Save artist William Edmondson's homesite and park before Nashville sells to developers

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UPDATE: Thanks to public outrcy, on June 19, Metro Nashville Council voted unanimously to stop the sale of the Edmondson Homesite and the adjacent neighborhood park and Community Garden. Why are we not declaring "Victory"? Because the land could still be transferred to agencies that are unaccountable to the people, and chopped up and dealt away. We ask you to continue to sign and share this petition, to send an unmistakable message: We insist on a community-lead process to determine the protection and public use of this land. No sale or land swap to unaccountable agencies or backroom deals that give the appearance, but not the reality, of community involvement. Read below for original language and details:

ORIGINAL PETITION (important details included):

Nashville's Mayor plans to immediately sell a neighborhood park, which includes the former homesite of William Edmondson, Nashville's most celebrated African American artist, to private developers to help balance the city budget. If this is approved by Metro Council on June 19, 2018, it will take precious parkland away from citizens, wipe away a historic site, accelerate the destruction of a historic middle- and working-class African American neighborhood, and eliminate a community garden that has served neighborhood families for generations. It will destroy a priceless historical and cultural site that should be preserved and enhanced instead. All with ZERO input from the neighborhood, the historical preservation community, or local or national arts and creative community. It also ignores and disrespects any and all previous land use policy conversations with the neighborhood.

Instead of callously erasing this public land, Metro Nashville should be protecting it. 

Metro Nashville Council votes on its budget, which will authorize selling the land, on June 19. If it passes, we may lose this precious site forever. If we can stop it, we can at least begin a rational discussion as to how to best preserve and develop the property responsibly, as a proper monument to a great artist and as a living legacy that serves all citizens.

Therefore, we petition for the following:

1. Immediate halt of the sale of this public land to for private gain, and a commitment by the Mayor engage in a community-led process on its appropriate development as public greenspace.

2. Transfer to the Parks Department and implement a meaningful master planning process, led by the community, with involvement of all stakeholders of the site; for instance including themed playgrounds, integration with the adjacent branch library, a sculpture garden with landscaping, picnic shelters, and educational interpretive displays to share the stories of William Edmondson and other neighborhood heroes, such as pioneering musician Deford Bailey and early 20th century civil rights activist Callie House.

3. The specific section of the property where William Edmondson's house and studio stood is forever preserved and developed as a site honoring his art and life.

4. The land next to the homesite, which is now parkland and community garden, should be protected as such, and improved via the master planning process.

5. If any other portion of the site is eventually sold to private interests or moved to other governmental agencies such as MDHA, it must be done within a strict and binding community-led planning framework, including firm safeguards of appropriate zoning and land use policies, that will enhance the neighborhood, not further threaten it.

BACKGROUND:

Edgehill neighborhood is one of Nashville's oldest historically African-American neighborhoods. It began during the Civil War, as a camp for runaway slaves. Later, it became a self-sufficient working class and middle class neighborhood during the decades of segregation. Today, it is under intense development pressure from both private entities and public agencies, that threaten the neighborhood with extinction.

Self-taught limestone sculptor William Edmondson was the first African American artist to receive a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1937. He is celebrated worldwide for his simple, but subtle, limestone garden sculptures, which are prized by collectors and sell for as much as $250,000. His work, and his story of vision, resourcefulness and faith, continue to inspire new generations of artists locally and around the world. Edmondson's former homesite, where he lived, created his masterpieces, and died, is currently part of a park that includes a playground, basketball courts, picnic area, and a 25 year old community garden that serves children and families with fresh air, fresh fruits and vegetables, and community interaction.

Shockingly, Nashville's Mayor has suddenly announced plans to rezone and sell this property to private developers "to the highest bidder" to help plug a gap in the city's 2018-2019 budget. This likely means luxury high-rise condos or similar inappropriate development that will wipe away this treasured land, unless it is stopped.

To date, there has been very little outreach by the city to the to the neighborhood to inform them, much less to invite participation in the future if the park. Nashville is booming. Development is proceeding at a feverish pace. Affordable housing is getting scarce. This area is already under tremendous gentrification pressure and the very survival of this historic neighborhood is at stake. The effect of eliminating the park in favor of incompatible development would be catastrophic. Loss of the park would be be a huge blow to the neighborhood's vibrancy. Loss of the Edmondson homesite would be an irreversible loss of Nashville's social, cultural, and artistic history. Imagine bulldozing the place where Picasso made his masterpieces. 

The sale is part of the Budget that must be approved by Metro Council on June 19.  The eventual process of approvals is complicated and involves many city departments, but once the budget is approved, it becomes much harder to stop this reckless, shortsighted plan that was hatched in secret, and replace it with sound planning that respects the rights all of the citizens.

William Edmondson's carved tombstones and garden sculptures spoke to the themes of faith, community, connection to the land, and remembrance. His own grave is lost, leaving his homesite --where he lived, worked, and died-- as the only physical place where he can properly be honored.

This is hallowed ground. Please help us save it.

 

 



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Mark Schlicher needs your help with “Mayor Briley and Metro Council: Save the neighborhood park that includes artist William Edmondson's homesite and the Memorial Community Gardens, don’t sell to developers!”. Join Mark and 2,689 supporters today.