North Nashville “Parlour” Recalls When the Harlem Renaissance Came South

At October nips at our heels, Nashville art lovers may be hard pressed to choose between a plethora of events featuring artists, performers, and creative leaders this month. Saturday evening will be all about North Nashville as galleries, restaurants, and shops open their doors for the Jefferson Street Art Crawl, followed by Art History Class Lifestyle Lounge and Gallery’s first in a series of interactive talks dubbed “The Parlour.”  

Modeled after those of the Harlem Renaissance, the salon will include readings, discussion, entertainment, and cuisine. It’s no secret that the Harlem Renaissance brought the voices, stories, and artistic expressions of Black Americans to the forefront of cultural exchange in the 1920s, but few know the history of its migration to the South. According to the gallery’s invite:

Unfortunately, the Great Depression (1929-1939) dried up the financial wellspring of support it so need to thrive. Many of those MONUMENTAL figures of that period moved back to the South for the accommodating cost of living. North Nashville became the home of such notables such as James Weldon Johnson, Aaron Douglas, and Arna Bontemps.

The discussion will center around photographer Carl Van Vechten, the namesake of FiskUniversity’s art gallery, and the invitation suggests visiting the gallery to see an exhibition of Van Vechten’s work prior to the event as a “pre-study.” (Let’s pause to appreciate thoughtful study and dialogue right now.) Van Vechten was a patron of the Harlem Renaissance, and it’s likely that the iconic images you conjure of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston or Jacob Lawrence were shot by his camera. While you’re there, check out another another event, Creatives’ Day.

Founding director and curator of Art History Class Thaxton Waters has become somewhat of an institution in North Nashville, especially since his gallery lost its brick and mortar location at the start of summer. Waters opened the salon in 2014 to provide what he calls a “Re-presentation of North Nashville” that’s dedicated to preserving the cultural and artistic history of Jefferson Street and the surrounding HBCUs while helping it thrive. After two years, the building couldn’t contain the gallery’s growth, and the landlord was unwilling to make necessary repairs. But fans soon realized that Art History Class is not one gallery or building but a spirit that has long existed in North Nashville; Waters just gave it a place to thrive.

It has been recognized with a Community Award by Spread Luv 615 and Jefferson Street Urban Merchant Partnerships with a New Business Award in 2014. Thaxton and the gallery have been written about in Native, BURNAWAY and Nashville Scene. In fact, I named it Best Culture Club in this year’s Best of Nashville, just released October 5.

Local activist groups have also taken notice. The group Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) got out the word for an Art History Class pop-up event last month and sold tickets, raising a total of $750 to go toward the fund for a new gallery. The group says it works “to mobilize white communities to support black-led liberation work.” To that end, it encourages its members to support Waters’ project “as a way to fight gentrification and contribute to the funding of black futures.”

SURJ steering committee member Marie Campbell says, “We recognize that current policies and practices in Nashville’s development projects and tourism industry are promoting gentrification in predominately black neighborhoods, displacing long time residents, while also minimizing black contributions to Nashville’s art, music, and culture both historically and currently.”

When I met Thaxton last year for a Nashville Public Radio story about North Nashville artists, he made his optimism clear: “It’s interesting at the time we’re living in now that the social awareness has risen so our voices are becoming more important. I think it’s a beautiful time right now…It’s a very fertile time for artists…we have a lot to say, a lot to speak about, and to do it through the arts is much more impactful in my opinion.”

As Nashville tunes in to the intersection of art and activism, Metro Arts Commission has been encouraging dialogue about the role of the arts in community building. They just opened up applications for the second Racial Equity in Arts Leadership cadre. The mission of REAL is to “cultivate a shared learning space for Nashville arts leaders to learn and practice new language about race, and to think through larger issues of systematic and institutional racism.”

Since Waters moved out of the Jefferson Street space, it’s been easy to make Art History Class an example of the real-world erasure of communities by gentrification — too easy, in fact. Instead, the salon could be viewed as an example of self-preservation and resistance to gentrification.

Saturday’s Parlour will be a pop-up in McJimsey Center at 2506 Jefferson Street. Get your ticket the “The Parlour” here, and check out how you can support plans for Art History Class’ expansion.

