The Nashville airport program is guided by an arts committee made up of local artists and art patrons, according to Willis. Her staff and Knowles make recommendations on the rotating exhibits each year to the committee, which then makes final recommendations to the airport board. Committee members are volunteers. "They’re people who are in a position to be involved with public art issues, and they serve with no compensation," explains Knowles.
The emphasis of the program from the beginning has been to highlight Tennessee artists and performers, according to Willis. Consequently, to be considered by the program an artist needs to be a Tennessee native or have lived or worked in the state.
The intent, says Willis, has been to get the community vested in the arts initiative, while also serving as a positive impression to travelers.
"We truly believe that the airport is the first and last impression of the city," explains Willis, "and that’s a big draw for artists because such impressions can be lasting ones. The natural light in the terminal also lends itself to public display."
Adds Knowles, "We’re really trying to be public about this, so we do selection by a public process. We really try to run this program so it not only means exposure for artists but it’s chosen by people who are representing the public.
"The connection to what’s happening in the arts communities is key. That, and we try to adhere to the principles of public review that started with the Metro Arts Commission involvement — making everything open to anyone who wants to know."
The multifaceted Arts in the Airport program at Nashville International includes permanent works such as the Dancing on Air moguls by a Tennessee artist, and rotating exhibits like the Flying Solo prints by Sheri Fleck Rieth.
Since the program began, the airport has
collected some 80 works of art in its permanent collection, some of which
are used to enhance the airport offices located in the upper level of
the terminal. In time, says Willis, permanent works will rotate back to
the main passenger areas.
For Willis and Knowles, a very important aspect of the Arts in the Airport program from day one has been to make it a program of diversity and mixed media. In a city known as a national music center, it is only natural that performing artists are central to the program, and in fact are featured each Friday afternoon in the terminal complex.
Explains Willis, "Unfortunately, we can only afford to have performing arts every Friday from noon to 2 p.m. It has become well-known, and local musicians and writers and (recording) labels recognize the Arts in the Airport program.
"The passengers love it. We have had musicians go through the terminal and literally put down their luggage and pick up an instrument. That’s a thrill for passengers, seeing Mark Knoffler or Johnny Cash. It’s not just country music, it’s everything from gospel to jazz to strings to piano."
Many of the art exhibits in the airport are changed out quarterly, and both Willis and Knowles favor a mix of permanent and rotating exhibits. "I would never want to see the rotating exhibits stop and just rely on permanent exhibits," comments Willis. "It’s a way to ensure that there’s always going to be opportunities for other artists and different media to show at our airport. I think that’s what keeps the program alive. Every three or four months there’s something new."
Among those new artists are students, says Knowles, who are often at the airport via workshops put on in conjunction with local events and airport art displays.
"When we hosted the National Figure Skating Championships in Nashville," says Knowles, "we had kids out here and held class workshops for them. We had a group doing live drawings, another group doing clay sculptures. It made quite an impression on the people coming to town for the figure skating events.
"If there’s a way that we can be a part of something important that’s going on in Nashville, we try," she explains.
A Nashville Sampler
Some of the exhibits from Nashville International Airport’s Arts in the Airport program, which has some 80 permanent pieces in its collection, include ...
• Michael Hayden’s lumetric sculpture, which features fiber
optics integration and five computer programs that continuously change
the light display, keeping the work from appearing static.
• A current display (through June 4) featuring nationally recognized printmaking artists Sheri Fleck Rieth and Cynthia Marsh. In conjunction with the display, the program sponsored a student printmaking day with two local printmaking instructors.
• The Airport Sun Project by sculptor Dale Eldred, known for his work displaying the properties of light, was one of the airport’s first permanent pieces. It consists of glass and metal panels mounted on structural beams and rafters in the terminal.
• Flights of Fancy, a mosaic bench and play area by Sherri Warner Hunter, a Tennessee artist, located in front of the terminal.
• Dancing on Air, by Tennessee artist Jack Hastings, featuring two 15-foot aluminum mobiles that use the airport’s vent currents to gingerly float above the traffic flow of passengers below.
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