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John Petry Sculpture
By Beverly A. Carroll

Public art committee hopes to keep "Blue Boy" from rolling out of town

A proposal to buy Blue Boy Push Toy #1, an outdoor sculpture of a blue rhino standing on wagon, evoked strong emotions from some of the Chattanooga City Council members during the review of the Oct. 4 agenda.

"It's nice but I hate to see it brought to us at this economic time," Councilman Jack Benson said. "I know my friend Mr. (Larry) Zehender (administrator of Parks and Recreation) will say the money is already allocated. I don't care if it's allocated, we don't have to spend it now."

The Public Art Chattanooga committee is asking the council to approve $32,000 to buy the piece, sculpted by local artist John Petry.

Councilman Andrae McGary, who is a member of the committee, said the group has not asked the city to make a purchase in three years.

"This is a local artist, so the dollars will go back into the community," McGary said. "The dollars have been allocated and when we allocate them, we ask (the committee) if they intend to spend the money on art. I would wager this committee has sought to be (conservative) in spending."

Established in 2006, the public art committee's budget is around $350,000, most of which is from private sources, committee chairwoman Peggy Townsend said. The city's contribution is around $100,000. City Council members voted to allot the $20,000 to secure a $40,000 Lyndhurst grant to fund administrative costs in the 2012 budget.

The committee is conscious of the city's economic situation, Townsend said.

"The committee has heard the council loud and clear in the past about being conservative and being under budget constraints," Townsend said. "That's why we've been resistant to purchasing anything. This year, we felt like this is a piece that people love and it would be bad to see it go."

The sculpture is part of the committee's annual competition where seven pieces are selected and displayed throughout downtown, the Southside and the North Shore areas. Blue Boy Push Toy #1, located near the Chattanooga Theatre in Coolidge Park, was the only local piece selected from more than 100 entries. The pieces are on a rotating basis and will be replaced in October.

Townsend said the theatre has used the sculpture in its educational programs and its popularity is documented on the committee's website.

Councilman Peter Murphy said the city has benefited from the public art program.

"According to the Conventions and Visitors Bureau, hotel room bookings were up 18 percent - 18 percent in this economy," Murphy said. "It's not necessary, it isn't essential, just as the Riverwalk isn't, the Riverfront isn't, Coolidge Park isn't essential, but it's what's bringing people here. It's why people come for vacation then look to see if they can relocate here. It's why people come for a convention then look to see if they can take their family vacation here."

Councilwoman Deborah Scott said she will not vote for the purchase.

"What brings people here? Roads bring people here, roads take people to work," Scott said. "They've not bought art in three years? I have roads that haven't had anything done to them in 20 years. There's no excuse for prioritizing pieces of art over infrastructure."

Council members Sally Robinson and Russell Gilbert said public art has helped the community grow and provide an attractive quality of life that draws people to the area.

Townsend said the public art committee's contest brings more art and a wider variety of art to the community for a smaller investment than making purchases. The committee also tries to buy a piece from each show to add to the permanent collection but has not done so for several years, she said.

"But people get attached to pieces and this one is really crafted well and has weathered beautifully" she said.

Spatial Thoughts on Sculpture by Bill West
Public art is so vital to our society. This sculpture by John Petry is no different, it is needed, as the majority of council voted. Blue Boy Push Toy #1 is not only an excellent representational sculpture of a Rhino, but also somewhat whimsical in nature... what's not to like!

John Petry sculpture
"Blue Boy Push Toy #1" by John Petry