Always Tryon begins fundraiser to pay off Nina Simone statue

Published 5:09 pm Thursday, March 21, 2013

Council discusses possible ownership, moving statue

It’s been more than three years since the Nina Simone statue was dedicated in Tryon and one group says it’s time for the debt on the statue to be paid.

The Always Tryon group is making a public plea for fundraising to complete the outstanding $55,000 owed to the sculptor who created the Nina Simone statue.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Always Tryon’s Steve Cobb and Jim Wright attended the Tryon Town Council meeting on Tuesday, March 19 asking the town for its support to raised funds for the project and also to ask the town to assume ownership of the statue.

“We’re asking people to put opinions aside,” Cobb said. “The statue is here, the artist did the work (and) he deserves to be paid.”

Cobb said Always Tryon wants to make a mass appeal to the general public and said he plans to ask original donors if they may be willing to contribute again.

“This is kind of a black cloud hanging over Tryon and it’s been lingering for a couple of years,” said Cobb.

The Nina Simone sculpture and plaza was dedicated in downtown Tryon on Feb. 21, 2010. The sculptor, Zeno Frudakis with Frudakis Studio Inc. has been paid $51,000 out of a total of $106,000.

Tryon council members agreed to support the fundraising project but were not decisive over the town taking ownership of the statue.

Cobb said a Nina Simone Committee no longer exists and the project was such a controversial subject with the Tryon Downtown Development Association (TDDA) that Always Tryon feels the town could best manage ownership.

Commissioner Doug Arbogast asked about talk of the railroad running again. Cobb said there’s a clause in the agreement allowing the plaza that the railroad could take back the land anytime. He said if that happens, the statue would have to be moved.

Commissioner George Baker said that would be an expense if the town assumes ownership.

“If we own it, then we’re tasked with moving it regardless of the cost,” Baker said.

Cobb said the cost of moving the statue could be part of the fundraising effort.

Woody expressed concerns with the town taking ownership of the statue.

“Perhaps in your promotions you might ask if there are any other organizations that would be interested in ownership,” Woody said. “I know it was a divisive issue in the town and I’m not sure if the town is the right owner…It wasn’t a town project to start with.”

Always Tryon member Jim Wright said Always Tryon began last summer when about 200 people met and formed about 80 or 90 items of interest with a high priority being to retire the debt on Nina Simone. He said as Steve (Cobb) said, it’s time to get that issue resolved.

Tryon Mayor Alan Peoples said Nina Simone was a great singer and she’s still Nina Simone, “still from Tryon and still our daughter.”

Commissioner Roy Miller said he agrees that the Nina Simone statue has been a controversial issue and he thinks as leaders of the town, “we owe it to the citizens to try to find clarity and find an end to this.”

Town attorney Bailey Nager said the town cannot pay the debt for another organization. The town, however, could purchase the statue for the amount of the debt.

Fundraising would be funneled through the Polk County Community Foundation.

Nina Simone was born in Tryon as Eunice Waymon in 1933. Her musical talent was first noticed at the St. Luke’s CME Church and Waymon, later Simone, became known as the “high priestess of soul.” Simone died in 2003 in France, where she made her home in her later years. Tryon’s dedication of the plaza in 2010 was held on what would have been Simone’s 77th birthday.