Move over Asheville?

Art galleries begin to find homes in downtown Maryville

If you were looking for an art gallery in downtown Maryville at the beginning of the holiday season last year, you had one choice: Heath Claiborne Gallery at the Capitol Theatre.

In the past 90 days three new art galleries have opened in downtown Maryville, swelling the number of galleries dedicated to exhibiting, selling and promoting the arts to five.

When downtown dreamers formulate what they would like to see downtown Maryville become known for, the lists are always varied. Antiques, fine restaurants, jazz and blues.

Nine times out of 10, however, the list includes “arts.”

Last Friday Art Walk had the audacity to start in January of 2007 and has continued every month since without regard to weather, holidays or nay-sayers. The growth in attendance and the sharpening of focus for the Art Walk has grown each month -- and January wasn’t such a bad month either..

Now there are five art galleries on the streets of downtown Maryville representing a plethora of styles, media, price ranges and artists. The foot traffic keeps increasing, which only makes every other type of business grow as well.

ArtSpace Gallery

Karen Brackett, exhibit chair for Fine Arts Blount, said it seems that with the influence of the Last Friday Art Walk that FAB member and Maryville Arts Coalition event chair Katie Gamble has spearheaded since January, art has come to the forefront in the community.

“Overnight we’re becoming an arts town,” said Brackett. “Blount County is ready for it. When Katie Gamble started Art Walk, she brainstormed and visited all the businesses and got it going. It just opened lots of doors. Other art communities in the country have art walks once a month, and it seems like it is working really well here.”

Brackett said she wrote Gamble a letter about how the Art Walk has impacted Blount County. “We were ready for something to do in the evening and having an art walk has done that. We have places to go and something do besides hanging out in smoky bars, There is more to see and do,” Brackett said. “I’m surprised at the number of people who are taking art classes.”

FAB first opened in the bottom of Dandy Lions, the former Red Cross Building. When space on East Broadway became available, they moved to increase their visibility, opening their new gallery ArtSpace Gallery on Halloween. Since then they have already had several art workshops for adults and children with one themed around Christmas cards, Brackett said.

The new space has helped FAB’s membership also. “We’ve had half a dozen new members since we opened here,” she said.

Brackett said she hopes the art scene only continues to grow in Blount County. “What I would like to see is Blount County become known as an art town that people need to stop and see,” she said. “I’d like to see it in travel brochures as the place to stop on the way to the Smokies: Stop in downtown Maryville and visit Gallery Row.”

Katie Kinney, manager at Preservation Plaza, is incoming FAB president. She said that for a long time there wasn’t a major gallery in this area of the Tennessee. “I think one of the reasons that Last Fridays are going so well and galleries in general are doing well is because the general population wants this and needs this,” she said. “They’re learning and growing and seeing lots of things they’ve never seen before.”

Pam Broockman is outgoing president of FAB and she said FAB led the way in the art movement when they opened their ArtSpace gallery at 302 Church Ave., in the basement of Dandy Lions. “We went out on a wing and a prayer to do that, and it took off and became very successful. Lots of people came in and noticed our gallery,” she said.

Broockman said FAB helped launch the Artwalk with member Katie Gamble, but soon turned it over to her and a non-profit she formed to manage the artwalk.

“We talked and agreed it was a little much for FAB to handle,” she said.

In addition to ArtSpace Gallery, FAB members are doing outreach programs at the Everett Learning Center with Carol Smith. They’re also working with stroke victims and seniors at Morningview and Blount Memorial. “We’ve had quite a few instructors in our group and, when Artwalk got started, there was a good pool of artists to choose from when businesses needed artists to be part of the event,” she said.

Broockman said the art galleries are something that is needed. “It enriches the lives of people in the community,” she said. “It also is an inspiration to the young people and the up-and-coming artists.”

Pistol Creek Gallery Fine Art and Gifts

Artist Heather Whiteside opened her Pistol Creek Gallery on Sept. 6 and said foot traffic has gradually increased. As local people learn about the gallery, they’re making it a point to come in as see what it is all about, she said.

“The reception from the locals has been very positive,” she said.

Whiteside, a California native who has been an artist for 20 years and has lived in Maryville for one year said when she had already decided to come to downtown Maryville when the Last Friday Art Walk kicked off.

“The Art Walk more like a bonus,” she said. “I was already on this path. It was a coincidence that this place was available when it was. It made sense to me, and the Art Walk was another reason for me to go.”

Whiteside said she has confidence in the clientele in Blount County. “After being in Maryville one year, I have a better sense of the people here and the client base and what I felt I could do marketing wise,” she said. “I felt it could fly and I think it will continue to fly. I’ve done well so far, and I expect to only continue to grow.”

Galleries, said Whiteside, help make an area a destination spot. “You’ve got to have an attraction. For some and for some towns, it is roller coasters. Where I see this town, I see arts. Hopefully it will continue to go that direction -- arts, culture, music venues and great restaurants,” she said. “What will follow will be more antique shops and retailers, and this will become a great stop for any one passing though. This is a gorgeous place to be.”

Arts.Alive

When Fine Arts Blount moved a block away, Lyda Plemons, a FAB member, decided to claim the space at 302 Church Ave. for her own. On Nov. 14 she cut the ribbon for Arts.Alive, and Maryville had another new gallery.

Plemons sees her gallery not only as a venue for exhibits and sales, but as a learning center vor children and adults. She and other artists offer classes, workshops and an area set aside just for kids.

