Spurred by the vision of well-known and respected sculptor Brad Sells and a commitment by the City of Cookeville, Art Round Tennessee (ART) chose to embark on its first permanent and public art installation, "Spokes." The sculpture — a 36-foot-wide, 14-foot-tall arch of bicycles — will span the street-side entrance to Putnam County's new Tennessee Central Heritage Rail Trail. The site (116-162 W. Broad St.) is the most visible location in the West Side, the city's historic downtown district.
Public sculpture is a major goal of ART, which has tried for years to manifest a project of this scale, but found the work to be too expensive with too few partners. Brad's talent and generosity -- in donating his skills as project artist and director -- and ART's pledge to take full financial and administrative responsibility for the project struck exactly the right note with the city. Cookeville has aggressively built a performing arts infrastructure for decades, but this is the first time it has granted permission to a nonprofit to design, build and install sculptural art on public property.
This partnership approach to selecting public art -- ART's leadership, the city's new interest in public art and the Rail Trail Authority's eagerness to be the proving grounds -- paved the way for public art to begin in this community. Spokes is a pragmatic art concept in design, function and intent.
The West Side of Cookeville has undergone tremendous revitalization since the late 1980s. A public and nonprofit partnership, beginning with the renovation of the deteriorating Tennessee Central train depot, has transformed a neglected and failing area into a multi-block thriving community of independent restaurants, boutiques, salons, offices, antique shops, recreational supply stores, gyms and more.
Adding Spokes to this rich environment brings a highly visible piece of site-specific art to the forefront while creating new partnerships among artists, the city, rail trail, merchants and residents. When Spokes' design was unveiled in the local newspaper and social media in September 2016 -- to announce the start of appeals for donations -- the fundraising venue filled to capacity and ART received a unprecedented amount of financial contributions.
ART believes that these forms of community engagement and tangible support put the "public" in "public art" and that the success of Spokes will lead the way for more traditional calls for art in the future. This is the first public art in Cookeville created by local artists. Spokes is a public statement of artists' presence and contributions to the community.