At 6:30 in the morning on Christmas Day, 2020, an RV packed with explosives blew up on 2nd Avenue in downtown Nashville. The target was a building owned and operated by AT&T that houses important telecommunications equipment for much of the Southeast. While it is extraordinarily unlikely that the bomber knew or cared, the RV was also parked in front a major art installation that was completely destroyed in the bombing.
I have documented the eight murals that adorned the AT&T building, and you’ll find links for all of those pieces at the bottom of this post. The murals first went up in 2018. The project was curated and organized by Ashley Bergeron, owner of The Studio 208, a gallery that lies a block-and-half from the bombing site and which was damaged in the explosion. The murals were all done by women artists, and were printed on vinyl and pasted onto the building’s first-floor windows.
According to Bergeron, the idea was to bring “life, light and positivity” to a drab building out of character with the richly detailed historic buildings around it. The artists involved were Beth Inglish, Erin Elise Laughlin, Cassidy Cole, Emily Leonard, Tess Davies, Jade Carter, Catron Wallace, and Elise R. Kendrick. According to Inglish, it took Bergeron years to implement her vision, but she persisted. Ultimately many partners made the murals possible. They were sponsored by AT&T, the Nashville Downtown Partnership, The DISTRICT, Nashville Metro Arts Commission, and The Studio 208.
Back when the project went in, Bergeron had this to say about the murals:
The abstract artwork flows from one set of windows to the next using color, texture, and shape so that you are continually surprised while walking down the block. I want art to be accessible to all, and I get overwhelmed with joy when I see beautification in a public space.From a press release
Now of course, all of that is gone. A video taken from the body cam of one of the police officers who responded in the minutes before the bombing shows the RV parked in front of the murals. At about the one-minute mark, you can begin to see the murals begin to come in to view on the left. As the officer gets closer to the murals, it’s possible to see exactly where the RV was parked – in front of the murals by Davies and Carter (see Part 5 and Part 6 below). All the murals were destroyed by the explosion, with small pieces of them scattered in the street.
Because they were vinyl murals glued to the windows, they weren’t pulverized, but rather shattered. One observer said what was left looked like colored glass on the ground. John Partipilo, a photographer who was on the scene before it was cleaned up, was able to recognize pieces of Inglish’s mural (which was farthest from the blast) because he’s familiar with the colors she uses. Bergeron herself thought she saw one the murals intact from a distance, but now knows that was impossible, a trick of the mind. Carter told me she has found it hard to put into words what the loss of the murals means.
In this picture by Partipilo, you can see scraps of color that I believe are from Inglish’s mural. (See Part 1 below). The red stripes on the ground appear to be a grid, probably put in place by investigators.
This second shot by Partipilo looks down the face of the AT&T building. It was probably taken right in front of where Inglish’s mural was, and down the sidewalk you can see more colored scraps. Some years ago the AT&T building was reinforced to strengthen it against bombings, and the black area behind the window frames appears to be a reinforced concrete wall.
This is the second time in less than a year I’ve had to report on a large amount of art suddenly and violently destroyed. After the March 3 tornado of 2020, I wrote about the art that was lost and damaged in both East and North Nashville. Now we are here again, this time because of the work of man, not the forces of nature. But the same resilience of the post-tornado era is also visible here. Bergeron would like to replace the murals with new work, with the original artists if possible. That of course depends on many things, including the future of the AT&T building. Inglish told me that the art wall will be missed, but she believes that Bergeron’s determination will “bring beauty to the streets of downtown again soon.”
Because to the constraints of creating a collage, the murals in the picture at the top of the post are not in the original order. From left-to-right, top to bottom, they are by Inglish, Kendrick, Cole, Leonard, Laughlin, Carter, Wallace, and Davies. On the wall, the original order, left-to-right, was Inglish, Laughlin, Cole, Leonard, Davies, Carter, Wallace, Kendrick.
Located (formerly) at 185 2nd Avenue North. It seems superfluous to talk about parking, but when this site can be visited again, remember that this is downtown – lots of parking, almost none of it free.