by Caroline Vincent, Director of Public Art | Photography by Stacey Irvin Artist team Haddad | Drugan, made up of Laura Haddad and Tom Drugan of Seattle,
Washington, bring the Cumberland River center stage with the newest addition to the public art collection, Light Meander. Standing 45 feet tall, the inspiration and shape of the sculpture is drawn from its significant location sitting atop a former tributary to the Cumberland. Artist Tom Drugan says about the sculpture, “The river once was the lifeblood of the city, but over time that connection diminished. With the sculpture, we hope to help reconnect the river to the Nashville community and the many downtown visitors.”
The form of the sculpture is based on the meandering curves of the Cumberland River as it passes through Davidson County. Light Meander, like the river itself, invites interaction. The river-facing side has a highly polished steel surface, which reflects the park and visitors in unique and playful ways. The city-facing side of the sculpture features a curvilinear ipe-wood bench, a pattern of mirror stainless steel tubes, and color-changing LED strip lights that create a textured ribbon of electric light at night. The lighting draws from the changing colors and qualities of light bouncing across the river’s surface. Specially programmed lighting shows will change over time with the river and the city. On the underside of the bench and at the top of the river side are thousands of stainless steel guitar picks that subtly evoke the musical legacy of Nashville. The hanging picks create sound when activated by wind or hand, and the top picks cast reflections similar to the scintillating sun on the river.
In town for a talk on August 13, the artists spoke about their work and how they got started in public art. Tom Drugan started out by saying, “I think you’re born an artist and then you find your path.” Haddad and Drugan, both formally trained in landscape architecture and architecture, are currently working on several large-scale projects around the country.
They presented some of their earliest public art projects, which included a $6,000 temporary project in the median of Santa Monica Boulevard. They purchased a 1959 Pontiac Starchief and filled it with soil and plants, which grew out of the car over six months. The project addressed the car culture of that city and how it changes the landscape and our connection to nature. Laura mentioned, “The only real difference between a $6,000 project and a $6,000,000 project is scale.”
Aspiring public artists in the audience at their talk asked, “What’s the best piece of advice you can give me for getting into the field? Networking?” Laura and Tom both said they didn’t think it was really about networking, but more about persistence, tenacity, and finding projects that speak to you and your work. “If you’re a mural painter, don’t apply for sculpture projects or vice versa. Your work needs to fit the scope of the project.” Tom added, “I think we applied for a hundred projects before we got our first one. Then once you have your first one, it’s much easier to get your second. . . . Thinking back to some of our earliest public art application slides, a lot of the work we showed was work we would go and create ourselves.” He advised artists, “Show work that’s not necessarily commissioned work, but just the range of work you’ve done on your own, and then go after temporary projects. There’s a lot more venues for that now. It’s kind of an exciting way to get into the public art world.”
You can find the sculpture at the intersection of Demonbreun and 1st Avenue in Riverfront Park. For more information on this and other public art projects, please visit on your mobile device www.ExploreNashvilleArt.com or, from your desktop, publicart.nashville.gov. If you’re an artist and are interested in future public art workshops and trainings, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.