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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Artwork at the "New" V.O. Dobbins Center: "The Sky's The Limit"

"The sky's the limit on the artwork we can bring to the new V.O. Dobbins Center."

That word from Martha Beverly, Cultural Arts Coordinator for the City of Kingsport, at a meeting between Riverview-Douglass Alumni members, and Kingsport Arts administrators. The meeting was held Wednesday, to discuss planned artwork for the renovated V.O. Dobbins Center when its construction is finished.

Kingsport's Board of Mayor and Aldermen passed an ordinance that says a portion of any new construction project in the city, will be allocated for public art, up to $75,000. Previously, any artwork for a project was not considered until after the project was completed, but now, planning is done and the money allocated, is done on the front end of the project, even before it is finished.

That brings the V.O. Dobbins renovation to the forefront of the Kingsport Arts Community, possibly the most ambitious undertaking the arts community has faced so far.

Chairing the meeting were Ms. Beverly; Dineen West of Cain, Rash, West Architects, the building's designers; Doris Bush with the United Way of Greater Kingsport, who is also serving as coordinator for all of the non-profits that will be moving into the new parts of the building; and Mark Kilgore, program coordinator for Kingsport Parks and Recreation. In the audience were residents of Riverview, Douglass Alumni, members of some of the non-profit agencies moving into the building when it opens, and city and housing administrators.

"The possibility of qualiity artwork makes the project excitable," Mrs. West told the group. "We have the opportunity to place artwork in many places both inside and outside the building, because of the modernistic way it is designed."

Mrs. West told the group of several locations that lend themselves to outside artwork.

"A great opportunity is at the stone front of the Dobbins Center," she said. "It could be a modern piece, a more traditional piece, but some kind of art right in the front that people will see when they enter the building."

"We will also have a flagpole on the Louis Street side," she said, "and if we wanted to do patriotic kind of art, we can do that as well. The American Legion is one of the non-profit agencies in the building, and they will be in charge of raising and lowering the flagpole every day."

Since the Headstart classrooms will have a new entrance on the Wheatley Street side at the rear of the present building, Mrs. West says, there is also the chance for artwork that lends itself to children's imaginations.

"We can paint the walls, we can do children's artwork and sculptures," she says, "just about anything from a child's point of view."

The inside, she says, also has a lot of artwork possibilities.

"When you come in the non-profit tower entrance," says Mrs. West, "all three of those lobbies can have some artwork, again, either art on the walls, photography.. in the Douglass Community Room itself, there are chances for artwork, down the hallways, even the lobbies of the gyms."

But the main focus seems to be the Douglass Community Room, and its ties to Riverview and the former Douglass High School.

"Calvin has helped me with the athletic trophies that you have from the Douglass football and basketball programs," says Mrs. West. "As a result of the number of trophies he has, we have custom-designed three trophy cases in the building, three different opportunities to put trophies on display. When you come in the main entrance, there'll be a trophy case in the main hall. Then, there's a hallway that comes down to the Douglass Community Room where a trophy case will be, and then there's one inside the Douglass Room itself. If you want all of them to have a theme or just one, you can have a theme. You can also make one of the cases for neighborhood displays that are interchangeable, because we have enough room for all of the trophies that Calvin has."

The arts folks are also planning to use black-and-white photography on the walls in the new office, much like the photography in the Fresh Start office on MLK Drive. "I'd like to see some of that as background behind the trophies," she says. "Perhaps, football and basketball pictures of the teams, after-school activities. Things of that nature are very sentimental."

As far as colors, the Douglass Tigers Blue and Gold will carry the major color scheme in the renovated building. "We have actually selected the colors for the new gym," says Mrs. West. "The new gym will have a blue and gold stripe aorund it. The new bleachers will be blue and gold, and the stripes on the floor will also be a blue and gold hue. It's important to keep that Douglass School connection."

"Even in the Douglass Room, we have sort of, toned it down there, a softer blue and gold color scheme in there," she says. "We're also picking up that blue and gold theme in the children's classrooms in Headstart, so we're repeating that theme quite a bit."

"Just looking at what we were able to do at the Splash Pad gives us a lot of ideas," says Mrs. Beverly. "The mural at the Splash Pad was the first public art project ever completed in the city. It is so beautiful all around that building, and if you can just imagine if we had not had the per cent for art, money allocated for that mural and the ideas that came out of that, it would have been just another brick building."