The gallery will be open 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. There will be Monday evening classes for children and, on Fridays, the Young Masters in Art for teens class will be held. This will involve a social time from 5 to 6 p.m. each Friday, followed by a study of an old master’s works and then a time to duplicate each respective master’s art. “They’ll work in a variety of mediums, including inks, pastels, oils and water colors, whatever the master used,” she said. “Then they’ll study the history of the old masters.”

Plemons said the goal was simple. “We wanted to create an environment to use our talents to enrich our children and individuals in the community in a friendly, relaxed setting and enjoying art as it was meant to be enjoyed,” she said.

Plemons said she’ll teach oil painting to adults while Gloria Nelson will teach acrylics, Rosa Tellis will lead textile postcard classes and, in January, Annamarie Gundloch will teach a class in clay for children.

Plemons said when FAB moved out of the, she knew it was the opportunity she had been waiting for. “It was a vision I had had for a long time, a place where we could have classes where people could come,” she said.

Plemons said she also appreciates the history and architecture of the building that once housed a library and the Red Cross. “We have an original desk from when the library was still here,” she said. “Hopefully we can find out more about the history of the building.

Broadway Galleries

Nestled in the lower level of Preservation Plaza is a jewel for art lovers in Blount County.

Broadway Galleries Art Exhibit opened at the former bank building on Oct. 23

Katie Kinney said opening a gallery geared toward Blount County artists was a step she and Preservation Plaza owners Teresa and Doug Horn felt was natural as downtown was being revitalized. Art is strength in Blount County. “We have so many talented artists in so many different mediums,” Kinney said. “The goal of this particular gallery is to be a full-time gallery.”

The gallery is available for students from Maryville College and University of Tennessee who need to have a showing to graduate. Kinney said she hopes Maryville becomes to art galleries what Clinton is to antique stores. “If you want to visit art galleries, why can’t Maryville be that spot where they happens?,” she said.

Kinney, Teresa and Doug Horn picked the six female artists on display now. Each artist is a Blount County resident. The next big exhibit at the gallery will be in mid-January when the artwork will celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and coincide with Black History Month.

Hours are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Last Fridays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The opening featured award-winning local artists Diann Lewis-Bishop, Susan Birdwell, Katie Gamble, Kinney and Gloria Nelson.

Heath Claiborne Gallery

Local artist Heath Claiborne opened his gallery in 2002 and much has changed since that first day. “When I opened my gallery in 2002, we only had half a dozen people walk in the entire day,” he said. “A a Last Friday Art Walks, we’ll typically have more than 100 people come in easily. There is more and more foot traffic.”

Claiborne said he’s had dozens of people over the last few years ask to hang artwork at his place. “I didn’t have enough room or time to dedicate to do that for them. Now there are other options for local artists,” he said.

Young artists who are local and have never displayed need people willing to show their art. “That’s important for them. That gives them confidence. It can be very encouraging to them,” Claiborne said.

Claiborne said supporters of the arts are happy with the new galleries in town. “There are lots of people interested in art and we are so happy they can go to their own hometown and see local art produced there,” he said.

Claiborne said downtown to the older generation was a happening place years ago before malls and shopping centers became prevalent and residents could only watch as downtown disintegrated. “It’s exciting to them to see things start to be cleaned back up. I think that’s why everybody is on board. That’s why momentum was able to be gained for this entire downtown rejuvenation,” he said. “Ultimately, it takes private individuals to make it happen.”

Downtown Association

Downtown Association chair Erin Hall said having the galleries available gives the long-term support needed for artists to make a living.

“Downtowns don’t achieve that level of success with their artists until you have that long-term support with the galleries. The artists need a home,” she said. “They need a location for visitors to see their work, whether they’re tourists or local persons. That’s when the art movement really takes off,” she said.

Hall there aren’t as many artists here now as there will be in the near future. “I’ve seen a lot of potential this year,”

The interest spills over to other parts of town as well, said Keith Elrod, a local artist who has a gallery in South Maryville. “As one of many artist that Maryville has claim to, I can tell you that the local blossoming of galleries has been a huge boost to all of our local artists,” Elrod said. “The people of Maryville and Blount County are now discovering it’s local artists who might not have been known before. I really hear a lot of comments now about people discovering our local art and how wonderful it is to have places to find that art, not to mention the high caliber of art that is right here in our backyards.”

Last Friday Art Walk

Last Friday Art Walk founder Katie Gamble said creating a community that made the city attractive to art galleries was the “whole plan” all along. “The whole idea was to make an arts community where people would want to come in and open a gallery that was very inviting to the artists,” she said of Last Friday Art Walk.

“While the Art Walk supports the arts, having galleries sell, promote and market the arts is another key factor for creating a really stable arts community and cultural hub, which is our goal for Maryville,” she said.

The arts bring people and businesses to town. “It’s good for the community. They benefit from new art and business, and it’s good for the commerce of our city and town. I think it’s great,” Gamble said.

Mayor Joe Swann said the secret to a good downtown is mixed use. “You need to have different things, including retail, restaurants, clothing shops, entertainment venues,” he said. “The great thing is it’s been real gratifying the number of different places that have opened. Art galleries are a huge attraction -- a huge quality attraction.”

Swann said Fine Arts Blount and Katie Gamble work hard to foster art in the community. “Katie Gamble and the FAB group have a done great job of calling attention to that and getting people to the event,” he said.

Events like Last Friday Art Walk and the Maryville Farmer’s Market really make downtown work, said Swann. “Last Friday is amazing. What an event that has turned into!” he said. “You stir all that around, and what you’ve got is a downtown with a real future. Art galleries are wonderful, wonderful part of that.”

For more on the gallery openings, see next week’s Blount Today.

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