Kingsport Arts Village envisioned for downtown

Matthew Lane • Jul 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT - The Downtown Kingsport Association and East Tennessee State University are working to craft a plan to bring more of the arts to downtown Kingsport.

DKA past president Mark Freeman said the concept is to provide space in downtown Kingsport for an Arts Village - space in multiple buildings where people can take art courses, rent studio space and perform their trade on the streets.

Freeman said he envisions such things as practice rooms, performance areas for plays, concerts, dance recitals, galleries for students and local artists as well as residential units over these spaces. People would be able to witness and engage in music, dance, painting and sculpture.

Freeman said the idea started after a couple of events began to unfold - the closing of Model City Motors, the DKA's purchase of the Kesterson building, the higher education center proposal, and the DKA's goal of bringing more arts to the downtown.

"Those three or four things started to come together, and in looking at the higher education center ... it left an opportunity to at least look at how to bring arts-based education to downtown," Freeman said.

Therefore, back in May Freeman drafted a white paper outlining the concept, possible location and programs envisioned and sent it to ETSU to see if the university was interested in participating.

Apparently ETSU was interested, for some university officials, DKA members and other city leaders met recently to discuss the concept.

Bert Bach, vice president of academic affairs at ETSU, said the university is interested in the concept and is in an initial brainstorming phase to determine what types of programming to bring to downtown.

"We've talked about several things - performances, exhibitions, non-credit and credit possibilities," Bach said. "This is a particular area we believe we have significant programming in. It could give us an opportunity to have a regional impact for our arts program, and we believe it could provide an opportunity for our students as well as performing venues."

Bach said some of the ideas ETSU is looking at include public performances, jazz, bluegrass, storytelling, student recitals, chamber groups, exhibition of faculty and studio art, and theatrical and dance productions.

Freeman said ETSU is also looking at identifying a core program to bring to downtown Kingsport, though one has not yet been determined. Bach said the university is not envisioning establishing its own facility downtown.

As for a site, Freeman said the DKA would like to establish a main arts village in the vicinity of the DKA office. However, specific buildings are not being announced at this time. One possible building could be the 9,000-square-foot Model City Motors building the city recently purchased for $156,000.

A main arts village would tie in with the Regional Center for Applied Technology and two proposed education facilities the city and Northeast State Technical Community College are working to make a reality in downtown Kingsport - the higher education center and the allied health center. One possible site for the higher education center is the Clinchfield Street parking lot, located adjacent to the RCAT. Kingsport is also looking at another nearby building to purchase in connection to the educational initiatives taking place downtown.

Kingsport plans to announce a site for the higher education center by August.

"We're so early on I'm trying to make sure all of our folks are fully up to speed. We're trying to make sure as many people as possible are on board," Freeman said. "It starts to fill a void in the collegiate, post-collegiate and pre-collegiate levels from the standpoint of music and arts education.

"Everyone we've talked to feels it's a very important project, and we see it as an addition of a lot of things going on."

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