 

Crowdfund a New Take on Classics for Kids

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Meet Bax of Bax Classics. 

A Nashville couple is crowdfunding the first printing of a new collection of classic literature–that’s just for kids! Meet Baxter–Bax for short. Bax is a precocious, inquisitive kid who is a little bored with kids books. Eyeing the dusty, adult classics on the top shelf, Bax dreams of more. Wendy and Steven Martin created a series called Bax Classics that makes these books accessible to kids.

They’ve written and illustrated three volumes already. In each, friends of Bax find themselves in a dilemma “whereupon Bax’s wiley imagination pushes things off the rails, whisking everyone into the wondrous world of a classic!” says the project’s Kickstarter. It’s not so much about retelling the stories precisely, but rather about making the themes and lessons accessible to a new audience with three beautifully illustrated volumes.

For example, Volume 1 centers on a reading classroom that is stuck in a rut of predictability. Bax persuades the teacher to crack open his own copy of Moby Dick, and the class enters a high seas adventure. In  Volume 2, Bax tries to out-scare his sister Hattie by summoning the spectres of Jane Eyre‘s Gateshead and Thornfield. In Volume 3, Bax transforms his friend’s regular old rendering of Cinderella by introducing Dickens’ Abel Magwitch and bringing Great Expectations to life.*

bax friend

Bax’s friend Marla finds an entry point to Great Expectations through her precocious friend.

“With this kid-centered approach,” Wendy Martin explains, “we’re about to bring kids into themes of classic literature while keeping it really relatable, and that’s something we don’t often see in adaptations of classics.” What can little kids learn from the classics? The perils of obsession, the courage it takes to be loved, the unexpected nature of kindness? Yep, and lots more to boot.

Support the project here!

They’ve also worked with educators to create a teaching curriculum that pairs the stories with quotations from the classics themselves, exposing kids to the language of the masters. There will be an app, too!

Their Kickstarter offers generous prizes. At $25, they’ll send you the hardcover of Volume 1 featuring Moby Dick, the PDF, and the curriculum. Educators will love the $75 bundle of all three hardcovers, PDFs, a media enhanced curriculum for classroom use, plus a Bax bookbag.

Like Bax’s Facebook page to stay up to date!

[This blogger one threw a Danbury High School copy of Great Expectations at dear Mrs. Paonessa’s blackboard in the ninth grade and could have used a relatable access point even at the supposedly mature age of 16.]

 

Dyin’ by tha Gun! by Marlos E’van Hosts Closing Reception Friday

Marlos E’van’s “Dyin by the Gun!” received such a warm reception that the artist has arranged for a closing reception this Friday, June 24 at 1808 Buchanan Street from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.

marlos flag

Photo by Courtney Adair Johnson. 

I interviewed E’van a year ago for NYCnash, and this current work is a full evolution of sketches he showed me last June. “Dyin’ by tha Gun!” includes dozens of large scale paintings and sculptures that reflect our society in the wake of the police killings of Black children, men, and women. He comments on issues within Black communities, the militarization of police, and the epidemic of gun violence in America. Many of the works portray black men as monstrous beings, as savages with cartoonishly enlarged facial features meant to invoke fear.

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“Black Myth#2/wanted” by Marlos E’van

It reminded me immediately of the way Darren Wilson described Michael Brown: as a demon, a Hulk Hogan, who “made like a grunting, like aggravated sound.” In a pair of particularly evocatively paintings, a white cop squares his shoulders, his hands on his gun like a cowboy at a shootout. Just feet away on the floor sits a twisted canvas showing a brown monster-like figure with a broad, vacant smile, moving alongside a camp fire. The “noble savage” beside the defensive cop makes for a juxtaposition difficult to ignore. DSC04666

While I usually argue for subtlety of message, E’van’s work is anything but. And I love it for exactly that reason. His big bold paintings hang from vices strung to pipes that are mounted on the walls. The space is in total disrepair. Open electrical sockets and wiring erupt from the dingy, gray walls. The tile floor shows footprints in dust. I think it speaks to the climate of our art scene that a show willing to take on social issues of immediate poignancy be held in a previously-shuttered industrial space. In many, the canvases are not stretched, but hang against the walls with frayed edges and misshapen angles, as if they can’t be contained.

