Who gets a place at the table?
That question has real resonance in Nashville.
As the city gentrifies, some residents face hunger, nutrition deficits and health challenges such as higher infant mortality. Nashville is changing rapidly; for several years, up to 100 additional residents a day have been moving to the area. Neighborhoods have been renamed — some critics say that erases their history — their faces made almost unrecognizable by new construction. And as housing prices soar, some residents are pushed into poorer neighborhoods without access to grocery stores and fresh foods. Other neighborhoods see a “food mirage”: New supermarkets are built, but they are too expensive for poorer residents.
“Build Better Tables,” a public art project, tackles gentrification and community health head-on. It’s the brainchild of Nicole Caruth, a writer and curator who received funding for the project from Nashville’s arts commission.
She invited nine artists to create installations that can be seen throughout the city. One artist turned a bike rickshaw into a vehicle to deliver fresh produce. Another made an experimental film that is projected above the restaurant, in a former Woolworth’s store, where some of the civil rights movement’s first sit-ins took place.
One of the more provocative pieces is simple on its surface: a baby crib and a mobile. Look closer and you’ll see that the work is shaped like Interstate 40, which cut Nashville’s black community in two in the late 1960s. The highway project led to the demolition of more than 600 homes, cut off residents from parts of their own neighborhoods, and resulted in plummeting property values and business closures.
Affixed to the mobile are baby bottles fashioned from lard, sugar and salt, representing lack of access to fresh, healthy foods in communities of color and pointing to high rates of maternal and infant mortality among black mothers and infants. It’s the work of Andrea Chung, a San Diego artist.
Other installations include a seed bank, a mobile bread oven and a bus wrapped in a mural that reads, “We all grow when we all eat.” Events include history lessons on the diets of latchkey kids, cooking workshops and “Biscuits & Braids,” which includes a braid-a-thon during which young women can get their hair braided.
“Build Better Tables” runs through the end of August.