nashville’s civil rights past.
Civil rights-inspired art along downtown Fifth Avenue would be part of a larger aesthetic makeover of that stretch to brand the area as the “Fifth Avenue Arts District.” Several art galleries are inside The Arcade and others dot the corridor.
Metro Public Works has requested $1.4 million for a new streetscape project on both sides of Fifth Avenue from Church Street north to Union Street. For the public art proposal on Fifth to move forward during the next year, Dean and the Metro Council would need to carve out funding for the Fifth Avenue project in the 2012-13 budget.
Funding for the civil rights art would come from the Percent for the Arts program, a law passed during Mayor Bill Purcell’s tenure that channels 1 percent of all net proceeds of general obligation bonds issued for construction projects to public art.