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VOL. 36 | NO. 32 | Friday, August 10, 2012

Art Crawl patrons bring life to downtown

By Hollie Deese

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When Anne Brown opened The Arts Company on Fifth Avenue in downtown Nashville 16 years ago, there wasn’t exactly a thriving arts community. In fact, there wasn’t much of anything going on down there at all.

“When I moved down here, it was me and the wig shops,” Brown says. Still, she was able to bring 300-400 people to her space for monthly Sunday events that showcased new and contemporary artists.

“That was miraculous because no one ever came downtown,” Brown says.

Over time, more visual arts visionaries joined Brown downtown. Six years ago this month, The Arts Company and 15 other galleries decided to begin a monthly event. “At that point, there were enough of us to do that.”

Since then, on the first Saturday of every month, a diverse group of patrons hit the Arcade and Fifth Avenue corridor for the First Saturday Art Crawl. It might not draw the size crowd of a Predators game, but the numbers are not insignificant. Brown says an average of 1,500 people attend each month. “It is amazing.”

The diverse crowd has plenty of young people, who may be there more for the scene than to spend money on a piece of artwork, but that’s OK with gallery owners who hope these lookers become future patrons of the arts.

“What is great about the art crawl is that you have young people coming through the space and looking at the work,” says Blend Studio owner Ben Vitualla. Located in the arcade, Vitualla features a different artist every month to keep it interesting and give exposure to the number of local artists in town.

The Nashville Downtown Partnership provides shuttle service among the galleries every art crawl, and Crissey Cassetty with the NDP says about 400-600 people take advantage of the free service each month. It’s the type of event they like to see serving the area and recently invested in temporary performance platforms that they set up to showcase activities on the street.

“We help promote what each gallery is doing,” Cassetty says. “We have had bands, coffee baristas, jugglers, frozen ice vendors, magicians. It is just another way to really activate the street during that great event.”

House of Pizza has been open in the Arcade for 28 years but never really had a strong Saturday business, catering mainly to the lunchtime work crowd. But after a few years of watching the event grow, owner Manny Macca is now open every art crawl until 10 p.m. He even makes a specialty white pizza with spinach, tomatoes and ricotta just for the evening.

“It doesn’t stay there but five minutes,” he says. ‘There is a crowd of people, and they all want a part of it. Saturday is not a busy day, and this doubles up the day.”

Ron Sweeney gallery in The Arcade

Cassetty says it’s normal for restaurants in that part of town to only do lunch. “They want to capture that crowd,” she says. “A lot of them advertise specials at different galleries.”

Brown, who used to organize the Summer Lights festival in the 80s, says she is pleased with the attention downtown is getting from people who live right here, and also happy with the exposure artists are receiving.

“You get to see a lot of neat things,” she says. “There is just no other opportunity like that where you see such a diverse batch of artwork from all kinds of artists. And there it is, every month, brand new. I think that is pretty exciting.”

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