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Metro Public Art Collection: Witness Walls

Artist: Walter Hood
Location: Public Square Park, next to the Historic Metro Courthouse, 1 Public Square

Witness Walls Civil Rights Public Art by artist Walter Hood

Public Dedication Event

On Friday, April 21, 2017, Nashville celebrated the legacy of Civil Rights activism with the dedication of Witness Walls, a public artwork inspired by the events and people who made history here in Nashville and created the blueprint for nonviolent protest during the modern Civil Rights Movement. Due to the possibility of rain, the event was moved indoors to the Metro Council Chambers in the Historic Metro Courthouse.

The standing room only crowd heard remarks from artist Walter Hood, Mayor Megan Barry, and Metro Arts Director Jennifer Cole. Rev. Dr. Kelly Miller Smith Jr. gave the invocation and Rev. James "Tex" Thomas closed with the convocation. Dr. Matthew Walker III, whose father Matthew Walker Sr. was a Freedom Rider, honored the many Nashville Civil Rights veterans in attendance.

The photo gallery includes photos from the dedication ceremony, an artist tour with Civil Rights veterans, and the public viewing of the artwork.You may watch the full video of the public dedication on YouTube.

Clarkston Ellerby interviews veteran Rip Patton


In support of Witness Walls, Metro Arts and One Voice Nashville have launched an exciting podcast series, “My Witness”. Through the project, Metro high school students interviewed Civil Rights veterans and created podcasts that tell stories both of the Nashville Movement and its impact pact on their lives and communities. Click on links below to listen to the podcasts:

The Artist’s Final Design

Walter Hood’s final design for Witness Walls is the result of extensive research by the artist, multiple conversations with Nashville Civil Rights Veterans, and careful consideration of hundreds of period images. The artist explains, “The selection of images for the artwork does not seek to highlight key individuals or singular events in a chronological or hierarchical order. Rather, through two resolutions of images accompanied by music of the period, it strives to embed the visitor in a movement in which the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.” The artist’s abstract [stencil] compositions in “exposed aggregate depict scenes of motion: marching, protesting, and walking to school. Meanwhile, the shadow graphic [photo] images allow [viewers] to experience the expressions and emotions of these individuals. Most of these images depict people sitting, all of them focus on people's hands and facial expressions… Both resolutions fade in and out of focus as you move through the sculpture—the former based on proximity and the latter based on angle—so that new relationships emerge with every step”.

Walter Hood Drawing in his Studio

Project Overview

Witness Walls is inspired by the events and the people who made history here in Nashville and created the blueprint for nonviolent protest during the modern Civil Rights Movement. The artwork will be located on the west side of the historic Metro Nashville Courthouse, steps away from the site of the historic April 19, 1960 student-led protest that led then-Mayor Ben West to disavow segregation of Nashville's lunch counters.

Artist Walter Hood designed Witness Walls as a set of fragmented sculptural walls, recalling the classical sculpted friezes that pay homage to heroic and mythical events in antiquity. Using carefully selected period photographs, the artist is exploring the full expressive potential of concrete to create a site of remembrance and celebration. Set amid these walls are two small fountains that enhance the contemplative quality of the space.

As visitors walk through the artwork’s concave and convex walls, they will encounter Nashvillians taking action—school desegregation, lunch counter sit-ins, economic boycotts, marches, meetings, and Freedom Rides. Surrounded by these images, the artwork’s period music transports visitors to these events and places. The proliferation of images and sounds remind us that the Civil Rights movement was a collective endeavor. Just as this site once did, the visitors moving through and around these walls bear witness to the remarkable events that took place in Nashville over a half century ago.

Witness Walls Reception with artist Walter Hood, June 26, 2014