Taxpayers pay $30,000 so out-of-state artist can glue shovels, rakes, pickaxes


“TOOL FIRE”: The sculpture at Shelby Bottoms Park in Nashville cost nearly $30,000 in public money.

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Nashville taxpayers recently paid $30,000 so an artist could glue several shovels, rakes and pickaxes together, paint them black and mold them into a 12-foot high structure along the Cumberland River.

City officials erected the sculpture, “Tool Fire,” last year at Shelby Bottoms Park, only three miles from the Grand Ole Opry.

Chris Butler explains what park visitors think of the $30,000 sculpture.

Regular park patron Emily Amos of Nashville told Tennessee Watchdog that she’s not an art aficionado, but she doesn’t mind taxpayers paying for such a project.

“I totally support the art community,” Amos said. “Besides, that money is going to local artists.”

Actually — it’s not.

Tool Fire” artist Christopher Fennell told Tennessee Watchdog on Tuesday that he is a resident of Birmingham, Ala.

The “Tool Fire” sculpture is one of six pieces of art designed for people affected by the city’s devastating 2010 flood, according to the city of Nashville’s Metro Arts website.

“Members of the community told me they were busing in volunteers to clean up flooded houses,” Fennell said.

“They would take their tools and toss them in a pile on the street. The next day new volunteers would come and pick through tools and rip out drywall of houses that had been flooded. I wanted to build a sculpture about the community getting out and healing itself.”

Metro Arts Executive Director Jennifer Cole said in an email that “Tool Fire” cost $29,000, but no money came from the city’s Metro Arts operational fund.

Instead, the money came from the 1% for Art Fund, she said.

PICKAXES: Most people would worry if they saw so many pickaxes in one place, but this is public art.

“These funds are generated when the city issues general obligation bonds for new construction and by statute cannot be used for any other purpose but the development and installation of public art for the city.”

Park visitor John Kutter, of Richmond, Ind,. had nothing but praise for the piece — to a point.

His excitement waned a bit when told taxpayer money financed the project.

“I’d rather it wasn’t financed by tax dollars, but they’re going everywhere. They seem to be paying for too much,” Kutter said.

Another park visitor, Angela Lamberth of Nashville, also liked the sculpture but was similarly taken aback when told about how much taxpayers put into it.

“That’s a little steep,” Lamberth said.

“I think that some taxpayer money should go to it. It’s the beautification of our city. It helps with tourism, especially downtown. But this park isn’t necessarily a large tourism area. But almost $30,000 on this was too much.”

SHOVEL TO THE SKY: In some sort of symbolic gesture, perhaps, a shovel pointed at the sky is meant evoke positive symbolism — even though shovels are best used when pointed at the ground.

SHOVEL TO THE SKY: In some sort of symbolic gesture, perhaps, a shovel pointed at the sky is meant evoke positive symbolism — even though shovels are best used when pointed at the ground.

On the Metro Arts website, city officials said the six projects are meant to inspire the community.

“Our hope is that through beauty these works will show our resilience and spirit in the face of crisis. Each piece will serve as a place for reflection, community interaction and renewal.”

Unfortunately, upon closer inspection, “Tool Fire” is seemingly a place for people to throw away used cigarette butts and soda bottles, a fact that isn’t lost on Amos.

“I guess the problem with litter hasn’t been completely solved,” Amos said.

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