City tuning ordinance to allow fiddle sculptures

Tom Joyce Staff Reporter

November 23, 2013

A request that Mount Airy officials alter an ordinance prohibiting sidewalk obstructions to allow sculptures of fiddles has not hit a sour note, with the change now in the works.

The city board of commissioners voted unanimously to begin the process of amending the ordinance after a presentation Thursday night on plans for the first Fiddle Crawl in Mount Airy next spring.

It will involve sculptures of the instruments — standing more than 5 feet high and weighing about 220 pounds — being prepared by artists and exhibited publicly throughout the downtown area before being auctioned to provide funds for economic development.

More than 30 prospective locations, mostly outside downtown businesses, have been identified for the artwork, according to the presentation by Main Street Coordinator Lizzie Morrison.

However, the Fiddle Crawl plans hinged on the the city commissioners agreeing to tweak the ordinance that bans structures from walkways, such as porches, steps, fences, walls or similar obstructions, and “any other article unless approved by the city.”

The commissioners seemed assured after Thursday night’s presentation that the sculptures will not cause problems and instead represent a positive campaign for Mount Airy.

Mount Airy Downtown Inc., the sponsoring group, will ensure the sculptures are placed so as to provide adequate sidewalk space for pedestrians while also not blocking fire hydrants or passage to and from buildings.

Morrison added that the upcoming Fiddle Crawl is patterned after successful fundraisers in other cities, in which an animal or some other appropriate symbol for a community — in Mount Airy’s case, the fiddle — forms a basis for the sculptures.

The cost of unfinished fiberglass fiddles will be underwritten by local businesses, organizations or individuals, then distributed to artists in the community. Working from a design concept approved by a promotions committee, each fiddle essentially will serve as a canvas for his or her artwork.

Sculptures will be revealed during a special event in May.

The individual touches and colors applied by each creator will allow a variety of artwork that enhances the local musical heritage. Mount Airy hosts 274 events each year related to old-time or bluegrass music, according to Morrison, citing Surry Arts Council statistics.

Through the campaign, the fiddles will connect to those roots by promoting that asset of the community while also embracing contemporary art, organizers say.

The three-dimensional fiddles will be placed throughout the downtown area for a five-month period beginning next May, with brochures and maps providing information to viewers and marking the location of each.

Morrison said the exhibit should increase foot traffic among tourists, hence the “crawl” aspect of the campaign.

The fall auction of the sculptures could provide a healthy financial return, Morrison said, based on a similar event in Hendersonville built around bears. Its annual auction this year drew a huge crowd and raised $19,400, with more than $180,000 generated during the 11-year history of the Hendersonville effort.

Council Concerns

Mount Airy’s commissioners did pose some questions to Morrison Thursday night about the Fiddle Crawl sculptures, including an obvious one from Dean Brown.

“Would there be a liability issue if someone ran into one and hurt themselves?” the board member asked.

Brown was assured by the downtown coordinator that event insurance will be in place to cover such contingencies.

Commissioner Jon Cawley, who made the motion to have the ordinance tweaked to allow the fiddle sculptures on sidewalks, also asked about how the wording of the measure will be changed to accommodate that. Cawley wondered if it would be amended to specifically allow the Fiddle Crawl.

“I think it would have to say something related to public art,” City Manager Barbara Jones responded.

But Cawley believes the wording should be more restrictive, presumably to avoid unintended consequences.

“Could we not be more specific than ‘public art?’” he asked. “Public art is pretty broad.”

Jones said she would work with City Attorney Hugh Campbell on the appropriate language and report back to the board.

Campbell explained Friday that no public hearing will be required for the change, but a vote by the board must occur to adopt the revamped ordinance.

He added that activities it opens the door to, such as the Fiddle Crawl, will be subject to a permitting procedure.

Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or