Saturday, April 3, 2010

Knoxville art scene blooms with Dogwood Festival

Local art lovers crowded galleries and clubs throughout downtown Knoxville on Friday night as the 50th annual Dogwood Arts Festival went into full bloom.

The month-long festival attracts thousands of people to the city each year. While the festival itself bolsters the local arts scene, the converse is also true as the city expands its canvas for local art year-round.

"The way the arts community has cooperated and grown in Knoxville has definitely allowed us to attract more quantity and quality to this year's festival," said Lynda Evans, director of development for the Dogwood Arts Festival. "It is a symbol of what is going on in the city. This year's fine arts exhibit is as good as any show I have ever seen. I think Knoxville is going through a renaissance."

That renaissance is especially evident on the 100 Block of Gay Street. As construction workers continue rebuilding the street, the litany of expanded galleries in the surrounding buildings is evidence of a grassroots effort to build Knoxville's arts community.

"There have always been a very large number of very progressive, emergent artists in the community, but they really did not have any place to go," said artist Denise Sanabria. "Now there are more places to display art in the city than ever. The entire transformation, it has been fantastic."

Sanabria organized the fine arts exhibit at 128 Gay Street as part of the Dogwood Arts Festival. She said a crowd of more than 1,000 people would likely attend throughout Friday night.

Large crowds also made their way to the Emporium and UT's downtown gallery on the 100 Block on Friday night. Sanabria said the university has had a considerable impact on the expansion of the local arts community.

"The graduate students at the University of Tennessee are now displaying their work everywhere in the community. They used to mostly stay on-campus or have their exhibits at the Chocolate Factory. Now UT has two galleries on the 100 Block and there is some incredible talent that comes from them," said Sanabria. "It kind of sparked an entire downtown arts community. It is not just Knoxville, either. This is a regional thing where there is a domino effect. It is almost like the idea of regionalism is the 'new New York' for artists."

Evans said the expansion of Knoxville's cultural attractions helps everyone's bottom line.

"Cultural tourism attracts a high-dollar spender to the area. It also makes your area very attractive to corporations that are looking to settle because they want their creative-minded employees staying," said Evans. "There is a direct correlation between strong arts and a strong economy."

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