Contributed photos by Tom Pardue.
The former Booker T. Washington Elementary School for African Americans, located on Franklin Avenue in Jonesborough, will be the site of a comprehensive arts program coordinated through Jonesborough’s Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts.
Jonesborough’s program is a sister arts program to the one established at East Tennessee State University by James Martin in memory of his wife, Mary, in 2009. The program embraces three basic principles: a high standard of instruction, community outreach, and building community around the arts.
The former school, renamed The McKinney Center at Booker T. Washington School in 2010, recently underwent major renovations with the goal of becoming the town’s cultural arts building, serving both Jonesborough and Washington County, Tenn.
The McKinney Center at Booker T. Washington School was used earlier in the summer for the Jonesborough Open Juried Art Show and Exhibit, a juried art show of 71 pieces selected from 152 submissions, sponsored by First Tennessee Foundation and Friendship Ford. There is a pottery studio (with kiln) for future demonstrations and classes. Juried art shows, as well as exhibits by local and regional artists, and possibly week-long intensives by regional or nationally-acclaimed artists are also in the planning stages.
“One of the future projects we’ve discussed is a show featuring a specific medium such as pottery,” says Bridgette Ward, director of the McKinney Center at Booker T. Washington School.
“There would be an exhibit housed in the McKinney Center for people to see and, then down the hall, they could see a potter actually creating pieces of art, explaining the process and answering questions. It’s a way for the artist and the art to become personal,” she added.
Theater workshops, classes and productions through Jonesborough’s Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts are also on the calendar, as are a variety of visual and performing arts classes for the young and the young at heart. Painting, drawing, pottery, acting and photography classes are just some of the classes that will be offered in the fall. Of course, one can hardly mention theater arts without storytelling coming to mind. It is Jonesborough, after all.
The Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts offers unlimited benefits through their resources: the shared use of faculty and visiting artists teaching through the Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts at East Tennessee State University; the Town of Jonesborough’s Heritage Alliance, in which students learn about the history of Jonesborough and the Northeast Tennessee region and the importance of the history to the state of Tennessee and the country; ETSU’s masters degree program in Storytelling; and the expansion of the productions coordinated and facilitated by the Jonesborough Yarn Exchange.
The end result of more people becoming involved both in the arts and in the community would satisfy goals for both groups.
Most, if not all, of these activities will take place in the McKinney Center. The renovations were designed with this goal in mind: a former school realizing its mission many years later.
Much of the school’s exterior remains intact, except for modifications to make the building ADA-compliant. The interior’s design is similar to that of a 1940s school building: bead board wainscoting and plaster walls, both painted a light green, the wood floors are a medium-dark finish. The ceilings are accented with bronze pendant lights, but also feature adjustable track lighting for use with art exhibits. With little variation, the offices, studio spaces and classrooms are appointed with similar materials and colors. The auditorium, which will also be used as a theater, features light wood main flooring, a permanent stage with additional pieces to “build out” the stage for more space, and large windows. The room’s ceilings and the stage’s floor and walls are all painted black. The entire building is airy and light-filled, a perfect environment for learning.
The newer additions or renovations include a state-of-the-art catering kitchen and two large, handicapped accessible bathrooms. Some “finishing touches” are still being done on the interior: final coats of polyurethane on the auditorium floor, for instance; grading and landscaping on the outside; and permanent signs which will be constructed and placed on the building and at the road for identification. It must be noted that much of the work has been done by trustees of the Roan Mountain Prison. According to Ward, “these men have saved the town thousands of dollars by performing this work.”
With a “new” home for the arts, a dedicated and enthusiastic staff, unlimited opportunities through Jonesborough’s Mary B. Martin Program for the Arts, the Town of Jonesborough is poised at the brink of what could be a wonderful adventure for its residents and neighbors alike.
“When we hosted the Jonesborough’s Open Juried Art Show at the end of May, we were hoping to have around 150 or so people here,” said Ward, “and we had over 400.”
Sounds like the town is ready for it, too.