Mural Project Stresses Importance of Arts Programming

AS PRESIDENT TRUMP SEEKS TO CUT national and local arts programming budgets, with measures surely to affect the arts in East Nashville, area artist Jack Elliott has launched a mural project to raise awareness for their importance. He has invited artists who participate in local programming to help him with the project, a 50-foot mural titled “Nashville Quilt.”
     Particularly concerning to these artists is the potential for reductions to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and, therefore, local contributions. “In the last two years, the NEA has supported Davidson County with $2.1 million in grants that have helped to fund countless arts and cultural programs,” Hana Elliott, the artist’s wife and business manager, says. “Cuts to NEA funding will have a ripple effect on the organizations it currently serves. … Furthermore, the organizations that do not have backup resources readily available, notably those in low-income communities, will likely be the most impacted by funding cuts. Then we’re looking at a city where disparities in income, race, and geographic location dictate a Nashville resident’s access to arts and cultural institutions.”
     Since March, Jack Elliot has been bringing artists and volunteers together to contribute to the mural at the corner of 28th Avenue and Charlotte Avenue, part of the “Off The Wall Nashville” urban art program meant to revitalize the Charlotte corridor. The goal of the project is to stand up against potential cuts through the very efforts they would stymie.
     “A mural alone isn’t capable of fighting policy,” his wife says. “What public art can do, however, is start a conversation. It can give a face to the artists and Nashville residents who rely on arts programming through nonprofits and who may be affected by cuts.”
     “Nashville Quilt” has partnered with Park Center, Poverty & the Arts, Room In The Inn, and Oasis Center, all of which help underserved populations through arts programming. The backdrop for the mural was painted by about 30 volunteers; then 16 members of the partner organizations were brought in to fill out individual sections, bolted onto the final mural to resemble patches on a blanket.
      “Each artist was asked to design a patch that portrays their perspective on what it means to be creative in Nashville,” Hana Elliott says. “As quilts often take disparate pieces of fabric from multiple sources and combine them into one cohesive, meaningful piece, so does the ‘Nashville Quilt.’ ”
     To make the most of the project and its stand against potential budget cuts, the organizers have commissioned author Lily Hansen and photographer Elizabeth Ratliff to create a storybook detailing the mural and profiling each artist. This will hopefully demonstrate the full scope of the project to those who are drawn in by the visuals of the mural itself.
     “Each patch of the mural tells a story and I dream that these stories provide a different worldview to the viewer,” Elliott explains. “I dream that the viewers will want to learn more … and that they will see the storybook that gives more detail on the project and each artist. I dream that they feel a personal connection to the artists through their stories and I dream that this not only teaches them about someone with a different background from themselves, but also that it shines a light on the importance that arts programming has played in these artists’ lives and in the strength of our community.”