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Volume 26, Number 7 — July 2019

Growing the Arts in Johnson City

The Nelson Fine Art Center on Main St. (Photo by Jeffrey Stoner)
The Nelson Fine Art Center on Main St. (Photo by Jeffrey Stoner)

Cultural Entertainment of All Kinds

By Angela Wampler | A! Magazine for the Arts | May 31, 2011

Historic downtown Johnson City, Tenn. is becoming a hot spot for art galleries, music, and cultural entertainment of all kinds.

As executive director of the Johnson City Area Arts Council for 17 years, Sarah Davis has seen the downtown arts scene "ebb and flow." She says, "Presently it is flowing beautifully. With ongoing First Friday art and music events, the galleries and the Arts Council's performing and visual arts activities, downtown is a lively place to spend time. As the city works to bring the community's vision to reality, downtown Johnson City will become an inspiring place for working artists and a gathering place for the community."

"It's a new day for downtown Johnson City," says Robert Reynolds, CEO of the Washington County Economic Development Council (WCEDC).

In 2010 WCEDC was formed as an "umbrella" organization to coordinate the individual efforts of the Johnson City Development Authority, Economic Development Board, Public Building Authority, Chamber of Commerce, and the East Tennessee State University (ETSU) Innovation Lab (business incubator).

According to Reynolds, "Our main objective is to create a highly effective economic development plan to take advantage of opportunities already in the downtown art and music scene. We see the arts as a key component of a sound economic development strategy, but we're just beginning the process of examining how we can leverage what we see as a burgeoning, untapped art scene. We're going to help existing businesses thrive and the art scene go to the next level by creating additional opportunities: festivals, art in empty storefronts, live music in more venues. We're also working with city leaders to revitalize downtown and create an atmosphere where the arts can flourish: erecting historical markers, developing more 'green space,' becoming more pedestrian friendly while preserving and creating more parking, and [promoting] the Lady of the Fountain (a 100-year-old zinc statue that has been recast in bronze and recently unveiled by the city)."

Reynolds continues, "People of all ages already have lots of reasons to come downtown — the Hands On! Museum, art galleries, music venues, and restaurants. Our job is to get all those groups together to make more things happen. In addition, we encouraged Northeast State to locate a satellite campus in the Downtown Center; and ETSU opened an art gallery and is bringing its bluegrass and storytelling components downtown."

WCEDC Project Manager Dan Reese adds, "Our task is to be a one-stop shop to open the door for anyone looking for an area to grow and develop. The former model of economic development was finding new industries and bringing it to our region. Today it's about making our area a destination where people can find good venues for art, music and entertainment, no matter what their ages. We're excited about the prospect of downtown Johnson City being a destination and we're going to make that happen."

A! Magazine for the Arts talked about the downtown art scene to with owners of art galleries and music venues — the newcomers as well as the "mainstays".

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