Local artist Rondell Crier named finalist in design competition honoring Bessie Smith

Rondell Crier

The Bessie Tribute Public Art Committee last week named local artist Rondell Crier one of four finalists chosen to submit ideas for  markers planned to honor Bessie Smith.

The other finalists are Willie Cole from Mine Hill, New Jersey; Ayokenie Odeleye from Stone Mountain, Georgia; and Bernard Williams from Chicago.

“My life revolves around creativity, not just in practicing visual art forms, but also by using creative energy as a means to support and inspire communities,” Crier said.

The Bessie Tribute Public Art Committee–comprised of civic leaders and representatives from the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, Chattanooga Public Art, ArtsBuild, Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga Neighborhoods Arts Partnership, RISE Chattanooga and the Lyndhurst Foundation–held a national call last summer seeking Black artists to design, fabricate and install a sculptural marker and tribute to Bessie Smith at the Blue Goose Hollow trailhead in Chattanooga.

The artists presented ideas that combined music–the blues in particular–neighborhoods, buildings and sense of place.

According to the Bessie Tribute Public Art Committee, “While the marker should provide and interpret historically accurate details, it should also reflect the spirit and character of Black Chattanooga and Bessie herself.”

Blue Goose Hollow, where Bessie Smith grew up, was once home to more than 1,400 people. However, the historic neighborhood was erased with the demolition of more than 1,100 buildings during urban renewal.

The Blue Goose Hollow trailhead access point in the Tennessee Riverpark was completed in 2016. Consisting of 14 miles of paved, scenic, urban greenway that follows the curve of the Tennessee River, the Riverpark connects downtown Chattanooga to Chickamauga Dam to the north and Lookout Mountain to the south.

Crier is a New Orleans native and a graduate of the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. He was involved with YAYA (Young Aspirations Young Artists), a youth art organization in New Orleans, where he worked on various commission projects and received opportunities to travel and exhibit in Japan, Germany, Italy, New York, Holland and numerous cities across the country.

The artist was inspired by YAYA’s impact on the community and after moving to Chattanooga following Hurricane Katrina, started his own company, Studio Everything, that provides services in design, production and fabrication. Additionally, he began working with Glass House Collective in East Chattanooga where he helps neighborhood residents develop their artistic skills and teaches visual arts to incarcerated youth. 

Bessie Smith was known as the “Empress of the Blues.” Born in Chattanooga in 1894, she was one of the most gifted blues performers of her time. The Bessie Tribute Public Art Committee plans to choose the design competition winner later this month and have the markers in place by late spring or early summer.