For white people like myself, it may not feel like a joyride, and if you’re looking for an uplifting message, you won’t find it here. Instead, you’ll find a call to personal responsibility. E’van’s work conveys the immediacy of the racism epidemic that has only grown more volatile over time. He insists that we confront our role in racial injustice and police violence. How are we complicit? How are we affected? How are protected by our privilege?

Poet TJ Jarrett Reads at Scarritt Bennett Thursday

Listen to me: If you miss TJ Jarrett reading her poetry at Scarritt Bennett Center Thursday at 7:00 pm, you will regret it for the rest of your life.

How do I know this? My bird brain was absolutely sure that the reading was LAST Thursday. I was in a meeting and didn’t skip out because I am SO IMPORTANT. I felt devastated after. I tweeted my heartbreak at a friend, who told me otherwise. I could have kissed her.

I love being wrong. But don’t be like me. Prioritize poetry in your life.

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Photo by Dennis Wile.

Jarrett’s poetry is magical. I have read Zion, her second collection, published 2014, and spent hours chasing her characters back and forth as their moments wove through Jarrett’s words. There’s Aunt Polly, Cicely Tyson, the ghost of her grandfather, her grandmother, and Theodore Bilbo – U.S. Senator, two-time governor of Mississippi, and KKK member. In Chapter 16, Maria Brown wrote of the Bilbo poems: “There’s a kind of moral passion at work between the two protagonists; the desire to be forgiven is met with an equally powerful, though conflicted, desire to forgive.

Jarrett Ain't No Grave and ZionOne thing I love about Zion is how the poems seem very still, yet have a great deal of movement; a slow-burning anxiety observed through Jarrett’s watchful eyes. For those who love story-poems, there is much to be discovered. Those who prefer the contemplative will find many lines on which to linger. But what I think is a major draw to Jarrett’s poetry is her ability to resist moralizing while telling the truths of the human heart in conflict with both itself and our history. Poet Jean Valentine said of Jarrett’s first collection Ain’t No Grave, “I was more lonely before I heard this voice.”

Jarrett said in an interview with The Atlantic last year:

I believe in redemption. I believe some poems are really prayer. I believe one is called to write poems because God knows it’s not for money. I believe the words move you and not the other way around. I believe that one should submit humbly to hearing what the soul has to say. I’m not terribly religious, but I know some poems come, and I just stand by and attend their journey into the world.

Jarrett lives in Nashville, and in addition to being a poet, she is a software engineer. How dope is that?

The reading will be at Scarritt Bennett Center in Fondren Hall at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 26. Unlike every place else in the Vanderbilt area, Scarritt Bennett has two amazing and free parking lots. Lot A is closest to Fondren. Here is a map of their campus.

 

NORF Wall festival, thoughts on gentrification, and how much I love Roberto Bedoya

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Last fall, a North Nashville artist named Jay Jenkins (a.k.a. Woke3) brought together a dozen artists to transform a vacant lot in North Nashville into a public art space. Jenkins, a recent TSU grad, got a Metro Arts THRIVE grant to commission murals that engaged with social issues. I did a story on the project for Nashville Public Radio here.

Since then, the artists involved have formed the Norf Art Collective, and you can catch them painting again this Saturday, May 21 from 4-8 p.m. Set your GPS for 817 18th Ave. N. It’s under a small bridge on D.B. Todd Jr. Blvd. There will be live music from the Street Band Clan and food trucks, so come hungry. $5 to get in.

What Jenkins is doing is important. North Nashville has a robust visual art community that’s based in the area’s four HBCUs and among business owners and longtime residents. Did you all hear that? THERE’S ALREADY A VISUAL ART SCENE IN NORTH NASHVILLE. So white people, we don’t need to bring one there, OK?

