Kingsport's Renaissance: John Vachon
"If Abingdon is the next big arts 'town,' Kingsport is the next big art 'city.' "
By ANGELA WAMPLER | A! MAGAZINE FOR THE ARTS | August 25, 2009IN HIS OWN WORDS: JOHN VACHON
Our region is rapidly becoming an arts destination for tourists, offering arts and cultural events from Abingdon, Va., to Jonesborough, Tenn., with Kingsport right in the middle as the hub or core for visitors to stay, shop, and dine. All of the development that is occurring makes Kingsport not only a great place for visitors to use as a "home base," but also is attractive to people moving to the area.
Downtown Kingsport is certainly "on the map" as far as arts and arts organizations. If Abingdon is the next big art "town," Kingsport is the next big art "city." It has, by far, the largest downtown in the region at 210 acres, compared to 77 for Johnson City and 35 for Bristol. This provides unlimited growth potential, which most recently has been geared toward the arts and education.
Historically, the downtown was planned as the center of the city, and its recent renaissance now provides cultural opportunities such as free weekly concerts on Thursday and Friday nights, a Sculpture Walk that is now in its third year that has brought 30-40 major sculptures to Kingsport, and the addition of several art studios and galleries. This is significant in the fact that Kingsport has more public art than cities with two to three times larger populations.
In the past, when most people thought of Kingsport, they thought "industrial city." For most of the past century, it has been just that. However, since the 1990s, we have seen a major shift toward a more diverse economic base, especially in the areas of medicine and education. This is important because of the strong correlation between these two segments of the economy and arts and culture. A booming medical community is bringing more physicians from very established art areas such as New York City and Atlanta. Some of their spouses, like Cindy Saddeh from Charleston, SC, have invested in downtown properties and opened studios and galleries.
— What Others Are Saying