Public Art about COVID-19 and Recent Tornadoes on the Way, Courtesy of Nashville Taxpayers

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Metro Nashville officials plan to spend taxpayer money to create public art that, in some way, acknowledges the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as the tornadoes that battered Middle Tennessee last month.

Last Friday Metro Nashville Arts Commission board members approved re-allocating $40,000 from their operating funds toward this project, part of their THRIVE program, said Metro Arts spokeswoman Emily Waltenbaugh.

A Metro Arts press release, however, said commission members approved spending $50,000 in operational grant funds on this project. Artists may apply for funds between $500 and $2,500.

As The Tennessee Star reported last week, the city’s finances are tight, especially now because of the coronavirus outbreak. Nashville Mayor John Cooper said he plans to “sharply increase” the city’s property tax rate.

Is the city’s investment into more public art the wisest use of taxpayer money right now?

Waltenbaugh said the following in an email to The Star on Monday:

These funds will pay people who live in Davidson County to create projects that benefit people who live in Davidson County.

According to the press release, this money will pay county residents to produce, among other things, visual art, videos, or online streaming content. Metro Art officials did not provide additional details.

According to a video on the Metro Arts’ YouTube channel, more than 600 Nashville-based artists have taken THRIVE money.

Waltenbaugh said THRIVE “pays artists to create community-based projects.”

In that same video, Metro Arts Neighborhood and Artist Development Coordinator Lauren Fitzgerald praised city officials for spending taxpayer money in this manner.

“THRIVE was founded on the premise that we already know that there are amazing artists out there in the community doing this work,” Fitzgerald said.

“So why not give them the opportunity to produce their own work through the mechanism, the funding source in the government?”

As reported, Metro Arts officials have already spent taxpayer money on various other projects:

• Nashville officials paid $300,000 for an exhibit commemorating the Civil Rights movement. The artist lived some 2,000 miles away in Oakland, Calif. The Nashville Metro Arts Commission hired Walter Hood to create “Witness Walls” on the west side of the Metro Nashville Courthouse.

• Nashville taxpayers paid $750,000 so another California artist could construct large multi-colored sticks and place them partially upright near the Music City Center downtown.

• “Tool Fire,” built in 2013, consists of several shovels, rakes, and pickaxes glued together and placed on display along the Shelby Bottoms Greenway. For that project, the city paid an Alabama artist $30,000.

• Nashville taxpayers paid two Seattle artists $350,000 to create a sculpture at Nashville’s West Riverfront Park symbolizing the Cumberland River.

• Nashville officials would have spent no more than $5,000 — at the most — for four new bicycle racks, if they had paid market prices. Instead, they spent upwards of $100,000, at taxpayers’ expense. These aren’t standard bicycle racks. Rather, these bike racks have an artistic flair, which explains why Nashville officials saw fit to spend 20 times as much.

The 2010 Tennessee Pork Report, meanwhile, referred to another art project, costing $340,600, near Nissan Stadium. The report said the project resembled “the remnants of a defunct and mangled roller coaster.”

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Image “THRIVE Nashville” by Metro Nashville Arts Commission.





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5 Thoughts to “Public Art about COVID-19 and Recent Tornadoes on the Way, Courtesy of Nashville Taxpayers”

  1. Megan Barry

    Art work is work!

  2. 83ragtop50

    “part of their THRIVE program”

    Hey, someone please tell the idiots who are blowing our tax dollars that Nashville is anything but thriving right now. If people, including artists, cannot make it without government handouts then they need to change jobs ASAP.

  3. LEdwards

    Thank you Tenn. Star for this update on how Matro is wasting the tax payers money. Would you please inform the citizens on who we can call to voice their opinions about this waste of their hard earned money. Especially now with so many out of work. Perhaps the Mayors office may be the best place to start.

  4. lb

    DEFUND immediately ALL “arts”! If the “arts” cant stand alone and find donors/supporters to finance them, too bad. They WONT be missed. I am sure there are MANY Artists who would create “Art” for FREE to add to their Portfolios.
    IF and only IF the City has 5 Years of Surplus $$$ THEN maybe look into a SMALL Grant project yearly ONLY for Students in Grades 6-12.

  5. rick

    What an unnecessary waste of money! The mayor wants to raise property taxes (25% to 40% the increase mentioned) for crap like this, they deserve ZERO increase. A mass exodus out of Davidson County will occur. The _ _ it city.