Arts in the Airport

Arts in the Airport In 15 years, Nashville has grown its program into one of respectability By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director May 2001 NASHVILLE — The Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority recently unveiled what is to date...


Arts in the Airport

In 15 years, Nashville has grown its program into one of respectability

By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director

May 2001

NASHVILLE — The Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority recently unveiled what is to date the crowning achievement in its developing arts program, a $90,000 lumetric sculpture which guides travelers along the moving walkway from the airport’s new parking lot to the terminal. The high-tech visual passageway symbolizes how far the airport’s cultural initiative has come since it was started in the late 1980s.

To label the latest piece of airport art a sculpture may seem to many a misnomer. It might be better described as a series of flashing tubes guiding one along a sea of light. Nashville International Airport (BNA) describes it thus, "the lumetric sculpture is composed of four spiral forms that intertwine in pairs, creating helixes. Each helix captures and emits light with the use of LED technology." The work spans some 134 feet through the third-floor walkway. Travelers who have traversed the neon underground walkway to the United terminal at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport will recognize the work of renowned light artist Michael Hayden.


BNA's Carole Willis, left, and curator Susan Knowles

For Carole M. Willis, director of communications and marketing for BNA, the Hayden sculpture represents

another stage in the cultural and performing arts program, known officially as Arts in the Airport. She has been with the airport authority some 14 years, about the same tenure as the arts program itself, which got its start with development of a new airline terminal in 1987.
Explains Willis, "Robert Lamb Hart was our lead (terminal) architect from New York, and he actually built into his budget money for an arts in the airport program, which was quite visionary. It was wonderful that our board also saw the vision in that.
"This was just beginning to occur at other airports around the country, but certainly not at the level it is today. Hart enabled us to have seed money to begin an arts program in the airport, and that money has been perpetuated through the years. The seed money was $50,000 and it was then up to the authority to build the program with additional monies." Since the program was officially begun in 1989, the authority has continued to budget the annual sum of $50,000 for the program," she says.

Scope of the Program
The BNA arts program began to develop, says Willis, after authority chair Bob Mathews sought out a local arts patron to head up an arts committee that would visit various airports in the U.S. which had programs already in place. Of those, she says, ones at Orlando, San Francisco, and St. Louis stood out.
"The thing that most impressed them in those cities was that they seemed to be better organized because they were affiliated with a city agency," she says. "Their suggestion to our board was that we contract the actual production of the program with an arts commission, which the city had in place with the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission.
"We do airports; we don’t do art, but we wanted art in the airport and in public places. We believed in it, so we did contract with the commission."
Susan Knowles, who has a masters in arts degree and had worked with local museums, was then an employee of the Arts Commission, and became involved in starting up the Arts in the Airport program, which today is a non-profit foundation. She now contracts directly with the authority to serve as the part-time curator, accounting for one-fifth of the arts budget.
Explains Knowles, "It’s not enough and that’s a problem because the airport arts program could be a full-time job."
As a result, Willis and Knowles say the airport has learned how to make that $50,000 budget "grow" by way of getting grant monies.
Says Knowles, "There’s an art to that, too."
Adds Willis, "The program has become so successful that usually when we apply for grants we are successful, and that’s helped grow that $50,000. Becoming a respected program helps a lot; then when you have the artists behind you, it speaks volumes."

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