June 2018

By Donald “Tré” Hardin, Public Art & Placemaking Coordinator, Metro Arts

“When you have more than you need, it’s better to build a longer table than a taller fence.”

While most of us have heard this phrase, this summer the Metro Arts inaugural temporary public art exhibition Build Better Tables, curated by Nicole Caruth, considers this proverb in the context of the “new Nashville,” where prosperity, growth, and glittering high-rises exist alongside neighbors and neighborhoods who struggle with food insecurity, high infant mortality rates, and housing displacement.

Tattfoo Tan’s S.O.S. Free Seeds Libraries will be installed at local community gardens; Photograph by Tattfoo Tan

In 2017 Metro Arts released the Public Art Community Investment plan as a tool for neighborhood transformation, creative workforce development, and equitable public art practices throughout the city. One of the recommendations stemming from that plan was to have the city’s first temporary public art exhibition.

Build Better Tables will feature nine citywide installations that will combine food and art as a means of bringing the community together. “The intersection of food and art doesn’t naturally connect people,” says nationally recognized curator and writer Nicole Caruth, but by developing installations from nine different artists, her plan is to do just that. The projects will spark conversation in spaces such as the Nashville Farmer’s Market, community gardens, the Lentz Public Health Center, the West Nashville Dream Center, Nashville Metro Transit Authority buses, and more.

In 2012 Caruth started a non-profit, With Food in Mind, to develop art-based approaches to childhood obesity and nutrition disparities in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. With Build Better Tables, she has curated installations throughout Nashville with artists Andrea Chung, Seitu Jones, Tunde Way, Thaxton Waters, Tattfoo Tan, Crystal Z Campbell, Courtney Adair Johnson, Juan William Chavez, Jamal Cyrus, and NORF Art Collective. Caruth believes that these artists can use food to bring people together to discuss issues of affordable housing, gentrification, and access to healthy food. “Everyone understands food on some level and, like shelter, we all need it to survive,” she says. “Food is a great connector of people.”

Seitu Jones brainstorms project ideas with Nella Pearl Fierson at Brooklyn Heights Community Garden; Photograph by Donald “Tré” Hardin

While the exhibition intends to highlight Nashville’s challenges with gentrification and food justice, Caruth points out that working with local and national artists proves that the issue is much bigger than Nashville: “Now that I can stand back and see what the artists are creating, this exhibition isn’t about Nashville; it’s about inequality everywhere. The growth and gentrification that Nashville is experiencing is a microcosm of a global problem.” The exhibition will launch on June 1, feature events, happenings, workshops, and community meals, and will continue through the end of August.

Check www.buildbettertables.com for artist bios, exhibit information, event dates, and artist-inspired recipes.

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