Creating pieces of public art for Elizabethton

Published 9:06 am Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The discussion of public art has been somewhat of a hot topic this past year, especially with the formation and activity of the new Elizabethton Arts and Cultural Alliance. In many cities throughout North America, public art has started to become a recognized necessity. Public art was an identity for many ancient cultures such as the Egyptians and Persians and old cities such as Rome, Athens, Florence, Vienna, and even (to a certain extent) New York.
One reason it was and is becoming popular again is because it was something one-of-a-kind. It was a public icon that was specifically tied to a particular community or city and, therefore, helped you easily identify where you were before there were town signs or water towers with community names on them. In a time before every street had a name, you could easily navigate a city based on building landmarks (such as church bell towers), a city’s public squares, and the city’s public art. During the middle of the Renaissance, public art began to even become a competition among cities — who could have the most public art and who could have the best public art.
As I eluded to earlier, many great places and many successful cities have public art. Rome and Florence are two cities well known for their public art, but cities like New York, Vienna, Paris, Seattle, Rio de Janeiro, and Chicago also have a lot of public art. These are fun cities to be in and their public art creates a little excitement every time you visit a park or turn a corner to see a unique piece. Even smaller cities like Chattanooga, Asheville, Huntsville, and Johnson City and Kingsport have great public art or have started programs to promote public art. Public art can inspire future artists, provide a sense of beauty, and give an identity to these cities.
Lastly, public art provides something for our local citizens to enjoy and something memorable for our visitors. As we work to increase tourism in Elizabethton, we want to create memorable icons and things for visitors to take pictures of and with. Public art should be something that reflects our local culture and community. Think of a time when you visited a new place and years later, as you recall the story or look through a photo album, you say, “Remember when we saw that ______ in ______?” When you visit Chicago, you might think of the Cloud Gate; when you visit Wall Street in New York, you think of the Charging Bull sculpture; or when you visit Paris, you think of the Arc de Triumph or maybe the Eiffel Tower. These are all icon that help identify the city.
Just as you hang pictures or other forms of art on your walls at home, so must our community “decorate” to become a more attractive and unique place. What role do you think public art should play in our community? Let’s talk about it!
Jon Hartman is Director of Planning & Economic Development for the City of Elizabethton. He can be contacted at 542-1503 or by email at:

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox