Nashville holds first Artville fair, putting 'Music City' on the map for visual arts

Andrés Bustamante, a 33-year-old artist in Nashville, is seen in front of his installation at Artville on Friday. Photo by Adam Schrader/UPI
1 of 7 | Andrés Bustamante, a 33-year-old artist in Nashville, is seen in front of his installation at Artville on Friday. Photo by Adam Schrader/UPI

NASHVILLE, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Nashville held its first Artville fair this weekend, putting "Music City" on the map for the visual arts, while raising concerns about the growing pains for artists in a city that is rapidly developing.

"Nashville has been attempting to catch its breath. It's where art starved in a way," said Andrés Bustamante, a 33-year-old artist in Nashville.


He called Artville "a breath of fresh air."

"There are leading contemporary art galleries and there have been several impactful shows," he added. "But Nashville has been ignored by the bigger art world for a long time."

Bustamante's work at Artville Friday featured inflatables that hurried parents tried to keep their kids from climbing, as he told them it was fine and encouraged the children to engage with the bouncy-house-like work.

He believes the issues for Nashville's artists are "much deeper" than just lack of exposure and include housing prices and few resources for artists.


Derrick Adams, a New York-based artist who recently debuted with Gagosian in Los Angeles, kicked off the event with a talk held in the neighborhood of Wedgewood-Houston.

Places outside New York like Nashville have their own culture that has already been formed and operating, Adams told UPI, but "commerce that helps to drive those creative cultures are not so available to cities that have experienced levels of economic trauma."

"But the creative community has always been really centered in healing cities and creating revenue streams," Adams said.

Real estate developers and civic engagement

Samantha Saturn, one of Artville's two co-founders, has long operated Nashville's American Artisan Festival that her mother, Nancy Saturn, started decades ago to celebrate handcrafts. It is now just one part of Artville.

"There weren't very many places that had anything artistic in that sense so she was a bit of a pioneer," Samantha Saturn said.

The artisan festival shows that Nashville "has had art sensibilities" for a long time, she said.

In 2010, her mother became sick with breast cancer and asked her daughter to care for her. She then handed off the operation of the fair to her daughter, who was living in New York at the time.


She hopes the American Artisan Festival becomes to Artville what some of the satellite shows have become to big fairs like Miami's Art Basel.

"I imagine that you could make space for both," she said. "I sort of imagine that there would be tracks of different programming potentially that could serve to sort of engage different types of art enthusiasts."

Saturn said the first call she made after deciding to start Artville was to her co-founder, Jack Davis -- head of the Nashville-based firm Good Neighbor Festivals. Davis handled Artville's production, including working with the city and developers to plan the event.

"Nashville has had a lot of growth very rapidly and some neighborhoods haven't had as much attention. I would say Wedgewood-Houston hasn't had as much attention," Saturn said. "The opportunity for us to bring community engagement and art to a neighborhood like this is important to the city."

When Saturn began conversations about where to host Artville, she contacted AJ Capital Partners -- a developer in Nashville that was "immediately" on board. Saturn said Artville could not have happened without developers because "you need real estate" to host people.

"We all have the same mission but they really did leave us to do our job,'" Saturn said.


Davis said people have talked about creating a civic art fair in Nashville for a while but that "a lot of stuff" serendipitously came together that led to Artville.

"The goal is for us to engage Nashville and to get Nashville to come out to support the arts," Davis said. "But if we do our job correctly, that will in turn bring in tourism, it will, in turn, bring people into the city."

Partnering with Nashville's Convention and Visitors Corporation was "a huge component of this event" and the city government "has been behind us from day one," she said.

"The city and developers are creating spaces for these events and for this art to take place but they need kind of a trigger [to do more]," Davis said. "In a lot of other cities, the trigger has been a large-scale festival to show the city that it is a hub of arts."

In the long run, Davis hopes Nashville can create spaces affordable for artists.

"We look at similar-sized cities that have festivals that are turning decades old. Those festivals help define neighborhoods and they define kind of what that neighborhood vibe is," he said. "Nashville for the most part doesn't have that."


Fitting art into Music City

Saturn said many people want to visit Nashville to have a "different experience" from just Music City -- people interested in the visual arts.

"We have a real economic impact opportunity here. Our galleries, our artists, our creatives, I think need exposure on a larger level, like any city and their creators," she said. "I want to make sure that people here, the galleries, are like any other wonderful gallery in any other city."

Saturn always had a stage with musicians at the American Artisan Festival for three days to showcase singer-songwriters. This year, Artville had a stage in what is known as the "Outfield" outside Live Nation offices. But she said she "can do more with music in future years."

"I'd like to believe we can do more with culinary arts too," she said. "Nashville's community of chefs and restaurateurs and the food purveyors here are such an important part of our brand too."

