By: Jake Elliott
As national arts funding comes under fire, local artist Jake Elliott, founder of What. Creative Group, is taking a stand in Nashville. Elliott rallied together artists and nonprofits from across the city to shine a light on the importance of arts programming through the creation of a large-scale community art piece.
Together with 16 local artists participating in local arts programming, Elliott designed and painted a 50-ft. section, called the “Nashville Quilt,” of the existing Off the Wall mural project in west Nashville. This world-class, outdoor, contemporary art initiative aims to revitalize the Charlotte Ave. community through the power of urban art.
“Urban art is one of the most powerful tools a community has to bring about positive change. It opens the door to a more connected, engaged and unified community bridging culture with expression. Nashville is a city defined by its many forms of art, bringing a distinct pride to its unique communities. It’s now more important than ever to showcase the value that arts programming brings to our communities and our city,” says Elliott.
Each of the artists selected for the Nashville Quilt project are active participants in local arts programming through the Nashville Park Center, Poverty and the Arts, Room in the Inn, and the Oasis Center. Journalist and creative scene heavy-hitter Lily Hansen tell the stories of each artists and organizations throughout the process in her Word of Mouth - Nashville Conversations, pairing their stories with photographs by photographer Elizabeth Ratliff.
“Our art students rely on painting classes for therapy, helping them build skills, confidence, and a greater sense of self-worth. But their work is largely undervalued and doesn’t often make its way outside our walls. This initiative allows them to contribute to their city in a way most have not been able to, and we couldn’t be more excited,” Elizabeth Ratliff, volunteer art instructor at Room In The Inn, says.
Elliott believes that involving the community in public places changes not only how we see those places, but also how we interact with each other. The Nashville Quilt is a community piece from start to finish -- from hosting 50 people at a neighborhood paint day, to financial support from individuals and businesses, such as the Post East and Frothy Monkey, to the artists themselves, who are all participants in arts programming at four local non-profits supporting underserved communities. “It’s hard to think of another scenario where homeless artists and those with mental illness, at-risk youth, business owners, neighbors, and more have collaborated on one deliverable, so we’re proud that this piece has brought together over 100 participants from all walks of life. It is truly a community work of art, and we hope it has bridged gaps, built confidence and pride, and fostered understanding,” says Elliott.
It took four phases to fully execute Elliott’s dream.
Phase 1: Crowdsourcing - The projected budget was $3,000, which paid for supplies and equipment. Donations were appropriated through a Go Fund Me page, which features a video provided by media company Jump Goat Media pro bono.
Phase 2: Paint The Backdrop - WHAT. Creative Group hosted a paint day where staff from all the nonprofits, local artists, business owners, friends, family, and even people walking down the street painted the backdrop to the mural in just 3 hours.
Phase 3: Workshops - Each week for three months, Elliott hosted workshops at each non-profit teaching the artists how to create a large exterior art piece. Each of the 16 artists was responsible for painting a 4’x4’ piece that represented “What Nashville Means To Me.” The pieces that came back were, in a word, stunning. One piece, done by a student who’s a refugee from Somalia, shows her life as a road in pieces, coming together into a smooth path once she arrived in Nashville. Each piece was installed on the wall by volunteers on 20-ft ladders.
Phase 4: Tell Their Story - Through an 18-part series, one released each week, Lily tells each artist’s story. Through these interviews, we learn about the life circumstances surrounding each artist and gain perspective on how they see the world. “I consider this phase to be the most important because my main hope is that we can change some minds about the importance of art and arts funding as well as give our Nashville Quilt artists the opportunity to feel what it's like to have a large public art piece and have their story featured,” says Elliott. “As oft-overlooked community members, I think they just want to be seen and heard. I hope that after reading the stories in this project, the wider Nashville community has more compassion for people with different backgrounds.” says Hansen.
In the end the Nashville Quilt isn’t about a mural at all. It may be the shiny object that is initially attractive, but the real story is how it brought the community together. “Sure, we wanted to install an aesthetically pleasing art piece, but moreso my focus was to unite the community by having a common goal while also introducing others to the importance art has not only on an individual level but to our city as a whole.” “In my experience, art is a very powerful tool that we can use therapeutically as well as bring positive change into the world. I hope the Nashville Quilt inspires others to use their passion to make a difference.” says Elliott.
The Nashville Quilt can be found on the corner of Charlotte Ave and 28th. Lily C. Hansen will be releasing an article each week until the end of November on her Word of Mouth blog.
WHAT. is co-owned by husband and wife team, Jake and Hana Elliott.
Jake is an award winning public and abstract artist, focusing on sculpture, signage, and multi-medium painting. He boasts such accolades as selection to create a skylight exhibit in the Nashville International Airport (BNA) and invitation to participate as a member of the Nashville Metro Arts Council Learning Lab program. Hana is a marketer by day, and she brings her experience to help grow and develop WHAT.’s business and partnership opportunities.
Jake and Hana believe that to strengthen the community around us, we need to be creative about how we approach and solve issues. Because of this, much of the work that WHAT. does is focused on supporting artists and arts-based programs in middle Tennessee.
Keep up with Jake and his company, What Creative Group here:
Website - http://www.what-nashville.com/
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/what.creativegroup/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/What.Nashville/?ref=bookmarks
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org