5 Public Art Installations at Bessie Smith Cultural Center

Since the MLK Mural’s dedication last January, MLK Boulevard has continued to see vibrant transformations. These enhancements contribute to the neighborhood’s unique identity, draw attention to the Big 9’s rich cultural history, and promote economic growth of the boulevard. Today, the area welcomes the MLK District Sculpture Exhibition, which opens this week on the lawn of the Bessie. The lawn is outlined by trees that have been colored blue as part of the environmental artwork called The Blue Trees. Artist Konstantin Dimopoulos and community members created the piece last October.

Anyone can stop by to view the sculptures now standing tall on the Bessie Smith Cultural Center lawn, and everyone is invited to the Big 9 Outdoor Art Bash planned for later this summer on July 22. The evening will include activities, entertainment, and food as well as a special outdoor screening of “America’s Boulevard,” the documentary about the making of the MLK Mural. Guests will have an opportunity to meet the sculpture artists and learn more about their work.

Four sculptures were installed over the last several days, and the last one will go up in the coming weeks. The artworks will be on display through the end of 2018 and include:


“La Diva I” by Ruth Migdal | Chicago, IL
(On Display)
Larger than life and in vivid red, La Diva captures the individual strength inside all of us. Intended to impart her positivity to onlookers, she is a sculptural celebration of life, itself. Her bold presence brings an essence of triumphant positivity to her surroundings and certainly reminds us of our very own Bessie Smith, Empress of the Blues.


“Intrusion” by Harry McDaniel | Asheville, NC
(On Display)
“Intrusion” is an abstract work that explores the interaction and energy created by pushing three large, irregular forms very close together. The composition conveys a sense of tension between the three sections. The graceful, curved lines and unbalanced, leaning forms suggest movement – perhaps a dance, perhaps a struggle.


“Ain’t Life Grand” by Hughey & McNeil | Franklin, GA
(On Display)
The piano sculpture is a nod to the jazz musicians that frequently performed at venues on MLK Boulevard in the 1920s. The welded metal, life-sized piano sculpture is topped with black and white marble keys with a lid that depicts a bass fiddle, a piano, and a player.


“A Future and a Hope” by Charlie Brouwer | Willis, VA
(On Display)
A group of seven life-sized individuals, who are standing in a circle, all looking up, represent all of humanity and are a metaphor for hope – the force that inspires and sustains both individuals as well as social change and transformation. “The Bessie Smith Cultural Center and MLK District are powerful symbols of a human hope, deeply rooted in past accomplishments, making it possible to hope and believe that change and transformation is possible in the future. “A Future and a Hope” is my way of expressing the belief that positive, inclusive togetherness – as we search and work towards true social justice – is our only hope for the future of humanity,” said Brouwer.

“Sister” by Charlie Newton | Chattanooga, TN
(Coming Soon)
Charlie Newton, who grew up on 9th Street (now MLK Boulevard, which is often called the Big 9), is creating a new piece, especially for this exhibition. Newton said of the boulevard, “I went to the barber there. I ate at Memo’s there. I partied at the Whole Note and the Half Note there. I was in my first band at the Elks Lounge there. I visited for many hours with my old friend Roy Knowles – my first serious patron and one of the founders of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. I also preached as an associate pastor at Olive Baptist Church on the boulevard. I sinned there and was saved there. This is my culture and my hometown. Of course I want to place my art there. “Sister” represents all of the indigenous voiceless black people, who grew up on the Big 9.” The figure creates an open dialogue about faith, spirituality and emotion.