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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Johnson City: Nelson Fine Art Center

Dick Nelson's vision of Nelson Fine Art Center is the
Dick Nelson's vision of Nelson Fine Art Center is the "venue helping to establish the downtown area as a cultural district." (Photo by Jeffrey Stoner)

May 31, 2011

Nelson Fine Art Center
324 E. Main St., Johnson City, Tenn.
423-926-2931 •

Nearly four decades ago, the Lady Bug Gallery opened in Johnson City. That same gallery has developed into the city's epicenter of culture and activity.

When Dick Nelson moved to Johnson City in 1990, he purchased the Lady Bug. In the summer of 2001, Nelson relocated the gallery and custom picture frame shop to a 9,000-square-foot storefront on East Main Street and changed the name to Nelson Fine Art Center.

"I envisioned the art venue helping to establish the downtown area as a cultural district," Nelson says. To that end, Nelson began hosting monthly art exhibits with the intention of creating a regularly occurring event, a "happening," that would introduce the community to the wealth of artists in the region.

With the anchors of art departments at both East Tennessee State University and Milligan College, Nelson began showcasing 12 art exhibits per year, featuring students as well as renowned professionals.

Now, Nelson Fine Art Center is a cultural cornerstone for downtown Johnson City, with a dozen permanent artists, a monthly rotating art exhibit, the longest-established custom framing shop in town, a full-service coffee bar, and most recently, GreenStone Printing which offers professional large-scale printing services for area artists.

First Fridays

After a few months of exhibits, Nelson decided to brand the monthly opening so that the event could expand outside of his gallery. He recalls, "The First Friday name came from other cities doing similar monthly art walks, particularly Philadelphia and Tallahassee. As time progressed, I was able to encourage restaurants and other retail to use the extra traffic that comes downtown for First Friday to help grow their businesses. Now on First Friday it's not unusual to see live music in the street or in the galleries and restaurants. The City closes off Main Street to create a pedestrian zone and between 500-5,000 people come downtown for First Friday. There is more activity during the summer months, but people also enjoy the opportunity to get out and socialize during the winter as well. After a few years being held in mid-June, the Blue Plum Festival was also moved to the first weekend of the month to begin on the First Friday in June."

Nelson continues, "With the strength of First Fridays and the creative thinkers that are inspired by urban areas, there are now six galleries in the downtown district. In addition to Nelson Fine Art Center, they include SR404 Contemporary Art Gallery, the Johnson City Area Arts Council, GreenStone Gallery, ETSU's Slocumb-on-Tipton Gallery, and Root Studio School and Gallery. There are also businesses that encourage creativity: Artopia Art Supplies, Atlantis, Cross Stitch and Crafts, Stay True Tattoo, Bead Works, Hands On! Regional Museum, and King's Centre. When you include the live music scene at the Down Home, Acoustic Coffeehouse, Capone's, Numan's, The Galaxy Lounge, The Hideaway, and Halo, downtown Johnson City has an art scene that goes almost 24 hours a day."

>> GreenStone Studio & Gallery; GreenStone Art Printing