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Metro Arts Commission Releases Draft Public Art Plan Recommendations for Public Comment


Year-Long Look at Nationwide Best Practices Signals Changes for Public Art in Nashville

Jennifer Cole
Metro Arts

Metro Arts today unveiled draft recommendations for a comprehensive plan that positions public art as a community investment tool for neighborhood transformation, creative workforce development and equitable practices throughout the city.

In 2015, Metro Arts completed its strategic plan, Crafting a Creative City, which envisioned the opportunity to reimagine public art as a tool for creative community investment, citizen engagement and neighborhood redevelopment. That plan responded to NashvilleNext, the city’s general plan and sought to reinforce how art can leverage and support the city’s growth, diversity and prosperity.

To better support the city’s priorities, Metro Arts launched the first comprehensive planning process for public art in 2015. At the beginning of the process, the planning team formed several community advisory groups, held artist focus group meetings and conducted more than 50 interviews with arts organizations, community members and Metro agencies and department partners. An internet survey generated nearly 1,000 responses to questions about the public art Nashville has commissioned to date, and directions Metro Arts might pursue in the future.

The consulting team (Todd Bressi/Meridith McKinley) completed a “benchmarking” study that examines a variety of ways public art agencies and independent arts organizations throughout the U.S. have developed projects and programs that are directed towards the vision Metro Arts has for public art. Cities of Nashville’s size often rely on a broad ecosystem of arts organizations – public agencies, museums, university programs, independent arts organizations and artist collaborative projects – to achieve goals that are as ambitious as Nashville’s.

“Nashville at its very foundation was built on arts, music and culture. Public art serves to strengthen our communities and enhance the quality of life for residents,” said Mayor Megan Barry. “This plan will help guide Metro government and the private sector towards designing and building infrastructure that incorporates artists and art, while developing our creative workforce and providing opportunities for artists to work and live in Nashville.”

Executive Director of Metro Arts Jennifer Cole says, “We have been working at a fast clip to complete successful Percent for Public Art projects, and have installed nearly 50 since 2011. Through this process, we have found there are gaps in the spectrum of opportunities we are able to offer in public art. We want to grow the tools we have in our toolbox, invest in new, deeper relationships with our Metro partners and diversify our funding pool.”

The Plan’s new vision starts with these values: 1) Metro Arts is committed to equity. 2) Metro Arts values and supports artistic practice, meaning support for artists in the work they do, both creatively, and in terms of cultivating sustainable economic vitality. 3) Metro Arts is also committed to the public realm, which means that public art, more than any other artistic discipline, exists in public space, and thus has the dual role of impacting people’s use and enjoyment of public space.

In order to meet these values and goals, the Plan recommends four focus areas:

  • Strengthen the public art ecosystem: This goal involves strengthening Nashville’s capacity to produce public art. This means catalyzing and supporting a public art ecosystem that is made up of a broad network of artists, arts organizations, fabricators, museums, schools and galleries that one way or another create a healthy environment for public artists and public art production.
  • Foster deeper cultural and civic participation. This is central to the Metro Arts’ Vision, that every Nashvillian should have access to and be able to participate in a creative life.
  • Catalyze vibrant, creative neighborhoods. Metro Arts recognizes that policies for arts access, creative workforce development and arts education have a better chance of succeeding when they are intertwined with the economic, physical and social fabric of neighborhoods. Neighborhoods should have an expressive identity that reflects culture, history and spirit of a neighborhood; embraces and empowers the creativity of people in the neighborhood; and fosters stronger civic connection and social capital.
  • Support a vital public realm. The public realm is the physical places that are built to support the shared purposes of civil society. A vital public realm is valued for being a place that feels accessible to everyone and shared by all, for its aesthetics and its function in equal measure, and for the meaning it expresses about a community’s identity and purpose.

The draft also recommends a new set of project tools be used in the development of public art in Nashville including: artist residencies, place-based studios, artists on planning teams and temporary public art projects in addition to traditional Percent for Public Art permanent projects. In the residency approach, an artist is embedded in the community and develops projects along with community members. Place-based studios are artists working in public studio spaces throughout the community in neighborhoods, community centers and libraries.  Metro Arts plans to work closely with its Metro partners to make sure artists are included on community planning teams and infrastructure projects. Metro Arts will also continue to offer professional development opportunities for artists, like last year’s Learning Lab, and will look to seed more public art in private development.

These new approaches to public art projects, training and funding are reflected in Metro Arts’ FY18 Budget request to Mayor Barry and support work of other recent Metro Plans including Plan to Play (Parks) and NMotion (MTA).

Metro Arts Commission Chair, Clay Haynes adds, “Success to us will look like more artists, who are public-art ready, creating more art in our communities. We want to see more residents connected to public art than ever before, and more of our neighborhoods transformed, activated and improved through the creation of public art. Nashville’s shared community spaces should all be vibrant, unique and iconic because of public art.”

Public Comment period on the draft plan will be open for thirty days.

About the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission (Metro Arts) The Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission, a commission of the Metropolitan Nashville Government, drives a more equitable and vibrant community through the arts. Metro Arts receives operational support from the Tennessee Arts Commission, and additional information is available online at