An art installation using projectors on the side of a building is seen during the Art After Dark event for Artville in Nashville on Friday. Photo by Adam Schrader/UPI

Clarence Edward, curator and owner of CE Gallery and Cecret by CE Gallery, said that during the pandemic, a lot of artists he worked with were musicians unable to travel.


"That's why it's so important in Nashville because the idea, the essence, the energy of art and expression is here, it's been here forever," he said.

Saturn said part of the draw of this year's festival is that the installations are not permanent.

"You have to go because like if you missed it, then you missed it," she said. "You didn't get to see it."

Galleries and adapting to a changing landscape

Edward said he works with commercial real estate companies to "activate vacant and unique spaces" to create art exhibitions citywide.

"We have the talent, we have the skills, we have a lot of infrastructure -- mostly music -- but we need press and media to come down and actually do their research and help us discover artists. We don't have press and media," he said.

Julia Martin, a city native and one of the first to open a major gallery in Nashville, has been operating hers in a building owned by a friend for more than a decade.

"The footprint of the gallery was sort of his bachelor pad while he oversaw a renovation of recording studios downstairs," Martin said. "He's got like his dream set up down there now."


Martin, an artist herself, said she long had studios all in what is now "basically the footprint of Soho House" -- a private club that seeks to build communities for artists.

"It was heaven. It was so fun and there was a lot of like, cross-pollination and cool stuff that would happen down there," Martin said, adding that affordable workspaces for artists "just doesn't exist anymore."

Martin, singling out AJ Capital Partners, said developers now own "most of the neighborhood" which made artists feel they had to "brace for the worst."

"But they are trying to be responsible, and, Soho House has been incredibly supportive of the local artist community, which is really cool," Martin said.

"Being born and raised here, I've really struggled with trying to let go of resentment. I appreciate the kind of frustration about it and really have had to start trying to look at Nashville with my own fresh perspective and I like really embracing how I am now a tourist in my own hometown."

Martin said she plans to alter her gallery hours next year because of the growth in the neighborhood.

"I am looking to open up the hours more as the neighborhood has been growing and the foot traffic gets more and more, but it kind of converts into my painting studio during the week," she said.


"The art scene over here is really having, it's having a beautiful moment right now."

Robin Singer, a Nashville resident who visited Martin's gallery Saturday, told UPI she never really explored Wedgewood-Houston.

"I love art and it's a lovely day. It's an option to explore," she said. "I already associated this neighborhood with art. It has more of a local feel and I'm not seeing bachelorette parties around here."

The outsider perspective

Rachel Hayes is an installation and textile artist in Tulsa, Okla., and the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, residencies and fellowships for her contributions to sculpture. Her installations have been shown in exhibits around the world, including Turkey and Italy.

Hayes was living in New York when she decided to leave and ultimately took part in the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, settling in Oklahoma seven years ago.

"I've got kids so it felt really good to move to that size city. After moving around, it's kind of nice to settle down," she said.

Hayes called Tulsa's art scene "still blossoming" like Nashville which allows for an artist to make more of their own mark on the local culture. The concern is whether those artists are able to partake in the greater dialogue that's happening within art in cities like New York and Los Angeles.


She said the economic opportunities in New York and other cities "have greater possibilities for an artist to make a living" but artists in other parts of the country can feel a greater sense of freedom from the pressures of trying to show work in a gallery.

"If they're not having the opportunities to exhibit in galleries in New York or whatever, I guess that's what's awesome about the internet," she said. "A lot of my opportunities opened up by sharing work online."

How artists can help themselves

Charles DuVernay and his fiancé Jennie Wimbish make handcrafted Mardi Gras costumes that have turned into high art. The DuVernay Collective deconstructs the costumes and, instead of putting them in storage, deconstructs and sells the costumes off in pieces.

"The reason to deconstruct them is to give a second life to those. You'll wear them on your suit two or three times a year. Then you might have it hanging in your home and a few years later the feathers wilt and you deconstruct the suit anyway," he said.

He said the idea to display those pieces came from a New York gallery that the pair, from New Orleans, are affiliated with. It is his second year selling his costumes as art.


"Artists have got to get a little more business-minded about themselves. They kind of just throw it out there and then they give up," he said.

"Then the people that are into it will give the artist 20% and take 80% or buy a piece that cost $8,000 to make for $500."

Adams said exploitation can happen when artists make a sale or exchange services. He acknowledged that can be an issue for rising creatives sought out by national-level galleries.

"That's something we definitely consider when you are a creative person in a certain community that dealing with hardship and trying to be more present in a community," Adams said.

"That has to be addressed from a higher level in certain cities because more people may get exploited through desperation put in place by the structure around them," he added. "Support overall in every city is about coming from the top down to create a certain level of stability."

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