Anne Brown, the owner of The Arts Company on 5th Ave, has been a dominant force in Nashville’s art scene for decades. She is a strong voice and proponent of visual art being a part public life. As a city, we have benefited from Anne’s vision and we are proud to have her as our FACE of Nashville.
You have been working to build the Nashville art scene for several decades. Is there any one thing that you can point to as a pivotal recent moment for the arts in Nashville?
Virginia Woolf observed that “Somewhere on or about December 1910, human nature changed.” In Nashville, I would echo that by saying that somewhere around 2000, the arts in Nashville changed. Major public institutions opened in proximity to each other in Downtown Nashville—all within a five-year span either side of the new century. We are all building on that momentum. Visual art is now a part of the public life in Nashville.
Tell us how The Arts Company is different from what one may think of as a “typical” gallery.
This gallery is about presenting visual art deliberately in the middle of the downtown marketplace with the intention of engaging people in looking at the artwork we present, enjoying the presentation and style in which it is presented, and engaging them in conversation about the art we present and why. We are not an ivory tower gallery. Our style is eclectic, both in our selection of art and artists to present and in our exhibit installations.
We are three galleries in one: a downstairs storefront gallery where we present new exhibitions every month; our Avant-Garage, which is open during First Saturdays Downtown every month; and our new Gallery Studio Workspace upstairs, where we develop exhibitions and showcases for special projects and house our extensive art inventory.
How has 5th Ave changed since you opened up The Arts Company in 1996?
In every way. What was a dark and scary street by night, dirty and empty by day, is now bustling. In the beginning, we were surrounded by empty buildings–all dark at night. We were the only artistic action on the street. Now we are surrounded by some 15-20 other galleries, restaurants with crowded outdoor dining (open every night of the week) a new streetscape in one block, with curtains of lights crossing the street at night, anchored by an official historic marker on the corner designating this as an official art district … with lots more in the planning stages.
In your most bold vision, how do you see 5th Ave looking in the next decade?
More lights, more animated, authentic (not generic) businesses, more street life, innovative artistic enterprise and presentations, and an expansion of the concept of 5th to Germantown and beyond, with Broadway, Demonbreun, Charlotte, and Jefferson, not to forget The Gulch, as part of the concept of Downtown Nashville as “A Square Mile of Art.” This is a current idea articulated by one of our colleagues in the weekly 5th Ave gallery owner meetings that we have hosted in our space every week for the last eight years.
How can Nashville better embrace the Nashville arts scene, no matter the depths of their pocketbooks?
Open your eyes and look around you. Murals that mark neighborhoods and public art installations are popping up all over town. Nashville is becoming more visual—inside businesses and outside in strategic locations.
And artistic venues. They are the key. Nashville has finally succeeded in giving the arts institutional status—a symphony hall, a performing arts center, major performing venues, dozens of commercial art galleries, museums, a great library, multiple business who make art part of their business strategy, a new respect for the honky tonk culture on Broadway, and an incredible public art collection in the new Music City Center. These are just some of what’s available in downtown Nashville.
Is supporting art in the South different from other areas of the country?
Yes, decorative art has prevailed in the South historically. Only in very recent years is that mindset changing about the role of contemporary art expression as a valued part of a lively community—as an asset to business, to the community identity, and as a way to add value to one’s personal life. Modern art museums, galleries and working studio artists are significant public assets. With an influx of folks from other parts of the world, southern cities are beginning to change.
Is there a quote or piece of advice that you have relied on that you can share with our readers today?
There is a brief section of an Ezra Pound poem that I have relied on for comfort, wisdom and insight: “nothing matters–in the end–but the quality of the affection that carves the trace in the mind where memory lives.” I keep learning from that image. It is concise and unambiguous.
Is there any upcoming event that you are most looking forward to?
Most definitely. Our 5th Avenue of the Arts gallery group launched an Across the Arts event last October. It was beyond a sell-out. We will be staging another one in the three galleries—Rymer, Tinney, and Arts Company—this coming October. It’s a festive arts-centric progressive dinner, with each gallery hosting a different art form—theatre, dance, music, film, etc.
When visitors are in Nashville, is there an “under the radar” place that you always suggest?
Daily in our gallery we recommend the new Haley Gallery in the Hatch Show Print location at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Hatch’s artist-in-residence Jim Sherraden and his colleagues in the print shop make new art daily and send it around the world. We encourage visitors not to miss it. Jim’s original art pieces are Nashville treasures.
Is there someone who you consider a mentor?
Two college professors whose wisdom still holds in my mind. One introduced me to Ezra Pound, and thus to the world of poetry in the 20th century. Another introduced me to all of world literature and theatre, beginning with the Epic of Gilgamesh and never ending.
Can you name a favorite indulgence?
Wine and conversation with great friends and working creatively in an ensemble style with a great staff.
Where is your favorite place to vacation?
New York City for friends, museums, theatre, ideas and shopping.
Name three things you can’t live without (excluding God, family and friends!)
Books, trusted colleagues, and the next interesting art, book, or idea.
Thank you, Anne! Be sure to see Anne in person at The Arts Company.
Special thank to Ashley Hylbert for today’s gorgeous photos. Be sure to check out her website, Ashley Hylbert Photography.