Time for new art in downtown Knoxville's Cradle of Country Music Park

Amy McRary # State

A half-acre city park — once the site of a statue shaped like a musical treble clef — will become home to a new, custom-made work of art planners hope will become a Knoxville icon.

The triangle-shaped plot at the intersection of downtown’s Summit Hill Drive and Gay Street is called the Cradle of Country Music Park.The park was once home to an 18-foot statue shaped like a treble clef.

That Fiberglass and metal statue, part of a tribute to East Tennessee country music, deteriorated beyond repair before it was removed in 2009. The park is now sometimes used to show temporary art in the nonprofit Dogwood Arts' Arts in Public Places program.

A multi-step plan

For several years, the city’s Public Arts Committee has discussed finding new, site-specific permanent art for the park. The committee has been saving Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero's annual appropriations so the project budget totals $500,000.

The committee is beginning a multi-step process to place what Committee Chair Liza Zenni calls a permanent "artistic element" in a newly designed park.

Artists are asked to submit their statements of interest and qualifications for the project by Jan. 16. Artists aren't asked to create specific art but instead to detail their interest and approach to the project. They must also send 10 images of past work. Details are at https://knoxvillepublicart.com/news.

The request was posted online through the national nonprofit Americans for the Arts earlier this month. Within 48 hours, Zenni had received eight submissions from artists worldwide.

Finalists picked in February

Five finalists will be selected by February. Each will visit Knoxville, develop a proposal and return to the city for May interviews. A winning artist will be picked in June.

In coordination with the artist search, Zenni said, the city's parks and recreation department will pick a landscape architect for the project. That budget, she said, is separate from that of the arts committee.

The artist and architect will work together to create a project in which art and design mesh, said Zenni, who's the Arts and Culture Alliance of Greater Knoxville executive director. The design process is expected to begin in June; there's no deadline yet for completion.

"We want an integrated design. We don't want to pick a piece of art and say, 'Design round that.' And we don't want to have the design done and then have an artist do something," Zenni said.

In 2014, citizens were asked for their ideas for the park in a session facilitated by the East Tennessee Community Design Center. Six groups, each led by an artist and landscape architect, sketched ideas.

Each plan used part of the area as a performance venue; five incorporated art elements. Those designs are illustrated on the public arts committee website but aren't binding to the project's future. And while the park has a country music name, supporters say artists aren't obligated to reference country music in their work.

The selected artist will be asked to incorporate metal plaques that were part of Cradle of Country Music Park. Those plaques, stored at the East Tennessee History Center, include names of area country musicians.

An 'iconic' project

Zenni sees the project as one that can be "iconic."

"Knoxville has absolutely been reinvigorated," she said. "The beautiful thing about our new downtown is that it is a completely new place but it has beautiful sentimental echoes of our past. That combination is a wonderful thing."

"We want people to gather there and have fun. We also hope at other times it’s a place of thought and repose... The artwork we believe will be iconic. When people think of Knoxville and promote Knoxville that artwork in this park will be part of Knoxville's visual identity."