It was just 10 years ago, but my, how life has changed since then: the dynamics of a post-9/11 world, a music industry decimated by the Internet, reality TV bombarding the airwaves.
But enough global navel-gazing. As the new parlance goes, we're thinking local. And over the last decade, the local arts landscape has experienced no less of a tectonic shift, albeit for the better. The First Saturday Art Crawl brings hundreds of visitors downtown each month to check out a slew of galleries on Fifth Avenue and in The Arcade that didn't even exist 10 years ago. There's been a proliferation of exciting new theater companies, from GroundWorks Theatre and Boiler Room to People's Branch, the Tennessee Women's Theater Project and SistaStyle Productions. Nashville Opera unveiled the breathtaking Noah Liff Opera Center, while Nashville Ballet opened the lovely Martin Center for Dance. A group of Nashville's elite orchestral players formed Alias Chamber Ensemble, which routinely programs underexposed gems from the past alongside bold and challenging new works.
Oh yeah, and there's that new building downtown, the Schermerhorn, where the Nashville Symphony, once just an average regional orchestra, has become a nationally acclaimed symphony with an exciting Costa Rican-born conductor at its helm and three Grammys under its belt. This ain't your father's Nashville.
But there's one new addition to our art scene, slipping into town just days before the end of the aughts, that — in its own humble way — perfectly symbolizes the exponential growth in our local arts scene. At the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, on the center landing between the lobbies of Jackson Hall and Polk Theater, sits the Art*o*mat, a vintage cigarette machine repurposed to sell small, affordable artworks. For a mere $5 donation, you can select from a variety of paintings, sculptures, jewelry and more. Just browse what the machine has to offer, pull the lever, and presto — you're an art collector! (SURGEON GENERAL'S WARNING: Art has been proven to stimulate minds, challenge preconceptions and improve quality of life.)
The first Art*o*mat was created 13 years ago in Winston-Salem, N.C., by artist Clark Whittington after "observing a friend who had a Pavlovian reaction to the crinkle of cellophane," according to the Art*o*mat website. (Where else but Winston-Salem would the worlds of art and tobacco meet.)
Whittington and other artists went on to form Artists in Cellophane (A.I.C.), the sponsoring organization of Art*o*mat, whose mission is to "encourage art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form. A.I.C believes that art should be progressive, yet personal and approachable. What better way to do this, than with a heavy cold steel machine?" There are now 88 such machines across the country.
Nashville's Art*o*mat came about after Roberta Ciuffo West, TPAC's executive vice president for institutional advancement, spotted one of the machine's in Chattanooga. Early response has been strong, and some of the categories have already sold out.
What better to embody the increased variety and accessibility of arts in Nashville than the Art*o*mat? So with that in mind, we give you our own print edition of the Art*o*mat, featuring enough visual, musical, cinematic, theatrical and literary highlights to fill the biggest cigarette machine you can find. And what we're selling is guaranteed not to harm your lungs, lower your testosterone level or endanger your unborn child. Of course, it won't make you look as cool as Don Draper, either — but all progress has its cost. Still, the only thing really at risk is your provincial, decade-old image of Nashville as a cultural wasteland. And to that, we say, good riddance.
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