Deeper Than Canvas 

Art & Soul, recently relocated to the 12 South neighborhood, teaches people to live and love art

Art & Soul, recently relocated to the 12 South neighborhood, teaches people to live and love art

I think one’s art goes as far and as deep as one’s love does.—Andrew Wyeth

Art & Soul

2301 12th Ave. S.

For class and schedule information, call 460-1161 or go to

There are classes all over Nashville where students learn to make art. Then there are the classes at Art & Soul, where students learn to love art. The 14-year-old “center for creative expression and growth through the arts” is the brainchild of Arunima Orr, a trained artist and licensed therapist who moved to Nashville from California 25 years ago. “I thought I’d be here a year but I loved it and stayed,” Orr says. She taught drawing and painting classes at Cheekwood for 12 years, during which time she began to formulate her teaching style. “I knew from experience that there is a tremendous amount of criticism and judgment in art schools,” she says. “So many students drop out or graduate and then never actually do art. I was determined to create an approach that was nonjudgmental.”

At the same time, Orr became interested in the spiritual and emotional aspects of creativity. “I wanted to teach people how to develop their creativity, not simply help them acquire a set of skills,” she says. “I’m not opposed to formal art training, of course. But you can have skills and still have no connection with what you really want to express.” Hence Orr’s technique combines guided meditation, movement and sound with visual art exercises; the center also offers classes that focus on movement and voice as creative outlets.

Orr opened Art & Soul in 1988 on Chestnut Street in the former May Hosiery factory, which now houses Tennessee Repertory Theatre’s offices and rehearsal space. After four years, she decided to take a break from teaching. “I felt the need to deepen my own experience in dance, music, voice and theater,” she says. “So I put Art & Soul into hibernation and went to Massachusetts for a two-year program in expressive therapies.” Orr stayed another three years studying other aspects of creative expression, including the concept of play as art. “One of the things we do at Art & Soul is play with different kinds of materials—not necessarily art materials, but objects like shells, fabric, seed pods and old costume jewelry,” she explains. “As students create temporary two- or three-dimensional pieces with these objects, they begin to see that they are naturally creative.”

Returning to Nashville in 1997, Orr reopened Art & Soul, first at Cummins Station and later at a space near the Station Inn on 12th Avenue South. The center moved to the corner of Linden and 12th Avenue in early September of this year. “Along with our new location, we’re now running as a co-op,” Orr says. After taking at least one class, members can pay a monthly fee and may use the center for studio space outside of class time. Class fees are separate, but members get a 20 percent discount. Students can also take classes without becoming members.

Orr stresses that the center isn’t just for people who want to do art. “We have people from all walks of life—accountants, teachers, mothers,” she says. “They all want to become more confident in expressing themselves.” Angel Bruner, a verification assistant in resource services at Vanderbilt University’s main library, has studied with Orr for 12 years. “Arunima comes at art from a different perspective,” Bruner affirms. “Instead of saying, 'This is how you put colors together,’ she addresses the emotional and spiritual urge to create. She’s also great with people who are scared of art. For a lot of us, the biggest hurdle to get over is that inner critic.” Bruner has just begun to show her abstract expressionist paintings publicly, and her works now hang in a conference room at the Vanderbilt library.

While Art & Soul doesn’t function as a formal gallery, students’ work is often on view and the center occasionally hosts special exhibitions. A display of contemporary art by Aboriginal tribes of the Australian outback will be up Sept. 27-28. Presented by Nashville filmmaker and former Art & Soul student Dixie Gamble, the show features works from the Mbantua Gallery in Alice Springs, Australia. “I visited Alice Springs five years ago, and fell in love with it and the art,” says Gamble, who has known Orr for the past 25 years. An opening reception takes place 5-8 p.m. Sept. 27. The event includes live music performed on the didgeridoo, a traditional Aboriginal instrument, and a slide show about Aboriginal art presented by a representative of Mbantua Gallery.

Rumours in 12 South

The 12 South neighborhood is also home to Rumours Gallery, a more traditional commercial gallery just across the street from Art & Soul. Owner Christy Shuff opened the business in April and has been presenting works by up-and-coming Nashville artists ever since. The current show, on view through October, showcases the still-life paintings of self-taught, 20-year-old Trevor Mikula. The young artist takes a stylized approach to arrangements of fruit and flowers and applies acrylic paint in thick, sculptural fashion to the canvas. A coat of varnish gives the works a high-gloss finish. Mikula also paints whimsical animals on found-object backgrounds—a long-necked giraffe on a cereal box, for example.

Mikula’s bold style mixes surprisingly well with Julia Martin’s soft-focus, realistic portraits of kids, dogs and adults. Though Mikula and Martin had never met before the show, they hit it off and created portraits of each other that hang together in the gallery. Cubist-style abstracts by singer Rachel Kice, also included in the show, round out another fine effort for the young gallery. Rumours also features blown glass and ceramic works by a number of area artisans, as well as jewelry from Spivey Key and witty, functional cigar-box purses by Kate Glass. Rumours Gallery is at 2304 12th Ave. S. Hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tues.-Sat. For information, call 292-9400.


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