citybeat (2005-43)

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Do Not Go Near the Machines!

City Council candidate Julia Tucker shares the logistics of the write-in ballot

Art on the Move

How artists fit into a city’s space/time continuum

Wednesday, Oct. 19

Julia Tucker lives alone in a dark and musty castle. She has two vast libraries that stretch skyward and three noble dogs, among them a Great Dane named Daisy. At least Tuckerdesigned her Island Home-area house to look like a castle. Her granddaughter’s upstairs bedroom is accessed by way of a secret, sliding bookcase, and a trap door installed for her grandson leads outside. Hallways resemble dungeons, and a fireplace warms the sitting room. Every corner of Tucker’s outlandish house evokes wonder, as does its exterior—unruly gardens, and a sprawling deck that towers over a tributary of the Tennessee River. “Young people, with imagination, have always liked this home,” she says. “Some people don’t understand, though.” Similarly, in the City Council race, Tucker hopes to win votes by assuring that her own ideals will parallel those of South Knoxvillians.

After surviving the death of both of her husbands and one son, who died of AIDS 15 years ago, Tucker threw herself into non-profit work. “[My son’s death] broke my heart, but it opened up my heart to the plight of many people who were being disenfranchised.”

Tucker became a gay-rights and AIDS activist, founding AIDS Response Knoxville. She works also with Knox Heritage, Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, and Children’s Hospital, and helped to found the Knoxville Community Theater and Channel 12 Knoxville Community Television, among other things. Her campaign literature champions her as a “a believer of human rights, civil rights, property rights, voter’s rights and animal rights.”

“That’s what I do. I serve on boards,” she says simply. “I look back and I have a lot of great memories in knowing that I was able to make small changes, I think, for the better of Knoxville.”

Tucker’s biggest accomplishment was becoming Knoxville’s first and only chairwoman of the old city school board, where she served from 1973 to 1982.

Displeased with the way current Council member Joe Hultquist has handled South Knoxville’s needs, Tucker has begun a last-minute campaign to win the 1st District Council seat. “I’m running a really uphill battle,” she says. “I know that. But my friends and neighbors came all summer long to ask me if I would run.”

After write-in candidate Charles Mulkey dropped out of the race, Tucker agreed to run. “All I can do is offer myself as an alternative, as someone who’s really in touch with the people. I think the democratic way is giving people a choice. It feels like too much of a mandate if a person doesn’t have opposition.”

No one in modern history has been elected to City Council via write-in ballot.

Tucker’s last-ditch campaign has begun in earnest, and though she has plans of her own were she to win, she’s running primarily against Hultquist’s record, which she says she considers dismal.

“There are no changes in Chapman Highway,” she says. “The Fort Higley dispute has not been resolved with developers. [Hultquist] hasn’t done anything about the 73 acres that the city purchased over two years ago near Red Bud. There hasn’t been a trail cut in there. There’s not even a picnic table.” Additionally, Tucker says, “[Hultquist] passed the largest tax increase in the history of Knoxville.... He uses more money for travel than any other City Council member.”

Tucker acknowledges that Hultquist formed four neighborhood associations but says, “That’s an old ploy that [politicians] organize a neighborhood and use it for political reasons.”

If elected, Tucker says she’d work to build better rapport with county commissioners in the 1st District. She wants also to protect residents on the western end of the southside development area(along Scottish Pike) from being unfairly uprooted from their homes.

But for now, her biggest job is to explain the logistics of write-in voting. “Do not go near the machines,” she says. “You do not have to use the machine.” A city voter with a mind to vote for Tucker must only show up at the poll on Tuesday, Nov. 1 and request a paper ballot. In the write-in slot for the 1st District, Julia Tucker hopes people will pencil in her name.

Art on the Move

Downtown’s success is mixed for those being evicted from their workplaces. Artists, in particular, make up one of the few classes of people who were at home in a lower-rent downtown years ago. All most of them needed was a big space with natural light and very inexpensive rent.

Urban theorists have described artists as part of the evolutionary cycle of a city. A building lives its natural life, declines, is vacant or under-occupied for some time. And then artists move in, prove it can be a lively place, and the affluent young homesteaders aren’t far behind. Which is all positive, generally, often even for the artists, because new urbanists often turn out to be just the sort of people who buy original art.

But in the meantime, downtown artists need to find a new place to work.

The renovation of the Old City began in the early 1980s with a few artists’ lofts and a renegade gallery. One old punk-era art space is now a popular pizza restaurant.

The city attempted, with mixed success, to start a post-World’s Fair “art colony” along 11th Street and in the Candy Factory, long a city-subsidized art space, until it came to be seen as a liability, especially as the structures deteriorated and as the city’s debt deepened, and they were sold for private development (to Kinsey-Probasco, with which Cardinal Enterprises, owned by Metro Pulse publisher Brian Conley, is involved).

Art spaces are scattered through other buildings downtown. Artists like downtown for its convenience both to amenities, like good bars, and to arts events like the monthly First Friday gallery showings. Some are fleeing the isolation they felt in suburban or rural locales. A few even like downtown’s grittiness.

The 100 block of Gay Street is today best known for its high-demand and high-price living spaces, but a decade ago, it was a block of mostly vacant buildings whose old show windows were known for sometimes-edgy art installations. For a time, a street-front art space run by the A-1 cooperative hosted gallery shows, poetry readings, and performance art.

