The new Five Bears mural at Five Points, on the building that now houses Eastside Cycles, has not been without controversy. That the old mural was in trouble was obvious to anyone who took a close look. It was flaking badly, and would not have lasted much longer. “But what do bears have to do with East Nashville?” many have asked. Bill Bernstein, who owns the building, said today (6/30/16) at a talk at Bongo East (which he also owns) that he spoke to many people about a possible theme that would represent East Nashville, but ultimately gave up on that quest as impossible. So why did he approve Leah Tummerman’s bear design? Because he like bears, basically. This is why a lot of art happens – because it’s what the patron is willing to pay for.
Not everyone is happy with the bears, and one critic expressed his/her frustration (I’m betting “his”) by splashing white paint on the half-finished mural. But this is Nashville, and that don’t fly. Tummerman, who also spoke, was heartened by the people who came out to offer support and help paint – a change from the boos from passing cars. But she has also chosen to incorporate some of the damage into the final work (see the white splash in the photo up top). She meant for the bears, all different, but not too specifically designed, to encourage people to come up with their own narratives. The vandalism, in its own unfortunate way, is part of the conversation the piece is meant to promote, and it has had the fortunate effect of garnering attention for the work and getting more people to talk about public art.
Still, she’s going to put an anti-tagging layer on top of the mural to make it easy to clean from future uncommissioned contributions. Probably wise. Some years from now that mural will inevitably be replaced or destroyed. I guarantee a lot of people will be complaining!