As you’ve no doubt read (or noticed), Nashville’s cultural offerings do tend to begin with music, whether of the recorded or live variety. However, over the last 10 years or so, Music City also become a destination city for cultural creatives, whether photographers, designers (both graphic and interior), web developers, painters, sculptors, or even writerly types.
If visual arts are your thing, a magazine like Nashville Arts will give you a quick gallery-centric overview, and a glance at the local alt-weekly Nashville Scene will hit some of the smaller, hipper one-time offerings. There are plenty of regular arts happenings (and institutions) to look out for, too. The Nashville First Saturday Art Crawl takes place on the first Saturday of each month from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Though the Art Crawl has focused on the “Avenue of the Arts” (5th Avenue) in downtown, visitors are whisked to other, more far-flung downtown venues via free shuttles. For a little less buttoned-up experience, check out the Wedgewood/Houston Art Crawl art and music walk. There you’ll find the go-to galleries Zeitgeist, David Lusk, Abrasive Media, Channel to Channel, and Watkins’s own gallery in the Packing Plant. Venues and exhibits are constantly changing, but you can keep up with all the artistic goings-on at am-wh.com.
If you’re done soaking up inspiration and are jonesing to create some of your own work, Nashville’s got you covered there, too. Plaza Artist Materials & Picture Framing in the Gulch/Pie Town neighborhoods is the Music City’s largest art supplies dealer. It also offers classes, workshops, and (sometimes!) Watkins discounts. Dury’s began as a rubber stamp business 17 years after the Civil War ended. As large, family-owned businesses in burgeoning cities tend to do, they adapted to the needs of their community before focusing on the photography element of their business. Today, the Murfreesboro Pike store is Nashville’s go-to for all things photography, including equipment, rentals, workshops and seminars, film, and more. There is likely no better-known letterpress print company in the United States than Hatch Show Print. Started in 1879, the Hatch print has become the go-to concert souvenir in the Music City and beyond. A still-flourishing hallmark of classic Southernalia and Americana, the original Hatch print was a more functional affair, used to advertise a speaker, circus, traveling show, carnival, or the opening of a grocery store, say, or filling station. The connection to music (especially country music) helped Hatch to survive as other letterpress companies closed their doors. Today, it’s a fully-functioning print company and museum in one.
Not exclusive to Nashville, but still of interest to those of an artistic bent, CreativeMornings is a free breakfast and short talk hosted one Friday morning a month by someone in the Nashville artistic community (often a Watkins person!). It’s a chance to learn, network, and have your morning cuppa all at once. What’s more, it’s free, which goes a long way with us artist types, right?
Of course, the Southern literary tradition is in full force in Nashville, especially with The Southern Festival of Books, a three-day festival celebrated each year during the second full weekend of October. The festival includes Watkins’s Handmade & Bound Festival, which celebrates indie presses. The Fest welcomes hundreds of writers from all over—from Nashville’s best and brightest to huge, internationally-known names like Chuck Palahniuk—all of whom participate in various readings, panel discussions, and book signings. If you like your festivals more “tomato-red” than well-read, then you’ll want to check out East Nashville’s annual Tomato Art Fest. Started by the owners of Nashville’s Art and Invention Gallery to celebrate the tomato in late summer, the festival has grown by leaps and bounds every year— so much so that it’s likely the community’s premier neighborhood event. The winner of Nashville Scene’s “Best Festival” reader’s poll every year since 2007, the gathering promotes art (and creative, tomato-themed costumes) as much as it does the popular vegetable/fruit.