“An investment in the future” 

 The Emporium is a 28,000 square feet 19th century building located at 106 S. Gay Street that has helped spark the effort to bring the once thriving historic dowtown back to Knoxville and is remarkably portrayed in this photograph above which shows all the construction that the development of the Emporium has led to.

Historic Downtown has been undergoing many changes in order to get the city’s downtown rehabilitation effort up on its feet and humming including a $8 million renovation of Market Square. The development of the Emporium building is seen as a vital component of the revitalization of downtown. To spur the building’s rehabilitation, the city of Knoxville agreed in 2001 to lease 23,000 square feet of office space for 10 years at $186,725 per year. In November, the Knoxville City Council voted unanimously to sublease the city’s Emporium space to the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Greater Knoxville for $1 per year.  In turn, the Alliance will sublease office and studio space to arts organizations and individual artists at rates below market value. At the City Council meeting at the time, Mayor Victor Ashe aid subsidizing the arts in this manner is an appropriate use of taxpater dollars. He said that the presence of the Arts and Cultural Alliance and its tenants will help generate development in the 100 block of Gay Street. Ashe said, “I see it as an investment in the future, not a giveaway.” Tenants include the Arts and Culture Alliance, Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, Foothills Craft Guild, Tennessee Stage Company, Carpetbag Theatre, African American Appalachian Arts, Hola Hora Latina, Circle Modern Dance, and artists Mike Berry, Bobbie Crews, Judi Gaston, Bob Leggett, Ray Snyder, and Kurt Weiss. 

Construction still continues on the 100 block of Gay Street but due to the renovation of the Emporium supported by the City of Knoxville other renovations along the street were sparked as well.

The Arts and Culture Alliance of Greater Knoxville states that the mission of the Emporium Center galleries is to showcase the diversity of art and culture being created throughout the Greater Knoxville area through exhibitions that include, but are not limited to, artistic works of quality aesthetic value, works that present new forms and ideas, and works that contribute significant knowledge in the understanding of art and culture. The Emporium Center presents approximately 24 exhibitions each year in both its Main Gallery and The Balcony. The goal of its programming is to present work that is diverse, including visual art, performance art, installation art, music, poetry, and fine arts. The Balcony also provides exhibition opportunities for emerging artists and those who are creating works that are on-the-edge and challenge viewers. Exhibitions may specifically educate viewers in the understanding of the arts and may include related demonstrations. At times the Gallery hosts special group shows such as work by artist organizations from outlying areas that enlarge the scope of the artistic community. 

The Emporium houses many different performance venues where local artists can perform

Neighborhood and Building History
Knoxville’s first true arts center opened in downtown at 100 South Gay Street in July 2004. Built in 1898 as the original home of a prestigious furniture company, the Emporium Building housed a wholesale goods distributor and later became a textile manufacturing facility that fulfilled military contracts. The two adjacent buildings and the vacant lot were the location of the “Parthenon of Country Music,” which served as the home of the WNOX Mid-day Merry-Go-Round. The 28,000 square feet of flexible use space now houses the Emporium Center Galleries, the administrative offices of the Arts & Culture Alliance, and nine other arts and cultural organizations. Additionally, the building houses rehearsal, classroom and meeting space; studio for nine individual artists; and gallery space. The Alliance’s Emporium Center project was designed to attract more visitors to downtown to enjoy arts and cultural programming and conduct arts-related business. At the same time, the project provides affordable space for a critical mass of arts and culture organizations and artists, generates coordination and joint promotion of arts and culture activities, and provides another valuable attraction in a revitalized downtown.  

For half a century, the Dogwood Arts Festival has celebrated the natural and cultural beauty of East Tennessee. The 2010 edition showcases the region’s best visual and performing artists in a “blue jean to black tie” festival that has something for everyone! For the entire month of April, Dogwood’s 50th anniversary will be commemorated in style, featuring a vibrant mix of blooming flowers and trees, fine art, crafts, theater, dance, Americana music, film and literary arts.  

This Emporium showcased various works from the 2010 Dogwood Arts Festival

 “Art is a child’s first language,” just as the phrase above demonstrates with various works from the Dogwood Arts Festival. The Emporium is not only a place of performance that has helped to fuel the rehabilitation of historic downtown Knoxville and the 100th block of S. Gay Street, but it also serves as a place to exhibit works of arts created by the younger generation. The Balcony exhibit in the Emporium helps to promote the fact that art indeed has a place in downtown Knoxville to the younger generation. As the Mayor of Knoxville at the time of the Emporium’s rennovations said, “The Emporium is an investment in the future.” This exhibit helps to show that the Emporium helps to spur the younger generations interest in art. The Emporium not only serves as an investment in the future by helping to jumpstart the rehabilitation of other performance venues in dowtown Knoxville, but it also serves as an investment in the younger generation. All of the works included inthe Balcony exhibit at the Emporium are entirely done by young artists that are still in high school. 

King of the Jungle

Pictured above is a hand-built and glazed ceramic featured at the Dogwood Arts Festival Exhibit at the Emporium. The creator is Amy Hanson, a 9th-grader at Oak Ridge High.

The Emporium was also recently home to an exhibit titled: RE-VISION. This exhibit’s slogan is viewing ordinary objects in extraordinary ways. Although this slogan portains to the various quilts that it showcases it also portains to the Emporium and its purpose. The Emporium may look like an ordinary 19th century building from the outside but it should also be viewed as a extraordinary mark of progress in the rehabilitation effort of downtown Knoxville. The Emporium has helped to re-vision dowtown Knoxville through the various performance venues that it has to offer. This so called investment in the future has provided a new vison for the place of art in Knoxville. It is a landmark that has served as a vision for many other performnce venues located on the 100th block of S. Gay Street along with all of downtown Knoxville. It serves as a vision for the younger generation as well. The Emporium has proved to be one of the most valuable investments in all of Knoxville and has laid the foundation for the rehabilitation of dowtown Knoxville. The Emporium is in fact, “An investment in the future”.

-Photos and Content designed by Ben Jacoway


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