Question from a Johnson City-ite: What is this thing called “Public Art” I’m hearing about?
Answer from a JC Public Art Committee member: The idea of “public art” is not new and in fact is older than our hills. Any assumption that ‘real art’ is found only in high-end galleries or on the walls of museums for the price of your admission is actually a modern prejudice.
Consider, for example, the lyrical drawings on cave walls by primitives. There were no wine and cheese fetes set up for the viewing of that work. The images were scratched out and presented for view by locals in their common life.
Or think about the medieval altarpieces and storied frescoes. These were made for simple churches in small towns all over Europe to teach those who could not read about big biblical themes.
In both these historical periods, art served a very public purpose. It’s presence exemplified, and left us a legacy of what each culture considered the root of reality. And all this work was free and accessible.
In the last several centuries (and for a host of political, philosophical and cultural reasons) artwork has been closeted inside expensive buildings under lock and key. Art has become “nice but not necessary” to most, or confusing and elitist to many.
Yet, even in current times aesthetic expression still strives for a public viewing. The amazing mural program in the city of Philadelphia began as an effort to encourage and train spray-can graffiti artists to move from defacing public spaces to enhancing them. When an organized effort is made to put quality artwork “out there” we all win.
As a committee, we have an expectation therefore that art can move people, that it can improve our common spaces, that it represents common realities and that it can lift our vision as a city. And so, we are investing in work that enhances our public spaces. Look around Johnson City; you’ll see some exciting examples.
A walk around downtown Johnson City, TN will reveal splashes of art…. art in various forms of color, a variety of art mediums, and various levels to the viewing eye. Johnson City has spectacular art above the eye level as in the new Johnson City sign. One can find beautiful artistic bridge rails all along the waterway right below eye level at King Commons. At the downtown entrance to Founders Park, below eye level, one can see some amazing artwork on the ground right under your feet! Standing in that spot, looking forward into the park all along the horizon, you will find a plethora of sculptures close up and off in the distance, as far into the park as you can see.
Downtown Johnson City is covered with art on all levels!! If you love metal works, we have it! If you love mixed media art, we have it! If you love nature coupled with the engineering “art” of storm water mitigation and conservation, we have it! If you love the art of music and the live outdoor music at Founders Park or the JC Drum Circle at the pavilion, we have it!! Anyone who loves art should have something to love in downtown Johnson City.
This blog is about the art that one can see at eye level, right in front of you! Murals! Murals have been adding a palate of color to the once monotonous, brick walls of the downtown area.
Downtown murals are located along the walkways by some of the downtown shops, restaurants, coffee shops and music venues, and in King Commons – the latest addition to the collection. This mural is a colorful representation of several themes from Johnson City. This mural, entitled Wildabout displays an artistic reflection of our concern for flood water control, our strong desire for bee pollination and conservation, local plant and animal life, and local architectural landmarks. The artist, Ian Brownlee, was selected from more than 30 applicants to complete this mural.
Many of our locals may have noticed that some downtown framed canvas murals have been removed. These murals, the winning projects from a mural competition during a Blue Plum event several years ago, were on display for a limited time and will be replaced soon. I am very excited to say that the new murals have been completed by high school students and a high school graduate of local schools in the Johnson City area. An invitation was extended to Topper Academy of Science Hill High School, Providence Academy, and an individual resident of Johnson City. All artists eagerly accepted the challenge! (An invitation was also extended to University High; however, they were not able to participate.) Groups were provided a simple idea – create a mural that reflects the heart of downtown Johnson City. On-going communication occurred with all groups and several pictures of progress were shared. The resulting murals are amazing! These teachers and students involved were able to complete their projects before the last day of school!
Watch for an upcoming unveiling of the next eye-level installment of several downtown murals – artwork by our own local residents! I think you will be very pleased! Enjoy!
“Art does not reproduce what we see; rather is makes us see.” – Paul Klee
Stop by the Johnson City Public Art (JCPA) booth at Insta-Crafty and participate in our “Make One, Take One” activity! We’ll have all the materials ready for you to create two unique watercolor art pieces. One of your choosing will be incorporated into a display with the watercolors made by other participants, and the other you will take home with you. You do not have to consider yourself an artist to participate! These will be easy, abstract, and fun to make, and JCPA committee members will be available to assist if needed.
The JCPA committee will also offer tours of the current sculpture exhibit in and around Founders Park. Tours will begin at 1:00, 3:00, and 5:00 p.m. at the JCPA booth. Most of the sculptures you will see on the tour are on a rotational schedule; they are leased for two years from the artist and are then replaced by a new round of sculpture. If you haven’t had a chance to see the exhibit, or if you’ve passed by previously but would like to learn more about these artworks, come along on a tour! Each piece has its own story, meaning, and interpretation waiting to be discovered.
Also, take a moment between activities to find out more about JCPA. The JCPA committee engages in a wide array of projects that help to beautify our City and build community around public art. Sign-up sheets will be available for those who would like updates on the latest news about public art in Johnson City. The sheets will be categorized into various art types (i.e. murals, sculpture, etc.) so you can choose to keep posted on your specific area of interest. We’ll also be handing out JCPA stickers and brochures!
We look forward to seeing you on May 20th at Insta-Crafty.
On an overcast day in late December, Lewis Body, Jim Masterson, and Kacy Ganley traveled to Johnson City from the Metal Museum in Memphis, Tennessee to begin installation of the artistic bridge rails at King Commons. Together, they placed each heavy section of railing at three different locations throughout the park. After the main components were locked in place, the floral embellishments were attached, adding an exciting burst of color to the railing design.
During a short break from the installation, Body, Masterson, and Ganley were kind enough to answer some of our questions about their experiences with designing and fabricating this unique railing. Body designed the railing and had taken the lead on its fabrication. When we inquired about the inspiration behind the railing design, Body indicated that he was influenced by several factors – the park’s focus on storm water mitigation, the themes present in the new mural at King Commons, and the general atmosphere and architecture surrounding the site. The blue color that was chosen for the coating was drawn from the shade of blue used in the mural and is meant to represent the waterways of Brush Creek. The paint colors used for the coneflower, iris, and milkweed flowers were custom mixed in house at the Metal Museum in Memphis.
Masterson commented that one of the most difficult aspects of the project involved aligning the railing layout with the actual layout of the park. He specified that “tracking the different curves” and the “logistics – the building of the whole” arose as challenges.
Body and the team agreed that one of the most exciting parts of the project had been “the challenge of getting it right”. He explained that they enjoyed “fitting [the railing] into its home – where it’s going to be”.
Masterson, Ganley, and Body have been involved in the fabrication of railings, gates, sculptures, and doors during their time at the Metal Museum. Their pieces are found throughout the southeast but range as far as California and Hawaii.
Now, we can enjoy their work right here in Johnson City.
Next time your downtown, stop by King Commons and check out the beautiful work completed by these talented artists and craftsmen!