Nashville’s First Saturday Art Crawl came creeping to life eight years ago when a collection of newbie galleries in the Arcade joined forces with the commercial art spaces on Fifth Avenue to create a monthly one-stop art event that shifted the gravity of the city’s art scene. Today, the crawl is as good as it’s ever been — the Arcade is one of the best places in Nashville to find work that’s involved in the same conversation that’s happening in art centers like New York and Los Angeles, and a $1.5 million facelift has transformed Fifth Avenue into a street that looks worthy of the name Avenue of the Arts.
That said, First Saturdays experienced a noticeable tremor a year ago when the Arts & Music at Wedgewood-Houston scene hitched its wagonload of events to the same monthly date. Was this cooperation? Was this competition? Was this just a smart attempt to take advantage of an established event? The decision created lots of questions, so I went to Fort Houston co-founder Zach Duensing for answers. We revisited that conversation in a recent phone interview.
“There are positive and negative reasons for doing it the same night or doing our events on a different night,” says Duensing. “A year ago there was more friction between downtown and what we were just starting. But now I hear they’re doing bigger numbers than ever before.”
Anne Brown’s The Arts Company was the first art gallery on Fifth Avenue, and it continues to be a cornerstone of the downtown scene.
“In my view,” says Brown, “the Wedgewood-Houston art scene expansion in a revitalized, up-and-coming neighborhood is a good and welcome enterprise. The Fifth Avenue First Saturday model has been successful enough that other neighborhoods have created their own versions, some on the same night, and some on other nights of the month. This added excitement about the visual arts in Nashville seems to only increase the numbers during the First Saturday Downtown Art Crawl, as well as in the galleries on a daily basis.”
Susan Tinney’s TAG took part in the inaugural Art Crawl, and her current gallery, Tinney Contemporary, received my endorsement as Best Fifth Avenue Gallery in last year’s Best of Nashville issue.
“Today, the visual arts scene in Nashville is growing exponentially, with new galleries in every neighborhood, including downtown and Wedgewood-Houston,” says Tinney. “Our event and their event are very different in nature, but with one commonality — both being on the same night. Personally, I wish they could be on separate evenings, not only because I would like to attend their event, but because others who want to attend each of our events would not have to choose between one or the other. I’m very excited about the growing art scene in Nashville, and look forward to continued collaboration with and support of our Wedgewood-Houston neighbors. More galleries are good for everyone interested in this growing artistic community.”
Across the street from The Arts Company, the current galleries in the Arcade represent the best collection of venues the space has ever hosted, and the edgy, challenging, academic work they show is the closest analog to the Wedgewood-Houston scene you’ll find downtown. Tom Williams is an art history professor at Watkins, and he’s been the go-to guy at both Coop and WAG, two of the Arcade’s strongest galleries.
“The center of gravity seems to have shifted,” says Williams. “The combination of two serious galleries — Zeitgeist and David Lusk — along with a number of small-scale not-for-profits makes the downtown area seem a bit staid, particularly because the spaces in Wedgewood-Houston are often larger and more open for experimentation. I’d also say that the simultaneous openings have only increased the frenetic pace of the Art Crawl, as people race through the galleries downtown before moving onto Wedgewood-Houston or vice versa.”
The Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood has hosted a simmering art scene for years, but Zeitgeist’s move to that location last summer put the match to the explosion of venues and events that have come to define First Saturday in the other part of town. Zeitgeist’s Lain York is a dedicated proponent of being a part of First Saturday.
“We’re fortunate to have the resources we do in Wedgewood-Houston,” he says. “But now Green Hills has a gallery scene, Midtown is changing, East Nashville is getting more art spaces. Wedgewood/Houston and downtown are going to end up being thought of as the same area — the fact that Ground Floor already moved to Fourth Avenue South is just the beginning. We’ve always wanted to see a citywide celebration on First Saturday.”
The best of times? The worst of times? The times — and this city — they are a-changin’.
This story originally appeared in the Nashville Scene.