KingsportARTS, Urban Synergy working to liven up vacant buildings downtown

Jessica Fischer • Feb 16, 2013 at 6:43 AM

No sooner were Cathy Faust and Tina Radtke back in the car last November after attending a Tennessee Arts Commission conference near Memphis and hearing about Project Storefronts in New Haven, Conn., than they were sending out emails about bringing the idea to downtown Kingsport.

Launched in 2010, Project Storefronts was created by the City of New Haven Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism and the office of Economic Development to bring innovative arts-related businesses to life in formerly empty retail spaces around New Haven. Conceived as a way to energize some of New Haven’s commercial areas while enhancing the city’s standing as the “Creative Capital of Connecticut,” Project Storefronts works with “creative entrepreneurs” to transform vacant storefronts into places that attract shoppers and potential tenants while increasing area foot traffic.

With plenty of vacant buildings in downtown Kingsport — and a host of talented artists and artisans to fill those empty display windows with their handiwork — Radtke said Project Storefront: Downtown Kingsport is a win-win for everyone involved.

“We have kind of the same concept [as New Haven], we’re just in the beginning stages of it,” said Radtke, the arts education director for KingsportARTS, which is working in partnership with John and Angela Vachon’s Urban Synergy group on Project Storefront: Downtown Kingsport.

“The point was to draw attention to empty storefronts in New Haven, one, to make the town not seem empty; two, to kind of give life to it; and three, to attract tenants, because when people are walking by and they see stuff going on in the windows, the more you have out, the more people are going to walk by, and so when potential renters come to look at the spaces, they’re going to say, hey, this is a vibrant community.”

KingsportARTS first sent out a call to artists and arts organizations interested in showcasing their work in some of Urban Synergy’s vacant storefronts last November, and now has six large window displays along Commerce Street filled with art in a variety of media. The display space is provided on a temporary basis at no charge to participating artists.

The newest installation, at 223 Commerce St., features works by members of the Tennessee Craft Artists Association. Other participating artists include Adam Barnett of Pennington Gap, Va., whose life-size cutout paintings of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley can be seen at 215B Commerce St. Aleta Chandler’s imprinted slab pobbery is on display at 223 Commerce St., alongside paintings by Dotti Price of Chuckey, Tenn., and Marlana Williams of Gate City, Va.

“The whole purpose of it is to grow the creative economy,” Radtke said. “The artists have their information sheets in the window, ways for people to contact them, so if somebody walks by and sees a piece, they can contact the artist via email or phone number and say, hey, I really like this piece, I’d really like to buy this piece from you, do you have other pieces I could see? Some of our artists do have other pieces in some of the downtown galleries, so they have that listed on their information sheets in the window.”

The displays are changed monthly to keep things fresh and interesting — and passersby coming back for more.

Radtke said KingsportARTS and Urban Synergy hope to kick Project Storefront into high gear this summer with a number of projects.

“What we’re doing right now is kind of the short-term stuff. We’ve got some bigger projects planned that we’re looking for grant money right now to do,” Radtke said. “The Vachons are actually going to let us use a storefront and we’re working with some of the other people downtown to do a Project Storefront benches project, where we build benches out of pallets for the City of Kingsport to put out on Broad Street. It’s going to be like an open workshop-type thing so if you have woodworking skills and building skills and you can intentionally come to downtown Kingsport and participate in it, that’s great, but if you’re looking for antiques for your grandmother or your Aunt Susan and you happen to walk by the storefront where they’re building the benches, it’s going to be open enough that the community can stop by when they see it going on and participate in the creation of the benches as well. Some will be painted, some will be mosaic tiles, it’ll be a wide range of things. It will be for the community, by the community. It kind of goes from putting art in empty storefronts to actually using those storefronts to create art.”

Radtke said Project Storefront is always looking for artists interested in displaying their works as well as owners of empty buildings who are willing to lend their space for the display and creation of that art.

To find out more about participating, call KingsportARTS at (423) 392-8420.

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