A Look Back at Arts and Heritage in 2023… and What’s in Store for 2024

As we begin 2024, it seems a good time to look back at some of the Clarksville Arts & Heritage Council’s (AHC) accomplishments and to look forward to plans for the new year. As we put together our goals, we are always eager for your suggestions on how arts and heritage activities can enhance Clarksville’s quality of life.

In the last four years, Arts & Heritage has partnered with public and private groups to increase the city’s public art inventory, adding a little more than $600,000 worth of statues, murals, wood carvings, and mosaics to the city’s public art inventory. Our big public art initiative this year is a monument honoring these local leaders in the Civil Rights movement: Jimmie Garland, Dr. Robert T. Burt, Hyburnia Williams, Helen Long, Wilma Rudolph, and Mary Virginia Martin-Hatcher. Our steering committee selected the six Civil Rights leaders to highlight, and we decided on a location, Dixon Park, named for Nace and Nannie Dixon, who owned an African American funeral home in the early 20th century. Nace was an alderman in Clarksville’s ninth ward, predominantly made up of African American voters. The park now offers a playground, basketball court, splash pad, and picnic area that attract area children and their families.

Our budget is $200,000, half of which will be funded by the city and county and half will be raised privately—we currently have pledges of $30,000. We put out a national call for artists in Sculpture magazine as well as personal notes to artists we have worked with before. The committee selected a proposal by sculptor Roy Butler for a 7-sided, 8-foot high column with bas-relief images of the leaders on six sides and a brief history of Clarksville’s civil rights activities on the seventh side. We are searching for action photos of the leaders to give movement to the monument. Our tentative timetable is to unveil it on August 8, 2026, the date Tennesseans have celebrated for more than 150 years as the end of slavery in the state.

Now that the Last Train to Clarksville mural is completed, smaller public art projects for next year include placing a hanging sculpture of a girl in the clouds by local artist Jim Diehr in an elementary school and selecting local artists to paint benches and a water tank with bees, butterflies, caterpillars and ladybugs (from the list of Tennessee icons) in the pollinator garden in Valley Brook Park. We are also writing a grant to place stands of artists’ work along a greenway and trying to figure out a way to put plaques with QR codes on our public art to take visitors to the VisitClarksville website for information on each piece.

Our Clarksville Then and Now project is finishing up with 80 plaques with photos of downtown buildings from 70 to 100 years ago, along with a QR code to take viewers to our website for a short history of uses of each building. We are now launching a broader initiative to remind Montgomery Countians of the contribution homes and public buildings from 50 to 200 years ago make to the beauty of our community. We have launched a Preservation Coalition and are using the work of photographers and painters to illustrate the importance of these structures. The long-term plan is to raise a fund to help owners with restoration projects.

Last December we installed in the APSU Trahern Building four large artworks by Cindy Marsh and Marnie Powers-Torrey, entitled “The Tobacco Hands / The Habits of Mutuality.” The opening reception kicked off a year-long series of programs about the importance of tobacco in Clarksville’s development. Monthly Tobacco Talks from historians, storytellers, authors, actors, and tobacco farmers attracted audiences of 50 to 200.
To follow up on this popular series, we are discussing plans to examine Native American history in the county. Clarksville’s Dunbar Cave State Park is home to historical charcoal drawings of a Mississippian culture of Native Americans who lived in the area 1,000 years ago. We hope to commission a 3D depiction of the most prominent of the charcoal drawings to install in the downtown area to begin a conversation about the area’s earliest residents.

We serve as the designated agency for the Tennessee Arts Commission’s Arts Build Communities program to manage $5,000 mini-grants to organizations in seven counties: Cheatham, Dickson, Houston, Humphreys, Montgomery, Robertson and Stewart. Our responsibilities include publicizing the grants, conducting workshops for prospective applicants, giving suggestions to make sure applications meet guidelines, and helping applicants close out grants once the projects are completed.

