Client: City of Nashville and Nashville Public Library
Location: Nashville, TN, United States
Completion date: 2015
Artwork budget: $60,000
Brenda Stein Art
Public Artist Project Manager
Metro Nashville Arts Commission
David M. Powell Prinicipal, AIA, LEED AP
Robert Kown, AIA
Rise Above is a permanent suspended artwork at the Bellevue Branch of the Nashville Public Library. The City of Nashville and the Nashville Public Library commissioned Brenda Stein to create the artwork using the 1% for Public Art Program. Using input and frequent feedback from the design team, the artist developed the project scope, concept, and timeline to accomplish the goals. The eighty-three bird installation stretches sixty-four feet from the rear of the library commons to the above the circulation desk. Nature arrives with birds made from beloved trees that were cut down where the library now stands. The extended flock conveys a strong sense of movement as it dips sixteen feet down into the commons and side to side, almost touching the raised inset walls. A solo purple bird in the flock subtly celebrates individuality.
Rise Above, commissioned for the new Nashville Library’s Bellevue Branch, came with a unique challenge: to create a meaningful legacy in concert with the building’s construction, using beloved trees that were cut down where the building now stands. The sculpture, featuring a formation of abstract birds moving together through the ninety foot stretch of vaulted ceiling lined with clerestory windows, brings life into the LEED-certified building.
This popular branch of Nashville’s vibrant library system is in an area that was particularly hard hit by a devastating flood in 2010. People from far and wide came to help, but it was primarily the neighbors who rolled up their sleeves and pant legs to begin the recovery. As birds fly in formation, a lead bird takes on the hardest part, lessening the effort of those behind. The role of lead bird is shared by many, increasing the power of the flock. By suggesting such a formation, Soaring Together speaks to the power of the collective when we share the load by working together. Individually, each bird’s profile reinforces the client’s open book theme while underscoring the power of books and reading. We soar to new heights, alone and together, by acquiring knowledge.
The creation of Rise Above was governed by Metropolitan Government of Nashville's protocol and administered by Metro Arts Office of Art + Culture using Percent for Public Art Program funds. As such, a Metro Nashville Arts Commission Public Art Project Manager interfaced with the artist and design team throughout. The design team consisted of representatives of the city, the Bellevue Library Branch, Hastings Architecture, and Messer Construction.
While the freshly cut trees were being processed for use, the artist worked with local fabricator MadeFirst, who transitioned the design for engineer’s approval, built the birds to specifications using the artist’s models and templates, and installed the artwork. The resulting sculpture pays homage not only to the cluster of trees, but to the power of education and the healing force of community, all while breathing life into the commons, creating an air of wonder and mystery.
As part of the overall commission, a companion 8’ diameter playful kinetic mobile was created from the same heritage wood. Suspended above the children’s area, it features oversized colorful Hackberry leaves and a sister bird from the larger sculpture. While all wood in the artwork is stained in slightly different shades, one purple bird in the middle quietly celebrates diversity. When the HVAC system engages, this bird and its nearby mates fly in a slightly different direction – together. The library staff, who live with the sculptures every day, love the artwork. As of this writing, July 2021, at least one library patron has written a short book about Rise Above and a naturalist developed a program for students around the installation. Since the dedication, Stein has presented to several community and arts organizations about Rise Above, public art, and her journey from studio artist to public artist.