Veterans Of Civil Rights Art Movement Say Public Art Project Is Finally Getting It Right

Walter Hood's design, called 'Witness Walls,' combines images in relief so that pictures of sit-ins can be seen from certain angles, while marching is visible from others. Rendering courtesy Metro Arts Commission

Walter Hood’s design, called ‘Witness Walls,’ combines images in relief so that pictures of sit-ins can be seen from certain angles, while marching is visible from others. Rendering courtesy Metro Arts Commission

Efforts to commemorate Nashville’s Civil Rights Movement with public art now seem to have widespread approval from an important constituency: veterans of the movement itself.

The Metro Arts Commission’s first plan was modest. The city was revamping a block of 5th Avenue where lunch counter sit-ins took place, so why not carve out a space for art inspired by the protests? Problem is, it was the closest thing to a civil rights monument the city had ever proposed, but it wasn’t exactly monumental. So, at the prodding of people like Kwame Lillard, the arts commission started all over from scratch.

It’s been a rocky road to get here. They started with a 2×3 monument and $75,000 and we kept raising the bar until they did this. It’s a perfect example of democracy at work. The citizens raising hell and the government responding.

Now the budget is $300,000 for a group of undulating walls to be erected sometime next year outside the Metro courthouse. Those walls will be covered in a collage of historic images, like those of the silent march across that very spot that lead to lunch-counter desegregation.

At a community meeting Thursday night, Lillard and others involved in the movement praised artist Walter Hood, who says their stories and input will be vital to deciding just which details should be highlighted in the final artwork.

Hood answers questions about the art from an audience peppered with people who were present for the sit-ins and the silent march. While the group is happy with the choice for this project, several voiced hope that will be just the first of many efforts to keep that part of the city's history visible. Credit Nina Cardona/WPLN

Hood answers questions about the art from an audience peppered with people who were present for the sit-ins and the silent march. While the group is happy with the choice for this project, several voiced hope that will be just the first of many efforts to keep that part of the city’s history visible. Credit Nina Cardona/WPLN

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