A major component of our mission is to support arts initiatives of other community organizations. We will partner again with the Central Civitan Club to sponsor the third South of the River Tour d’Art. The inaugural tour of five studios of artists living south of the Cumberland River was a success for about 100 visitors and the artists, one of whom had more than $1,000 in sales. Along with the original studios, next September’s tour will add a Paint-in-the Dark workshop by legally blind artist Tracy Bettencourt, plein air artists will be painting at a site above a bend in the Cumberland River, and art historians will talk about the folk art of E.T. Wickham at a site where a number of his sculptures have been preserved.

We should install the final Storybook Trail of our collaboration with librarians and friends of libraries in Cheatham, Houston, Montgomery, Robertson, Stewart and Dickson counties by August 2024. Panels for the five trails are interchangeable so that each book can be moved to a new county twice a year to keep families involved. In Montgomery County, we unveiled Wisdom: The Midway Albatross on World Albatross Day in June, along with an art project recycling plastic bottle caps — discarded plastic is a major hazard for the seabirds.

We will unveil the following trails in April and May 2024: local biologist and children’s author Laurina Lyle’s book on Tennessee birds for our Houston County trail; local author Michael Shoulders’ Little Tennessee for our Stewart County trail; and local author Dawn Young’s Little Cub’s Big List for Cheatham County. We are still working on Dickson County’s trail. With each trail, we are including a panel suggesting that children might be interested in illustrating or authoring their own books just as these Middle Tennesseans have.

Our biggest project of the year is the Clarksville Writers Conference established to encourage aspiring authors and to celebrate Clarksville’s connection with the Southern Renaissance in literature through residents Robert Penn Warren, Alan Tate, and Caroline Gordon. The 20th annual two-day conference, slated for June 5 and 6, 2024, will host 16 to 18 workshops on writing, editing, publishing, marketing, discussions of new books for avid readers and aspiring writers offered by 8 to 10 published authors, agents, marketers, and editors. It will feature a book signing reception and banquet with a talk by the winner of the Patricia Winn Prize for Southern Literature. The 2024 conference will add a writing contest and a second prize to honor local short story author Thomas Mabry.

Our 2Rivers Plein Air Paint-Out is slated for fall of 2024. When we hosted our first paint-out 11 years ago, we knew of two local artists who enjoyed plein air painting. Since then, we have offered plein air workshops and an encouraging environment for artists who have never before attempted plein air painting. Participants have encouraged friends to join our beginner-friendly competition, and now Clarksville has a group of 5 or 6 who gather informally every week during good weather to paint en plein air with another 5 or 6 who join occasionally.
This year we partnered with the Southern Grasslands Institute to paint the Dunbar Cave prairie and promote prairie restoration in June and with VisitClarksville to sponsor plein air painting and photography in a Create at Collinsville event in September. Both events were so popular that we are considering expanding the paint out to a three-day event—one day in the prairie, one day at Historic Collinsville and one day downtown.

We are particularly proud of our Arts for Hearts program designed to bring the healing experience of art to people who face economic, physical, cognitive or emotional barriers to arts experiences through free one- to three-hour workshops where participants have a piece of art to bring home. About 15 volunteer artists offer 4 to 8 of these sessions each month in handicap-accessible spaces such as the public library, community centers, Downtown Commons, homeless shelters, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, and veterans centers.

One of the suggestions from last year’s review was that we find a way to pay these volunteers. To that end, AHC will move an additional $4,000 to the Arts for Hearts account. That money will also allow us to apply for a Creative Forces matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Arts for Hearts coordinator Barb Kane’s husband was a 20-year veteran with the 101st, and she has many contacts with organizations serving soldiers and veterans and their families. Arts for Hearts already offers workshops at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic, Fisher House at Fort Campbell, Blue Star Families, and in conjunction with Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. Examples of Arts for Hearts workshops can be seen on the Arts for Hearts Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/artsforheartsclarksville.