Artists, businesses called to sculpt downtown Columbia future – Columbia Daily Herald

One question that’s always met with a multitude of interesting responses, which in this case refers to downtown Columbia, is when the public is asked, “How can we make it better?”
For as long as I can remember (at least since becoming a Columbia resident in 2014), the downtown Columbia square and surrounding areas have been in a constant state of improvement and revitalization. It’s an ongoing project and movement that will likely never slow down, just as the county’s population continues to grow and thrive.
In fact, the downtown district is now considered the city’s No. 1 asset for tourism and economic revenue, according to a 2017 study by Franklin-based consulting firm Chandlerthinks. The monthly First Fridays gathering downtown was also voted Best Event in this year’s Daily Herald Best of the Best Awards.
Whether it is refurbishing an old building, creating more parking for visitors, painting a new mural or welcoming a new retailer to the fold, it’s always something worth its share of intrigue. One of the more exciting aspects, in my opinion, is when an artist can take part in the fun, and leave a lasting impression that will stand the test of time for years to come.
No pressure or anything.
All kidding aside, the city announced this week that there is now an open call for local artists to apply for the opportunity to construct a new downtown sculpture, which would be installed on a public art base at West 6th Street outside City Hall. This would be the proverbial “cherry on top” to the recent 6th Street streetscape improvement project that included upgrades to the sidewalk, landscape and roadway.
“The work will be an integral part of Columbia’s increasing prioritization of public art and serve as a catalyst for further development of the arts, culture and tourism in the City,” city staff stated in a press release.
Visit the city’s web site at www.ColumbiaTN.com or stop by City Hall at 700 N. Garden St. for all the information and application requirements. Time is ticking, however, as the deadline for artists to apply is 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20.
Personally, I love the idea of installing a permanent sculpture downtown. It’s definitely an element that’s been missing, at least when it comes to public art. Not that we don’t have our fair share of public art.
Like I said, this is about how we can make what we already have better.
It’s also an idea that reminds me of once upon a time when we had public sculpture art prominently on display. Back in 2015, renowned Nashville artist Alan LeQuire brought his “Dream Forest” exhibit to Columbia, which included displays in the Maury County Public Library and an outdoor concrete exhibit across the street on West 8th Street.
Not only was it a fascinating visual display featuring these giant tree-like structures, but people loved seeing it. Whether you were driving by it or getting out to walk among the giant fixtures, it was the talk of the town for the time.
LeQuire is also the artist behind a few permanent sculptures in Nashville, such as the Athena statue at The Parthenon and “Musica” located on Music Row, and is one of the largest bronze statue collections in the world.
Now is the time when Columbia can have something like that, but it’ll be one of our own.
As far as what the proposed statue should be, or what theme or message it should represent, will be up to the artist and the city. My biggest hope is that once the project is in motion, it will inspire similar efforts in places like the Columbia Arts District, West 7th Street or the many historical sites around town.
In addition to new public art, the city is also accepting requests for phase 3 of its downtown façade improvement project, which has allowed many businesses and structures to receive upgrades, or “facelifts” to their exteriors.
The ongoing project began last year, its first phase improving 17 downtown businesses, is made possibly by grants funded via the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TDEC). It was also the fourth time the city had applied for the grant, which only means the state is now paying attention in ways it might not have before, and that we’re definitely doing something right.
The grant would be awarded to qualifying projects between $1,500-$10,000, and would cover approximately 75% of the total project cost. The business or property owner would then contribute the additional 25%.
I suppose you could call this, as they say, a “golden opportunity” for downtown property owners, and the kind of deal you really have to consider. I would assume if the most kept up downtown buildings could use a little fixing up. If the state is willing to foot 3/4 of the bill for repairs that need to be done anyway, why would you not do it?
The grant application can also be found on the city’s web site, as well as eligibility requirements and what improvements can or cannot be approved. The deadline to apply is Oct. 29, with grant award notifications the following week.
What I’ve liked about the project is that it not only provides a better aesthetic, but also maintains the integrity and character of the old buildings. It might have also added an extra boost of confidence and hope to the business owners affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, many who were likely already facing financial issues.
Getting a leg up never hurts when you need it, or when it’s an opportunity to save lots of money to do something you probably needed to anyway.
Jay Powell is a reporter for The Daily Herald. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @JayPowellCDH.

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