I joke. But not really. I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of artists in gentrification. It’s a TOUGH one, and I do not claim to be exempt from the problem. It seems par for the course now that once (mostly white) artists arrive in a not-yet-gentrified neighborhood, simply seeking cheaper rent and bigger studio space, they change the culture of the neighborhood. When white people see them there, they think, “Oh! It must be safe then! And it’s so authentic!” Soon, developers come, pricing people out of their own homes and policing them for code violations that no one has ever heard of. In Nashville, this appears to be powerful machine that cannot be stopped. But there is much we can do to protect our communities and their inherent vitality.

I’m not trying to blame artists for trying to find a place to make their work. But I think that a city’s so-called “creative economy” and “placemaking” practices very often displace people and impose a sanitized aesthetic. Don’t listen to me though. Roberto Bedoya is an activist and public arts wrangler who has been putting policies in practice that oppose gentrification AND support artists for decades. I have an article coming out about him in Nashville Arts Magazine’s June issue, but I couldn’t wait till then. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Bedoya when he visited Nashville recently (Thanks Scarritt Bennett Center and Metro Arts Commission!) Here’s an essay he wrote! Here’s another! He says:

Placemaking in city/neighborhood spaces enacts identity and activities that allow personal memories, cultural histories, imagination, and feelings to enliven the sense of “belonging” through human and spatial relationships. But a political understanding of who is in and who is out is also central to civic vitality. How do current Creative Placemaking practices support this knowledge?

Right?

It’s my opinion that the work that Jay Jenkins is doing — with artists and organizers like Thaxton Abshalom Waters, Brandon Donahue, Samuel Dunson, Elisheba Israel, Michael Mucker, and more — is what activist Jenny Lee would call creative placekeeping. Bedoya again:

[Placekeeping is] not just preserving the facade of the building but also keeping the cultural memories associated with a locale alive, keeping the tree once planted in the memory of a loved one lost in a war and keeping the tenants who have raised their family in an apartment. It is a call to hold on to the stories told on the streets by the locals, and to keep the sounds ringing out in a neighborhood populated by musicians who perform at the corner bar or social hall.

So I don’t know what role artists play in gentrification and disenfranchisement of a rapidly growing city’s original residents. I want to know. I want to think about it and talk to people. Norf Wall Collective appears to be a group of artists who are making bold strokes in North Nashville. Follow them on Instagram @norfstudios. Follow Jay Jenkins @woke3.

Love & Friendship, Tickled at NaFF both made me cry laughing

You haven’t heard from me since winter when I curled up into my snail shell and went to sleep. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about making my arts coverage more intentional and re-focusing on arts activism in Nashville. Lots of great stuff coming soon.

It’s spring time now and I have awakened and stretched my little snail body to the sky just in time for Nashville Film Festival. Check out the Scene’s coverage here; I contributed to the New Directors award category. My favorites were To Keep the Light, The Fits, Banana, and The Elk. It’s a great category with some top notch women in director and lead actress roles.

I’ll have some suggestions for you in a bit, but here’s very quick a run-down of Day 1.

Whether you’re a fangirl of Jane Austen or not, Love & Friendship is a must-see this year. The place: England. The time: 1790s. The woman: Lady Susan, played pitch-perfect by Kate Beckinsale, who, following the death of her husband, arrives “destitute” at her brother-in-law’s countryside home. Susan is beautiful, sharp, and cunning, employing exhausting (and dazzling) linguistic acrobatics to get her way. She defends her sense of superiority to her confidant Alicia (Chloe Sevigny) so earnestly that it’s easy to see why nearly everyone falls for her. An incorrigible flirt and irredeemable gossip, Lady Susan never falters. She is mired in a society where without a husband of some standing, she and her daughter must be dependent on relatives and friends. Hating her is easy. Admiring her much more fulfilling. love and friendship

Directed by Whit Stillman (Metropolitan), Love & Friendship boasts a vibrant supporting cast. Xavier Samuel plays Reginald DeCourcy, the attractive young man Susan seeks to engage. Samuel is perfect in the role of a gullible, love-struck heir, and Emma Greenwell plays his sister, who leads the family in opposing the courtship. Among the best, however, are Justin Edwards, playing a clueless Charles Vernon, who has some hilarious one-liners; Morfydd Clark, playing Susan’s daughter, the meek Frederica who is most tortured by her mother’s manipulations; and Tom Bennett, playing Sir James Marin, whose antics brought down the house.

