NASHVILLE, TN — On a recent sunny morning in June, crowds gathered in Centennial Park to celebrate the official unveiling and dedication of a symbolic and new public work of art. Located on the lawn of the Metro Parks Centennial Art Center, the Path to A Higher Note sculpture stands now to add to the beauty of Centennial Park.

Artist Betty Turney-Turner holds proclamation naming Nashville’s official Juneteenth Statue.

The creative inspiration behind Path to A Higher Note is to commemorate Juneteenth and recognize the broader reaches of Emancipation. The sculpture was created in 2021, during Nashville’s first Black on Buchanan Juneteenth Block Party and the nation’s first-time recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

As part of the Juneteenth festivities and to honor the role that creativity can play in resilience, forgiveness, and healing, local mosaic artist Betty Turney-Turner was commissioned to assemble a team to create a sculpture that recognizes the importance of the arts in Nashville’s Black community. 

This collaborative work invited community members to select a tile, write the name of a loved one they wished to honor and thank. Later, the participants affixed the tile piece to the sculpture in a place of their choosing. In this way, the sculpture’s artists established a way to recognize community members’ enslaved ancestors and create a living tribute for previous generations and pave the way for a more promising future to come.

The sculpture depicts a young boy and girl standing atop a base made from the quilt block designs used to send messages to anyone traveling along the Underground Railroad. Each child wears clothing featuring Adinkra symbols to acknowledge their African heritage. They stand with their arms pointed toward the heavens, forming a heart with the North Star, a symbol of true north and freedom, at its center. In the children’s hands are musical notes symbolizing the important role music contributes in healing, celebration, and faith within Black culture.

“Our parks, like our city, have a rich history with meaningful legacies for all our residents,” stated Monique Horton Odom, director of Metro Parks, which works to sustainably and equitably provide an inviting network of parks and greenways that offer health, wellness and quality of life through recreation, conservation and community. “Path to a Higher Note is symbolic of our shared history that acknowledges the past while looking towards the future.”

Now, the statue endures as a symbol of reconciliation in part due to the historic significance of its location. It can be found on the grounds of a formerly segregated public swimming pool that was converted to an art gallery and arts education facility in 1972. In 2018, Centennial Park Conservancy, the nonprofit organization that helps sustain the vibrancy of the Park, held the Wade In These Waters symposium to explore the uncomfortable truths that exist in the history of the Park. In 2022, Metro Parks, Creative Parks Nashville, and Centennial Park Conservancy partnered with the Metro Historical Commission to install a historic marker to recognize the location of the Park’s former swimming pool and honor Kwame (Leo) Willard and Matthew Walker, Jr. – two student civil rights activists who sought change by attempting to integrate the pool.

“Centennial Park is a living, breathing, evolving place with a significant story to tell,” stated John Tumminello, president of Centennial Park Conservancy. “Through historic markers and public works of art like Path to A Higher Learning, we trust that the park will continue to come alive for its visitors while informing and inspiring us all.”

Since 1985, Centennial Park Conservancy has partnered with Metro Parks to support the vitality of the Park and Parthenon. In addition to jointly underwriting revitalization improvements like the upcoming transformation of the Park’s north side and a pedestrian entrance over the 31st Avenue Connector, the organization creates hundreds of annual, free arts programming opportunities for the community to enjoy such as Musicians Corner, Kidsville, Nashville Earth Day, and more. 

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