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Art History

Interactive sculptures will tell Binghampton's history.



Annexed in 1919, Binghampton was once an independent, racially integrated town on the outskirts of the city. Today, it remains racially diverse, but it's a neighborhood divided in another more literal way — by the interstate and Sam Cooper Boulevard.

The story of how the interstate construction affected Binghampton, as well as its rich civil rights history are possible topics that could become the subject of four sculptures to be placed along the planned Overton-Broad greenline path.

Known as "art exploration stations," the four proposed sculptures will be designed to share the community's history in an interactive way. As people walk or bike along the Overton-Broad connector, they'll be able to stop and play with hands-on public art installations.

The Historic Broad Business Association won a $65,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to fund half of the cost of each $36,000 installation. IberiaBank has already stepped in to fund the other half of one sculpture, and donors are still being sought to complete funding for the other three.

"The art exploration stations are a perfect fit with our goals of supporting our Memphis community and helping to revitalize this unique and wonderful part of Memphis," said Greg Smithers, president of IberiaBank.

Other cities have installed similar exploration stations, such as an interactive water pipe organ in Ontario, Canada, that honors that area's musical heritage or a spinning-wheel sculpture in Asheville, North Carolina, that depicts various forms of transportation by playing sounds when the wheel is spun.

The sculptures will be placed in high-traffic areas along the Overton-Broad connector, a planned two-way bike path leading from Overton Park, down Broad Avenue, and along Tillman to meet up with the Shelby Farms Greenline.

"The plan is to have some neighborhood meetings so we can hear more about what is important to the community and uncover some of the history," said Pat Brown, vice president of the Historic Broad Business Association.

The UrbanArt Commission will choose four artists in an open-call process. Brown said they'll narrow the historical subjects down to 10 and allow the chosen artists to pick which one they'd like to create a sculpture for.

Brown believes construction of the connector path and art installations will have a profound impact on improving the Binghampton neighborhood.

"It's going to be a world-class pedestrian and bicycle facility, but it's the impact on economic and neighborhood revitalization that we think is where the return on investment occurs," Brown said. "It creates a new traffic flow through the neighborhood. It's tying together different parts of the city and bringing them through Binghampton."

The Historic Broad Business Association also recently won a $350,000 grant from ArtPlace America to pay an artist to paint the iconic Broad Avenue water tower and to transform the warehouse loading dock under the tower into a live-music amphitheater.

The water tower design will be a competitive process, and a winning artist will be chosen at the next Crosstown Arts MemFEAST dinner (see page 10).


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