Innuendo and euphemism also come to feel like characters because they show up so frequently and with such success. The script, written by Stillman and based on Jane Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan, is jam packed with unpredictable turns of phrase, usually delivered by Beckinsale, who is – as I mentioned – sheer perfection. I skipped out of the theater to Table 3 – where I sucked down a bowl of creamy risotto – and then headed back to the cinema.

New Zealand journalist David Farrier goes down a bizarre rabbit hole in Tickled, a new documentary that was praised at Sundance. It starts when Farrier discovers a Facebook page for Endurance Tickling Reality Competitions. Initial research heeds several videos of high school age, white, athletic boys straddling each other – sometimes 4 on 1 – and tickling.

His curiosity piqued, he writes the page owner, Jane O’Brien Media, requesting an interview. What follows alters his life and sends him and  co-director Dylan Reeve on a mission into this strange subculture that they can hardly believe exists. tickled

The premise itself is so funny –  whenever Farrier said the word “tickling” I died laughing – that I couldn’t put the extent of what they uncovered into perspective until the ride home. What first appears to be a harmless kink folds out like a pop-up book about exploitation, manipulation, and forgery that’s up there with cult documentaries. Farrier is so pleasant that when Jane O’Brien Media sends three lawyers to threaten him in New Zealand, he greets them with a cheerful, rainbow welcome sign at the airport. Jane O’Brien’s people are a strange mix of pleasant and accusatory, as if they aren’t on the same page, and as soon as they leave for L.A., Farrier and Reeve follow them.

As the story unfolds, the directors interview young men who agreed to be in tickling videos but whose privacy was violated when Jane O’Brien Media broke contract and made their videos public. When one man successfully petitioned YouTube to take his down, Jane O’Brien unleashed a Scientology-level-crazy doxing that has followed him for years. Unable to find “Jane,” the filmmakers look into other ticklers and find themselves tracing a history of videos dating back to dial-up. Farrier and Reeve masterfully balance teeth-gritting suspense with the utter silliness of the topic in a way that allows the film to have multiple impacts. First, there are dozens of hilarious moments found in looks and gestures throughout the documentary. Farrier’s unobtrusive narration provides structure and amplifies the sleuth-like feel. It’s also a nail-bitter; as the directors zero in on “Jane,” we live the suspense with them. Finally, it’s guerrilla-style investigative journalism at its best, as Farrier and Reeve take their small crew back and forth between New Zealand and New York, chipping away at the truth.

Tickled plays again on Friday at 12:30 p.m., is playing at many festivals in the next couple of months and will be released in the U.S. on June 24.

Love & Friendship opens May 13.

Today, I’m seeing Little Men and Sing Street. Much to my dismay, the regular world does not stop during NaFF, but I plan on seeing as many films as humanly possible. I’ll report back!

 

 

 

 

 

Red Arrow Gallery Kickstarter Closes in 2.5 Hours

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Installation shot of Daniel Holland’s Dirty Pictures. Red Arrow Gallery, 2015.

Red Arrow Gallery has shown exciting work at its Riverside Village location over the past year since it relocated from Joshua Tree, California to Nashville. The property they rented in East Nashville was sold recently, and they’ve got a new home at 919 Gallatin Avenue. But, the space needs a lot of work to outfit it as a gallery. Today is the last day of their Kickstarter to raise the reasonable amount of $10,000 in this effort. It ends at 5:00 p.m.

Red Arrow has worked with kids at Maplewood High School and Isaac Litton Middle, and its staff says they want the gallery to be approachable to people who have never stepped foot in one before. I hope they’ll continue their community outreach arm in their new location, because the arts are too often complicit in gentrification. They also do a great artist talk series hosted by Joe Nolan. I love artist talks and will definitely make more of them in the coming year.

In the meantime, OZ is hosting them until the end of the year.

They hope to re-open at the new spot in January. Give here if you’re able.

A Morning Talk with Vadis Turner

Vadis Turner. "Daybreak."

Vadis Turner. “Daybreak.”

