Ayers, Metro Arts partner to enhance impact of inner city park

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Photo: William Edmonson, art pioneer from Nashville

Metropolitan Nashville public school students will learn more about a Nashville art pioneer, the power of urban design, African-American art and the diverse history of Nashville through lesson plans created by the Metro Arts Teacher Cadre, coordinated by Lipscomb’s Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation.

Partnering with the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission, the Ayers Institute selected 10 public school teachers from various academic disciplines and is facilitating their creation of interdisciplinary lesson plan units focused on the forthcoming public art installation at Edmondson Park, a newly revitalized park in Nashville’s inner city.

Photos: (Top) Artwork by Thornton Dial, (second) folk artist Thornton Dial, (third) Artwork by Lonnie Holley, (fourth) folk artist Lonnie Holley

The members of the Metro Arts Teacher Cadre are:

  • Rachel Amescua, Hillsboro High School
  • Beth Baker, H.G. Hill Middle School
  • Paul Beavers, Hillsboro High School
  • Jessica Brown, Heritage Middle School
  • Carrie Bryant, I.T. Creswell Magnet Arts Middle
  • Alesha Harmon, Donelson Middle School 
  • Martha Profitt-Streuli, Hillsboro High School
  • Kendra Shirey, Jere Baxter Middle School
  • Dr. JoAnn Sebastian, Apollo Middle Prep
  • Lisa Young, Robertson Academy

In 2011, the Nashville Civic Design Center conducted a Design Your Neighborhood program, allowing inner city youth to study architecture and urban design to help create a new plan for Edmonson Park, located between Charlotte Pike and the John Henry Hale Homes. The plans include public art as a way to pay homage to the park’s namesake, William Edmondson, a Nashville native born to freed slaves who was a self-taught artist. In 1937, he was the first African-American artist to be given a one-person show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Metro Arts commissioned two self-taught regional artists, Thornton Dial and Lonnie Holley, to create site-specific works to be located in Edmondson Park. The redesign of the park is expected to be complete in May and the public art installed by late spring or early summer, said Van Gill, public art project coordinator at Metro Arts.

“Metro Arts is thrilled to be working with two artists whose work gives voice to communities and cultures oftentimes overlooked,” said Jennifer G. Cole, Metro Arts executive director. “Through our partnership with the Ayers Institute, we are able to go a step further and leverage public art as a tangible way to teach academic skills and knowledge through the lens of art and community history.”

Coordinated by the Ayers Institute, the teacher cadre is working on five middle school and five high school lesson plans through this spring, studying the biographies of the artists, touring the park construction site, meeting with Holley when he is in a residency at the Oasis Center in March and brainstorming how the art and park can be used to enhance math, science, art, language arts and other content areas in the classroom.

The cadre will also conduct a professional development training session for area teachers so that this resource can be disseminated and put into immediate practice, said Rachael Milligan, the director of the teacher cadre program at Ayers.

“This park is really the front porch to the John Henry Hale community, so the partners involved are trying to get a lot of community investment in the project,” she said. “The teachers are excited about bringing education that can be seen and touched in the real-world to the region’s public school classrooms.”

In addition, Cheekwood Museum of Art and Botanical Gardens, which owns the largest existing collection of Edmondson’s work, will hold an exhibition of those works and other works inspired by Edmondson during the fall of 2014.

Photo: Rendering of the redesigned Edmonson Park, now under construction.