Nashville, Tennessee was at the forefront of the modern Civil Rights Movement (1954-1964). Following the desegregation of Nashville’s public schools beginning in 1957, students at the city’s predominantly Black universities led the way in nonviolent protest. Students held lunch counter sit-ins beginning in 1960 and participated in the Freedom Rides in 1961. The success of this dynamic local movement was due in part to the collective action of students and residents and the intentional leadership-training program based upon nonviolence. Nashville’s student leaders went on to impact the Civil Rights Movement across the country.
The public artwork Witness Walls is designed to honor these events and people who fought for racial equality here in Nashville, educate the public about this history, and continue the conversation about social justice in our community. The artwork will be located on the west side of the historic Metro Nashville Courthouse, steps away from the site of the April 19, 1960 student-led protest that led then-Mayor Ben West to disavow segregation of Nashville’s lunch counters.
The Metro Nashville Arts Commission commissioned artist Walter Hood to create ‘Witness Walls’ in 2014. Trained as both a public artist and a landscape architect, his works often explore elements of race, identity, social justice, and environmental design.
Walter Hood is the creative vision behind Hood Design, the studio practice he founded in Oakland, California. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Hood received his bachelor’s degree in ‘landscape architecture’ from North Carolina A&T State University, an HBCU. He also holds master’s degrees from the Art Institute of Chicago as well as the University of California, Berkeley.
“Unlike an educational exhibit, the selection of images for the artwork does not seek to highlight key individuals or singular events in a chronological or hierarchical order,” said Hood. “Rather, through two resolutions of images accompanied by music of the period, it strives to embed the visitor in a movement in which the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Drawing inspiration from the classical compositions of Christian Renaissance paintings, abstract compositions in exposed aggregate depict scenes of motion: marching, protesting, and walking to school.
Meanwhile, the shadow graphic images allow you to experience the expressions and emotions of these individuals. Most of these images depict people sitting, all of them focus on people’s hands and facial expressions.”
Installation began in October 2016 and is expected to be completed in spring 2017. A dedication event is scheduled for Friday, April 21.