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Artist Sought for Sculptural Marker to Honor Bessie Smith

Posted by Bessie Tribute Public Art Committee ; Posted on 
Public Art; Visual - DEADLINE :  
Artist Sought for Sculptural Marker to Honor Bessie Smith




The Bessie Tribute Public Art Committee seeks artistic qualifications from Black artists to design, fabricate and install a sculptural marker and tribute to Bessie Smith at the Blue Goose Hollow trailhead in Chattanooga, TN.

Budget: $42,000
Eligibility: Professional Black artists over 18
Deadline: 08/28/2020

Review full RFQ here.

Project Description
The Committee would like to recognize and celebrate Black history in Chattanooga by highlighting American Blues Singer and famed Chattanoogan, Bessie Smith. The committee also seeks to commemorate Bessie’s life in historic Blue Goose Hollow, a neighborhood once home to over 1,400 people and erased with the demolition of over 1,100 buildings during urban renewal. While the marker should provide and interpret historically accurate details it should also reflect the spirit and character of Black Chattanooga and Bessie herself. For more information about the Bessie Smith Cultural Center visit:

Project Background

Blue Goose Hollow is a relatively new trailhead access point in the Tennessee Riverpark (completed in 2016). Consisting of fourteen miles of paved, scenic, urban greenway that follows the curve of the Tennessee River, the Riverpark connects downtown Chattanooga to Chickamauga Dam to the north and Lookout Mountain to the south. Used by cyclists, joggers, skaters and walkers, the popularly named “Riverwalk” connects neighborhoods and business districts within Chattanooga and Hamilton County via numerous trailheads. In 2017, the artwork, “Resurgence: A Statement of Celebration” by Albert Paley was completed and installed as an iconic gateway entry to the Riverwalk, bringing color and energy to the newly completed trailhead park. The pair of sculptures are a material representation of Blue Goose Hollow’s industrial past with a symbolic and dynamic reach towards the future, creating an iconic presence on Chattanooga’s west side. The sculptures are abstract in nature, and while they give prominence to the Blue Goose Hollow trailhead, they do not provide interpretive context for the rich Black history that has since been erased from the site.

About Bessie Smith

As a pioneer for the genre, Bessie was known as “Empress of the Blues”. Her influence on the direction of American music and her contribution to the success of Black performing artists is significant. She was born in Chattanooga in 1894 and was one of the most gifted blues performers of her time. As a Grammy Lifetime Achievement recipient and one of the most iconic Black women of the 20th century, Bessie deserves a lasting tribute in her hometown and specifically in the location of her childhood neighborhood, Blue Goose Hollow.

Project Site

Since the completion of the Blue Goose Hollow trailhead, the neighboring development, Cameron Harbor, has experienced rapid growth and expanded enough to warrant the extension of MLK Blvd. directly into the park. This creates a number of opportunities for the prominent siting of the Bessie Smith & Blue Goose Hollow artistic marker either in the park itself (Site Option 1) or adjacent to the park entrance at MLK Blvd and Riverfront Parkway (MLK Site Option 2). Artists may also choose an alternative site with a strong rationale tied to the proposed final design.

Artwork Goals

  • The selected artist/team should consider the following goals in their design of the artistic marker:
  • Draw pedestrians and viewers to the marker through form, color, light, sound and/or other creative elements;
  • reflect the distinct character of Bessie Smith and culture of the historic Blue Goose Hollow neighborhood;
  • consider the pedestrian experience at the park and/or sidewalk level;
  • serve as a connection point between Blue Goose Hollow and the extended experience of the MLK Corridor;
  • consider existing traffic conditions and safety implications of artwork in overall design;
  • consider opportunities to engage the community in the project;
  • fit well within the context of the site (in terms of scale and design or theme);
  • consideration of all audiences (pedestrians, cyclists, passing motorists, Riverwalk, Riverfront Parkway, MLK Blvd. residents and businesses, etc.);
  • materials and finishes for artwork shall be of the highest quality and should be designed and fabricated for durability as well as for relatively low maintenance; and
  • public safety should be considered for both daytime and evening use.


  • July 20, 2020: Call to Artists Issued by lead partners
  • August 21, 2020: Deadline for Questions & Informational Zoom Webinar
  • August 28, 2020: Submission Deadline
  • September, 2020 (3) Semi-finalists selected to develop conceptual proposals
  • October 2020: Semi-finalists Zoom Webinar: Featuring local black historians, site overview & community introductions
  • Oct – November 2020: Concept designs developed
  • December 2021: Concept designs presented to selection panel & community
  • January 2021: Enter Contract with selected finalist
  • January 2021: Finalize design
  • Feb – March 2021: Fabrication
  • April 15, 2021: Bessie’s 127th Birthday!
  • Spring/Summer 2021: Installation & Dedication

Selection Criteria

  • Demonstrates artistic excellence, innovation and originality as represented in past work and supporting materials.
  • Demonstrates capacity for working in media and with concepts that are appropriate to the project goals and site.
  • Artist’s proven ability to collaborate with other creative professionals
  • Demonstrates interest and capability in creating public artwork in collaboration with the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, Public Art Chattanooga, and other project partners.
  • Demonstrates experience in successfully completing works of similar scope, scale, budget and complexity, or ability to articulate how he or she would be able to bring the necessary artistic and technical skills to this project.
  • Demonstrates interest in and understanding of the project.
  • Is available to perform the scope of the work in a timely and professional manner.
  • Builds the diversity of the City’s public art collection.
  • If applicable, demonstrates a cohesive team.

What to Submit

  1. Completed and signed application form (see RFQ document)
  2. Current Résumé for each team member (two-page limit).
  3. Proposal Narrative or Letter of Interest addressing your approach to the project and any qualifications specific to the project. This document should be no longer than two pages (single-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12 pt. font).
  4. List of professional references for the lead artist (at least three): Please include name, address, phone number, and email address for each individual. If submitting as a team, please include at least one reference for each team member.
  5. Relevant past work samples: Teams may submit a maximum of ten images: JPEG file at 100 DPI (minimum 800 x 600; maximum 1600 x 1200) for review by the selection panel. Files must be PC Compatible and loaded on a USB flash drive. All flash drives must be labeled with the applicant’s name. DO NOT SEND A DISC. Every image file must be titled first with the artist’s name followed by the number of the image in the order to be viewed [for example: Smith_01; Smith_02]. The numbers must correspond to the annotated image list.
  6. Annotated Image List: Please include the artist/team name as a heading, and a brief description of each image, including title, original medium and project budget.
  7. Completed budget worksheet.

Please do not submit paper materials in plastic covers, binders, or folders. Use only paper clips to bind your materials. Please write your name on the outside of the envelope.

How to Submit

Electronic submission is preferred. Email with a link to a Google Drive or Dropbox Folder labeled with the artist’s full name and containing all the required images and documents listed above and labeled appropriately.

Hard copy submission is acceptable, with a combination of paper materials and a flash drive for images. Please do not submit paper materials in plastic covers, binders, or folders. Use only paper clips to bind your materials. Please write your name on the outside of the envelope. Mail your hard copy submission to:

Paula Wilkes
200 E. MLK Blvd.
Chattanooga TN 37403

QUESTIONS? Contact Paula Wilkes at (423) 266-8658 or via email,


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