Alabama Art causing controversy in Fairhope

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 14, 2002

Features Editor

Folks in Fairhope don’t take kindly to being called rednecks and racists.

Fairhope City Councilman Cecil Christenberry said those harsh words by artist Nall Hollis in The Mobile Press Register Wednesday have brought emotions to a fevered pitch in his hometown.

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"Nall Hollis went back 40 years to the racial problems of the South in responding to our decision to go back to square-one in considering our options for the old jail," Christenberry said. "He called us closed-minded and said that we want to block people of color from universities and keep them from sitting in the front of the bus. Maybe he was feeling rejected and that was the reason for his heated response, but I feel like he threw us under the bus. He did much damage to the cause of the Alabama Art Museum in Fairhope."

The controversy that is causing an uproar in Fairhope stems from a proposal by Troy native and internationally known artist, Nall Hollis, to locate the headquarters of the Alabama Art

movement in Fairhope’s old city jail. Nall has pledged more than $350,000 worth of art work in exchange for use of the building once it is renovated.

A division in the city council and opposition from the citizens negated the agreement.

"Nall obviously thought it was a done deal," Christenberry said. "I’m sure he is upset by the events of the last few days."

In an e-mail to The Messenger, Nall said there are many Fairhope people who want the Alabama Art

Museum and a few disgruntled people who photocopied the French Bulldog ( a dog’s head on a man’s naked body) and misrepresented it to the churches."

"The churches were told this piece was going to be given to the museum and

people were never told about the portraits, landscapes, flower paintings, because these evildoers stoop to anything to thwart education, equality and culture in Alabama" Nall said. "Also, the other artists in the Fairhope community were misinformed about the Alabama Art project and thought they would not be included.

"Injustice in misrepresentation is an old story. So much emotion and publicity, so many people out there want to sabotage (the project). So many stones thrown."

Christenberry said the combination of ‘ramming,’ the arts and the business of the situation all figured into the Fairhope City Council’s decision Monday night to rethink its options for the city’s old jail.

"This issue has split our town and I’m sorry for it," he said. "But, contrary to what is being said and what is being reported, Nall’s art work is not the central issue here. The old jail is sitting on a million dollar piece of property and, if it’s not used for municipal purposes, it reverts back to the Single Tax Colony. That’s the terms of the lease and I’m not sure the city council can legally barter with one person for its use."

The city council and the community have been divided for some time on a proposal by Nall Hollis to exchange 13 portraits of Alabama artists and work by those artists for studio space in the museum.

Christenberry said the main objection to the proposal was that it was being ramroded through the council without fully considering other options.

"One man offered the city $100,00 if the jail is converted to a children’s learning center and he has the money to do it," Christenberry said. "What I want us to do is make a sound business decision and one that is in the best interest of all the citizens of Fairhope. My decision is based on good business, not on the kind of art Nall Hollis produces."

At Monday night’s meeting, Christenberry proposed that the council completely disband the citizens committee that has been charged with finding a use for the old city jail and put the matter back in the hands of the council.

"I also proposed that we consider all proposals for the building and secure factual numbers on the renovation costs and slow down and listen to our citizens," Christenberry said. "Again, this is nothing against Nall and his art. It’s just good business."

Christenberry’s four-point proposal was accepted on a vote of 5-1 and the citizens of Fairhope have let their voices be known.

"Many people feel like I do that we’re on a slippery slope here," Christenberry said. "Legally and now publicly with all the press we’ve gotten. It hasn’t been good for us and it hasn’t been good for the Alabama Art movement and I’m very sorry about that."