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I Believe in Nashville

Maggie Tattersfield

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The iconic ‘I Believe in Nashville’ mural has had a tough year.  Adrien Saporiti’s piece in the center of 12south has become the backdrop of tourist photos and subsequently, a symbol of Nashville.

The mural was first destroyed with tar by an unknown perpetrator in March 2017, and uproar commenced; it was repainted and returned to its former glory within a few days. The mural was again vandalized on July 25th, 2017 with the words ‘I Believe in Global Warming.’

Photo courtesy of The Nashville Scene

But this time the vandals were caught on camera, and on July 26th, 20-year-old Brandon Murphy surrendered to Nashville’s Midtown Precinct; he is being charged with felony vandalism. Because of his actions, Murphy was immediately fired by his employer, Jeremy Barlow. If convicted, Murphy will likely serve time and must check the ‘have-you-ever-been-charged-with-a-felony?’ box on job applications for the rest of his life. In response to Murphy’s antics, Barlow gave some advice to people everywhere when he said “Don’t be a dumba**!” to me as I stood in his 12south store front. Thanks, Mr. Barlow, I’ll keep that in mind.

Owner of the building that the mural stands on, Andy Howell, told USA Today, “It’s unfortunate. It’s such a positive thing and so many people have enjoyed it. It’s just a bummer” –but I wanted to know what Nashville thought, and that meant I was inviting a differentiation of opinion.

Bob Martineau, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation wrote to me, “Vandalism like defacing murals or any other vandalism like that reflects on the individuals who did it.” Mr. Martineau noted that the political statement hardly reflected Nashville’s attitude to Global Warming.

The Nashville Scene published “Love/Hate Mail: More Mural Talk”, a piece by journalist and art critic Erica Caccone.  I reached out to Ms. Caccone, and she was willing to share her opinion while answering a few of my questions:

Tattersfield: What qualifies something as vandalism vs. art?

Caccone: There is no objective truth to what art is. My opinion is that art does more than provide a decoration. Wallpaper, for example, is usually not art, although in some cases it straddles the line. I don’t disagree that painting on someone’s property is vandalism, but I think vandalism can also be art.

Here’s what I like about the “I Believe in Global Warming” alteration, and I touch on this in the letter. Street art is by nature malleable. Take the Frederick Douglass mural in Belfast, for example. Over the years, it changed dramatically. It’s a living image that responds to history, social issues, and political trends. Public art belongs to the public and shouldn’t be treated as holy or untouchable. In the United States, graffiti art comes from the tradition of hip hop, and its nature is to sample what one artist has done, spin it on its head, and alter it. It’s somewhat communal in that way––but competitive.

I have a lot of friends who are street artists and make part of their living painting commissioned murals. Some of them paint places without permission, and some never do. I am happy when they get hired to paint the side of a privately owned building. It’s food in their mouths and roofs over their heads. But a privately owned building is not a museum, and the best street artists know that.

Tattersfield: Do you think the alteration made the intended statement, or did the public’s reaction to the vandalism override the statement?

Caccone: People complain the most when their identity feels threatened, when their worldviews are mocked. It definitely made the intended statement.

I hope that the artist will keep painting “I Believe in Nashville” in 12 South––and I hope people will keep altering it. It’s a conversation that’s worth having. I’m sure it’s difficult for the artist, and I don’t envy him. But I also don’t pity him because being an artist should require us to defend our ideas and push ourselves out of the boxes we build. It’s a privilege.

Ms. Caccone noted in her piece for the Nashville Scene that Murphy’s ‘alteration’ was a political statement against Nashville’s fake progressivism, and “the fact that the president of the United States and many Tennessee lawmakers deny global warming is more important than your hip progressive identity.”

I was curious to see what Harpeth Hall students thought of the vandalism, so I took to the most populated area at 11:00 am – the senior patio. When asked what they thought of the vandalism, students shared their thoughts:

“It was a purposeful destruction of something everyone loved” – Emma F., 12

“I think that’s the best thing I’ve ever heard” – Holly, 12

“I think it’s funny, but at the same time, is this a trend now? Do we really wanna make a trend of destroying murals?” – Tricia, 12

“I’d say that that’s pointing to a great issue in the Nashville community that we are not doing enough to combat the effects of climate change in legislation or we are not doing enough to be more sustainable.” – Stella, 12

“If you don’t believe in Nashville, don’t live in Nashville. Don’t Vandalize!”  -Lady Frances, 12

“I don’t think saying ‘I believe in Nashville’ contradicts ‘I believe in global warming’” – Elizabeth, 12

Elizabeth’s point reminded me of a class discussion we had in Dr. Pethel’s AP US History; Pethel begins the first day of class with a quote: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself; I am large, I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman

Whether you support vandalism or not, or whether you believe in Global Warming or not, Harpeth Hall students develop their own opinions, but ultimately come to the same conclusion: Nashville contains multitudes.

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