published Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Sculpture garden contract in negotiations for Chattanooga's Montague Park

Large art pieces dot the sculpture garden section of Montague Park on Wednesday.
Large art pieces dot the sculpture garden section of Montague Park on Wednesday.
Photo by Jake Daniels.
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Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield has been working for several years with artist John Henry to create a sculpture garden on about 17 acres of Montague Park.

The park, which has been closed for almost a decade, backs up to Henry's East Main Street gallery.

Henry, whose industrial artworks are displayed around the world, wants to create a sculpture garden that showcases his works and those of other sculptors.

He's been negotiating with the city, seeking to create a nonprofit that would run a gift shop, advertise the sculpture park, hold events and possibly charge admission for them.

Under a current proposal, the city would lease him the land and facilities and provide maintenance, security, and insurance for the works of art. No lease payment is mentioned in the proposal.

Littlefield said the city would have a showcase on an unused field and a possible tourist draw on the Southside.

"I think this is a great opportunity," Littlefield said Wednesday. "John Henry is a nationally and internationally known artist."

Though no contract has been finalized, sculptures already are in the park and Henry has invited City Council members and Littlefield to the site Saturday to view them.

Council members were told during an agenda session Tuesday they soon would see a contract proposal. Littlefield said he reviewed a first draft this week.

"It's only a point to begin with," Littlefield said.

The agreement would be with Montague Sculpture Park, a nonprofit corporation. The Tennessee secretary of state's corporations database does not yet list such an entity.

Cathy Clifford, executive director of Henry's gallery, said the artist was out of town. No comment was available by press time Wednesday.

The draft agreement would place on the city the responsibility for managing, operating and maintaining the building and grounds on par with other city parks.

The draft said the corporation would be liable for insuring all artwork. But it also calls for the city to maintain insurance coverage for the replacement value of the art.

Littlefield said details about who would be responsible for liability insurance and maintenance costs would be hammered out in the negotiation process.

Littlefield said Henry approached the mayor years ago and floated the idea of a sculpture park at Montague.

"We were scratching our heads about what to do with" the park at that time, Littlefield said.

A section of Montague, which was donated to the city for recreational use, once served as a city dump site. The park later became popular for softball, but environmental concerns forced the city to halt its use in 2003.

The area Henry seeks to use is stable and wasn't part of the original landfill, Littlefield said.

There are some "oral agreements," but no contract, he said.

The mayor gets the sense that some in the local art community are resisting his effort, he said.

"I know we have people out there who are critical of this," he said.

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about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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