KNOXVILLE -- Investment from a Tennessee college is turning a ragged town block in Cumberland Gap into a folksy artists' village.
The Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/OoGkCq) reports that Lincoln Memorial University has spent about $1.2 million to purchase almost every structure on the block. LMU has already stripped a former dive bar down to its studs and will transform it into a studio for ceramics and metal works. Other structures in the town where the states of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia meet also will be renovated, including surrounding the center of an outdoor pavilion with glass to create studio space that has views of the ridge that rises behind the town.
"Cumberland Gap really lends itself to the arts, and people are excited about us coming down here and breathing life into this community," said Lincoln Memorial President James Dawson.
He says the school's fine arts program will start moving to its new home, which is only a few minutes from its main campus in Harrogate, beginning in January.
"We want to be a positive presence in the community, and I think the things we're doing will create a real niche for our arts program," Dawson said. "Few schools can say our art program is located in a quaint little village."
Students are looking forward to the change in scenery, said ceramics faculty Bebe DeBord. Their current studio is located in a rundown former maintenance workshop that looks more like a cinder-block shack with shoddy doors.
"This is functional, but the new one is going to be bigger," she said, adding that there will be room to display art at the new studio.
Dawson said the university will keep leasing to current tenants until more space is needed.
Business owner Teresa McPherson, who owns the newly opened Cups and Brushes coffee shop in Cumberland Gap, said she hopes the university's arrival will mean more art and more customers.
"I want to help them. I want to sell their art," McPherson said. "Folks come down to the Gap and they want to take something back with them."
Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com