After the overall presentation, the meeting was turned over to suggestions from the community.

Stella Robinette mentioned artists of Douglass and Riverview descendants, who exhibit their artworks during Black History Month celebrations. "If we could contact them and let them know of the artwork needed," she said, "they could make a wonderful contribution to the community, by giving back their talents. One person I know of, lives in New York and his artist son lives elsewhere, but he had his son send artwork down here to be shown."

That brought up a "Call to Artists" notification from Mrs. Beverly, that is soon to go out.

"We plan to put out a request for all local artists, particularly those in the Riverview-Douglass community, or their descendants," she says. "That process comes through the city purchasing department, and goes out to anybody and everybody. We would also like to have some temporary artwork space, for local artists to show off their work in the V.O. Dobbins building. What you all did last year during Black History Month was just fabulous. We heard a lot of good things from people in the community about the wonderful exhibits, and even if it's temporary, we could always bring it back as permanent artwork. We could easily dedicate a wall of 'temporary artist exhibit space,' in addition to the permanent space."

"Anyone who knows an artist that would be interested in receiving the 'Call for Artists' which outlines exactly what artwork is needed and how it will be displayed, needs to get those names, addresses and phone numbers to to us as soon as possible," said Kingsport Assistant City Manager Chris McCartt. "We can advertise it in the paper, too, but if we know of the people, we can contact them directly.. that's the easiest way."

Johnnie Mae Swaggerty, director of the New Vision Youth Kids program, expressed ideas about the Headstart wing, based on the success of the Splash Pad.

"We could also have little Tiger paws, leading from the Splash Pad to the Headstart entrance," she suggested. "That keeps with the children's theme on that side of the building. I also like the idea of using a "Back to the Future" theme in the Douglass Community Room, with pictures of people that have grown up in the community. It goes back to the history of the neighborhood, but to the future of the community."

"We also saved the old steeple from the Carver Library," K.H.R.A Director Terry Cunningham told the group. "It's made of copper, a unique feature that could also be a form of permanent artwork. We also saved the original Carver library sign that was painted for the front of the building over the doors. We also have in storage, the original bronze sign plate for the Riverview Apartments, that used to be on the flagpole on Lincoln Streeet. It is also considered historic artwork."

In response to many suggestions to the website and out in the public, Calvin brought up the possibility of statues of Frederick Douglass and V.O. Dobbins, Sr. to be placed somewhere in the new building. Turns out, the price of statues may be cost-prohibited. The cost of even a bust of the subject would begin somewhere in the $40,000 to $75,000 range, and since the TOTAL budget for artwork is around $75,000 maximum as mandated by the city, all of the available money would be spent immediately. If there is an alternative, city officials said it would check, and some kind of statue might still be a possibility.

Calvin also mentioned the fact that the former Langston High School has a marker from the Tennessee Historical Commission outside its former building in Johnson City, for people to read about that school's heritage, and see that that building has been recognized by the state for its historical significance. He stated that the process is already moving to get an historical marker for the former Douglass High School, "at the time of its closing, the largest African-American high school in upper East Tennessee."

And then, there are about 30 original seats, saved (or rather, rescued) from the demolition of the historic Douglass Auditorium. "One place I thought of specifically for a set of auditorium seats," Mrs. West said, "is right outside the office in the Douglass Community Room. We also have ideas about placing them in various locations throughout the building. Calvin had mentioned the idea of small, engraved plaques on them, dedicated to the memory of loved ones in the school and the neighborhood by community residents and alumni."

"It's good that we have several items that could be considered artwork already," says Mrs. West. "There will be other things for us to decide on during this process, and now is the time for us to get most of that done. Permanent artwork and sculptures that need to be set in concrete have to be decided on almost immediately. Pictures and exhibits we'll need to start on in the next few weeks. I'm sure you all have seen the progress the contractor is making on the building. It may be finished well ahead of schedule and if that's the case, we need to be ready to move our artwork right in."

One last thing the group was asked to do, was to place red dots where the participants would like to see permanent artwork placed in the building.

Mrs. Beverly says, there's one thing working between the Riverview neighborhood and the Arts Community concerning the V.O. Dobbins building.

"The good part is, we have the money on the front end to fund some excellent displays, not to turn the place into a museum, but into a showplace of artwork."