In the article "The Artful Dodge" [by Holly Hayworth, June 13, 2013], Liza Zenni, the executive director of The Arts and Culture Alliance of Greater Knoxville, says the Public Art Committee needs propositions. I have a big one: the Standard Knitting Mill building located on 1400 Washington Ave. should be bought or rented by the City of Knoxville and given to the areas of Belle Morris, Parkridge, Old North, and downtown to create a center for what Eleanor Scott is calling the "arts and garden district" [A Living World, May 9, 2013].
Recently, the community of Parkridge painted the 6th Avenue mural less than a hundred yards from the mill property—it's a four-panel mural on sections of the North 6th Avenue concrete wall supporting the I-40 overpass. I live in Belle Morris, driving daily down 6th Avenue under the overpass to Hall of Fame Drive, and have watched the brain-numbingly gray supports turn into vibrant mural columns. Seeing the creative progress of the city-funded mural makes me happy, even a little proud, to be a Knoxville resident because it shows that not all industrialization must remain divisive and ugly.
The Parkridge and Old North communities are already well on their way to revitalization and if the City of Knoxville could provide a central location for an art district right in the center of four vital and growing communities, it would be a great start to making Knoxville a more culturally rich place to live.
The circa 1945 Mill building is 400,000 square feet, and the property it is on is much bigger; there is an overwhelming amount of space to be utilized. Also, First Creek runs directly by the building on the North 6th Avenue side, making it seem like some kind of surreal industrial Parisian dream. In 2004 Jack Neely wrote an article laying out the ways in which Knoxville could learn from San Antonio, and I think this would be the perfect place to start a riverwalk. Beautifying this section of First Creek would work along side with the arts, and be an awesome project for a garden district. If Parkridge can create this mural, I believe that the City of Knoxville could create a center for an arts and gardens district. The ultimate direction of the center would be up to the communities, however; in my vision it would not just be a showpiece, but a thriving cultural, educational, and even economic center, among many things providing community-discounted studio spaces and garden plots, under the condition that the products contribute to neighborhood enrichment.
I remember when I visited Paris, a tour guide explained to us that the buildings just above street level with large windows were designed specifically for studio spaces or artist residencies to allow for the optimal amount of natural light. Every time I drive by the mill I think of how perfect this space would be for artists, its turquoise windows iridescent as peacock feathers in the setting sun, the brick foundation like a frame of burnt summer roses—oh, la la! But really, Knoxville would do well to employ its residents for creating an incredible city art and gardens district center and the Standard Knitting Mill building would be the perfect place to begin.