One of the city’s busiest metal sculptors, Preston Farabow, has gotten to know downtown better than most. His career has been a sort of one-man diaspora. He has fashioned metalwork for some of the city’s upscale locations, from upscale Bearden boutique Obligato to a hearth hood in Mayor Haslam’s house. The places he works for and the places he works tend to be very different.

Farabow first opened a working studio downtown—not in one of the renovated buildings but in the notorious McClung Warehouses on Jackson. “Saroff really cut me a deal,” he says, adding that he has never joined in the chorus of condemnation of erstwhile developer Mark Saroff’s husbandry of his shabby-looking buildings.

His space had neither heat nor running water. “I haven’t had heat in any space I’ve been using,” Farabow says. “I just need concrete floors. Water’s a bonus.”

Later, Farabow pioneered probably the most unusual downtown-area workspace, the Spaghetti Bowl, a forgotten industrial area by the train tracks between downtown and Mechanicsville, wrapped in interstate overpasses. He and partner Darren Roberts showed off what they did with monthly feasts, musical and performance-art shows, and iron firings down there for four years.

Farabow struck out on his own last year, opening a studio in the rail yard-level basement of the glass building on the corner of Jackson and Broadway.

Some artists who love nothing more than natural light may have been attracted to “the Daylight Building”; since 2000, the onetime office building has been studio space for three well-regarded professional artists. Stone sculptor Mona Shiber DeKay moved in a little more than four years ago.

It had perfect light; its proximity to the residential Pembroke building made her feel better about working into the wee hours; it had an elevator that could convey her heavier pieces.

Maybe most appealing was that it was cheap. In 2001, after Shiber De Kay moved in, other artists were attracted to the building: Brazilian painter Moema Furtado and Oregon-transplant abstract artist Alan Cox.

But lately, they’ve been getting hints that the building is being sold.

To many, the art-space problem seemed solved by the opening of the Emporium, the large old store building at the corner of Gay and Jackson. About 23,000 square feet of its old retail space, leased by the city for $186,000 a year, were dedicated to the arts when it opened in September 2004. (Owner David Dewhirst has developed condos on the building’s upper floors.) Rents were $5 per square foot per year, now up to $6, with utilities and janitorial services taken care of. Lisa Zenni, director of the Arts Council of Greater Knoxville, is trying to bring Knoxville’s artists to the Emporium, or close to it. About 10 artists have moved their work or work space into the Emporium, ranging from a weaver to a photographer to a scriptwriter for videos, plus several arts organizations.

Though it’s nearly full, she seems confident that she can accommodate working artists in the Emporium, or near it.

A few artists critique its “terrible lighting” and find its mall-like design off-putting . A working studio is often a larger space, with plenty of room for storage and multiple projects in process.

Ironically, Zenni says those who’ve been happiest in the Emporium are those who’ve used it mainly as studio space. “It’s not just a funky mall where people come and do shopping,” she says. Those who saw it as a retail space have been disappointed with the foot traffic through the place.

Zenni says they get a good deal of business for special events, like they’re expecting for November’s Woodworkers’ Guild exhibit and the Emporium Holiday Extravaganza in December, which she says was a big success last year. But she says they don’t get much day-to-day foot traffic, especially not from Knoxvillians. Ironically, she says, out-of-town shoppers outnumber Knoxvillians there.

While praising the efforts, and acknowledging that the Emporium might be great for some artists, Shiber DeKay admits she’s probably not one of them. “They’re shops, not really conducive to people who use a saw, make noise, have a kiln. The place is not designed for artists like me.”

Zenni focuses her attention on gathering artistic activity to the Emporium, or “as close to that corner of Gay and Jackson as you can get,” in spite of the soaring rates, to make that intersection the unquestionable hub of artistic activity in Knoxville.

The original Emporium space is roughly full, but she says she’s working on projects with Dewhirst to rent space nearby for about $12 per square foot per year. She says there’s rough space in the Fire Street Lofts building next door that could accommodate a kiln. “We would love to create more studio spaces,” she says, “and we know that we can fill them.

“The 100 block is as fringe as you can get,” Zenni says. “Our people can’t be in spaces that are not up to code.”

Some artists are used to working in spaces that aren’t up to code. From the sound of it, some may actually prefer it.

Many artists have been looking to the real fringes of downtown. A gallery opened on North Central, well across the tracks from the Old City, a few weeks ago. Shiber DeKay has been thinking about the Vestal community of South Knoxville, where some other marble sculptors work. Farabow has been looking north, along Broadway.

“I like downtown, and I hope I get to stay here,” the metal sculptor says. After his spells of landlord uncertainty, he says he’d prefer to own a building.

“I hope there’s a way for us to preserve a little pocket of decay for us artists,” Farabow says.

His current space is in the bottom of a long-empty glassworks building underneath the Broadway viaduct, by the tracks. “I’ve been robbed four or five times in the year and a half I’ve been here,” Farabow says—most recently, last week, when someone drove a car into his front door and stole a table saw. He calls it “a pain in the ass.” To him, though, the bigger anxiety is whether his landlord’s plans. “My future here is very uncertain, at best. The owner wants to develop it and make it pretty. I’m certain I’m not in that picture.

“My wife wants me to find a nice space. I don’t really care about nice. Water would be good. Art’s dangerous, anyway.”


Wednesday, Oct. 19

Thursday, Oct. 20

Friday, Oct. 21

Saturday, Oct. 22

• Alabama 6, UT 3. And everybody thought the college baseball season was over weeks ago.

Sunday, Oct. 23

Monday, Oct.24

Tuesday, Oct. 25

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