Saturday morning, Vadis Turner will give a talk at David Lusk Gallery. Turner’s exhibition “Time of Day” has been showing at DLG and this will be your last chance to see it. Turner’s work is as thoughtful and it is beautiful. It’s also decidedly feminist; Turner explores traditional women’s work with textiles and asks viewers to consider how value labor. I got to write some words about “Time of Day” for Nashville Scene. Read it here.

Where: David Lusk Gallery, 516 Hagan Street

When: Saturday, November 14; 11:30 a.m.

Bonus: Next to Dozen Bakery. Yum.

Modular Art Pods: Open Call for Submissions Closing in Fast

From the pod of Adrienne Newman.

From the pod of Adrienne Newman.

Remember last February’s Modular Art Pods show that took place at Abrasive Media and was created by my then-boyfriend-now-husband Tony Youngblood? The Nashville Scene called it the year’s best pop-up installation, and it’s returning next year and will be bigger and better! The show will be at OZ Arts from June 21-24, 2016, and the call for submissions is closing in fast on November 18, 2015. That’s Wednesday, people!

From the pod of Molly Lahym and Dylan Elhier.

From the pod of Molly Lahym and Dylan Elhier.

The MAPs website has everything you need to know about building a pod. This time around, there will also be pre-built performance pods that will add a new dimension to the deal. Here’s my photo gallery and Stephen Trageser’s video from February to inspire you.  The application is pretty basic and he’ll definitely work with you if your project grows legs and evolves between now and then.

Apply here! Good luck!

Last Day to Donate to Locate Arts

tennessee logoQuick post. Locate Arts, which I told you about back in March, is on its final day of a Kickstarter that would support its first year of operations costs. This is your last chance, and yes, they have to meet their goal to get even one red cent that’s been pledged.

If you’ve ever said the following, you owe it to yourself to donate.

  1. “Nashville doesn’t support the arts.”
  2. “There isn’t enough critical writing about art in Nashville.”
  3. “I wish I knew what was happening in Knoxville, or Memphis, or Chattanooga, or any little arts enclave in Tennessee.”
  4. “Not enough people buy art in Nashville. How can I make a living?”
  5. “Screw this. I’m going to New York/L.A. where I can see “cutting edge” contemporary art.”

As far as I can tell, you don’t get to complain about Nashville’s art scene if you don’t give to this campaign. Here’s how Locate Arts will help you personally.

  1. If you’re an artist: Locate Arts will have a statewide artist registry with links to your website or gallery. It will be user-friendly, beautiful, and connect you to people within and outside of Tennessee. It will also list all contemporary art exhibitions in the whole damn state. Your practice will be more sustainable because see number 2.
  2. If you are an arts patron: Whether you have the money to purchase art or not, making us art outward facing will bring more artists to Tennessee. It will promote contemporary art in Tennessee to the rest of the country (and beyond!) so that art buyers will put us on their map. More artists will make their home in our cities. Our creative economies will pick up. That means more art events for those of us (ME!) who can’t afford to buy art much.
  3. Umm…if they get off to a good start financially, Locate Arts can start thinking about a Tennessee biennial, which let’s admit would be fucking great.
  4. If you are a gallery owner or curator: See 1-3.

Finally, we will harness the energy of our art scenes across the state, creating more collaborations, more support, more cross-pollination in writing, event-planning, and contact. Here are some things I wrote after I visited Memphis for 24 hours. There’s so much to see and do. Locate Arts will open doors, and behind these doors, we’ll find enrichment and happiness.

If you don’t want to listen to me, listen to Lain York, lifelong Nashvillian, artist, and curator of Zeitgeist: “More communication between the studio communities is crucial and directly affects regional museums, academic programs, state and city arts commissions, commercial galleries, and independent artist-run initiatives. Conduits like these industry hubs will have a more articulate sense of what artists are doing to pass along to supporting constituencies. The initial conversations of LOCATE Arts are already giving contemporary art a higher profile in Tennessee.”

So donate to the Kickstarter today! Even $10 bucks helps. And if have more to spend, you can get artwork from local geniuses like Jodi Hays, Karen Seapker, Shana Kohnstamm, and more from around Tennessee.