Community art is passion of new studio arts chair Mel Ziegler
He loves the new Alice Aycock sculpture on the east bank of the Cumberland River that looks like the remnants of a disbanded roller coaster and considers its installation an important step for Nashville. He’s not sure what to make of the giant Nathan Bedford Forrest statue along Interstate 65.
And Dragon Park near the Vanderbilt University campus is already one of his favorites, an example of how the public can be involved in the creation of public art.
Mel Ziegler, an acclaimed artist, is settling in Nashville as the new chair of Vanderbilt’s studio arts department. He says the adjustment is an easy one, helped along by a welcoming city and evidence that public art is becoming a priority here.
“People from the community brought drawings and they reproduced the drawings in a big dragon where children play,” Ziegler enthused about Dragon Park. “I think that’s a great piece, and Nashville should be proud of it.”
Ziegler moved to Vanderbilt from the University of Texas in Austin. He hopes to help make community art more visible on the Vanderbilt campus, and eventually the city.
“People don’t go to cities because they have great infrastructure,” he said. “They go to cities because there is great culture. That’s what attracts people. That’s what attracts corporations. All this makes being an artist more exciting than ever before. In my life and my career, it hasn’t always been that way. There’s a shift here. Many cities, outside of the major art centers, are finally recognizing the significance of the arts to economics and quality of life and the visual arts are very much a part of that equation.”
Ziegler chaired the Austin Arts Commission for three years, succeeding in convincing the city council to raise the amount of city construction project funds that go to public art from 1 percent to 2 percent.
Ziegler’s body of work in collaboration with late artist Kate Ericson is currently the subject of a major traveling retrospective at the Kansas City Art Institute through October and then moves to the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati from Nov. 10 to Jan. 13, 2008. Ziegler collaborated with Ericson until her death in 1995.
“I collaborated for 18 years with Kate Ericson, and our whole thing was finding ways in which our art could infiltrate what we called ‘socially active space,’” Ziegler said. “I’m interested in community. I’m interested in the idea of how art can relate to everything we do.”
Ziegler and Ericson made an important mark with public art across the country, as the America Starts Here exhibit and book published by MIT Press document. They did major projects with the Seattle transit system and Charleston, S.C.’s historical district. For his piece Front Lawn in 1981, Ziegler collaborated with a Los Angeles home owner to install an elevated lawn (on rafters) for a period of time.
Ziegler’s plans for Vanderbilt include the launching of a visiting artist series, which will bring working artists to campus to meet with students and give presentations for the general public.
“I didn’t want to go any place where it would be the status quo,” Ziegler said. “I wanted to go where there’s major movement and changes. There’s a lot of room to grow here, a lot of possibilities.”
Contact: Jim Patterson, (615)343-1271