Updated: Jun 7, 2021
Emily Habeck, Vanderbilt Curb Public Scholar
After the traumatic March 2020 tornado and the abrupt pandemic lockdown, the arts in Nashville – and cities everywhere – were immediately impacted and critically needed. Metro Arts responded to the needs of artists and the community by strategically releasing a round of Thrive funding in April 2020 to support artists and projects that safely uplifted, supported, and connected people in Nashville and beyond. As a graduate student at Vanderbilt studying community development and theology, an important question emerged for me: How do artists see their role in the community during a time of crisis?
A year after that round of funding, on April 21, 2021, Metro Arts and Vanderbilt’s Curb Center helped me convene the community for an artists’ roundtable to address the role of the artist in crisis and recovery.
Taria Person, Elisheba Israel Mrozik, and Pam Marlene Taylor were awarded 2020 April Thrive funding, and they gathered again a year later to reflect and share their insider insight on Nashville’s artist community, why people should support local artists, and how to do it.
View the virtual roundtable below:
With Spanish subtitles / Con subtítulos en español:
Moderator Emily Habeck and Artist Panelists Elisheba Israel Mrozik, Pam Marlene Taylor and Taria Person. Click the image above to view the recording of the virtual roundtable discussion.
Fiber artist, curator, and residency director Pam Marlene Taylor described the Nashville artist community as supportive and tight-knit without being exclusive. Nashville artists “grow and accept new members all the time. It’s a really special environment here.”
Artworks by Pam Marlene Taylor. From top left: "You'll Change Your Mind When All Your Friends Start Having Babies," "Free Babysitting - blue," "Mourning Wreath," "Spoiler Alert," and "Women's Work." View more at PamMarleneTaylor.com.
Taria Person, a multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary artist, also spoke highly of the artist community’s web of support and inclusivity: “When you thrive, I thrive. When I thrive, you thrive. It’s this connection. We don’t even have to know each other. It’s like we automatically become community. I think that’s the beautiful thing about Nashville… even when there’s competition, they’ll put it down for us all to come together to do beautiful things.”
Above: visual artworks from Taria Person. Below: Person's April 20 Thrive project, "Storm: A Hip-Hop Folk Exploration of the Tornadoes of 2020." Visit Person's Instagram for more.
Elisheba Israel Mrozik, muralist, Jefferson Street Art Crawl director, and owner of One Drop Ink Tattoo Parlour and Gallery, feels that all of these attributes are evidence of a healthy community: “There is enough out there for everybody. We can literally all win.”
Above: Artworks from Elisheba Israel Mrozik. Visit QueenBeeInk.com to view her portfolio and learn more.
The three artist panelists wear many hats in their communities, but in different ways, they each see their role in crisis and recovery as one of bringing people together and lifting people up. Taylor is a connector who brings together artists with like-minded goals and facilitates community building, comradery, and creative fellowship among artists, acting as a self-described artist “matchmaker.”
Person described their “mission to uplift myself and to uplift others as well… So people have reminders that they can do this too.” (Person fully embodied this during the event, inspiring other artists and the audience to embrace learning, and have courage, purpose and intentionality.)
Mrozik sees her role as one that supports the preservation of place and memory in North Nashville. “My role is to stay consistent and keep pushing out consistent messages and having those uncomfortable conversations with people through my artwork… As I’ve seen Jefferson Street and the North Nashville area continuously gentrify over this last decade, I want to be sure that I am being consistent and purposeful in what art I put out there and what message I am sending and to be that kind of anchor for the neighborhood… And as [artists who have historic connections to the North Nashville community] get pushed out, I want them to be able to come in and show their work and be accessible to creating things in the community so that a past is remembered.”
Nashville’s success as a desirable place to live and visit has everything to do with the artists who create the city’s identity. Yet, the artists agree that their work in the community often goes unappreciated or misunderstood. “The systemic issues [facing artists] are societal issues in that we don’t value the arts as we should," says Mrozik, who dispels the myth of the starving artist and explains that artists should be viewed as "skilled laborers." "Everything that makes Nashville came from an artist's mind," said Mrozik. "And . . . those people need to be paid properly."
When asked what artists need right now, Taylor explained how art collectors and purchasers are lacking in Nashville. “Buy the art. This is the best thing you could do… No one loses. As artists, our role in boosting the art collector community here is education. I think a lot of people think that they can’t collect art. And people don’t realize that you can do payment plans. Almost every gallery in town offers a payment plan, and most artists offer a payment plan… Anyone can buy art.” Mrozik urges people to buy “unique and brave art.” Rather than seeing art as decoration, Mrozik thinks people can see "unique and brace" art as a reminder for you for the day to watch how you interact with the world." For creatives in the performing arts, like Person, streaming work online and being an audience member is important: “There’s a lot of artists who don’t necessarily sell their art, but they want it to be viewed, they want it to be witnessed. So, witness and experience their artwork.”
In 2020, I asked about the artist’s role in community during a time of crisis. Now in 2021, my question is: What is the community’s role in the development, well-being, and thriving of artists in this time of recovery? Pam, Taria, and Elisheba illustrated how Nashville artists and the community have a symbiotic relationship. The artists also illuminated the tangible, imperative ways they contribute to Nashville’s vitality.
Metro Arts works in partnership with a community of artists who facilitate meaning and memory making, legacy building, and community development through their artworks, but artists also need robust citizen support as well as policy changes that make consistent funding for their work possible. I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know these artists and their work through my research, and I’m delighted that the public can now hear these artists’ visionary perspectives, too.
A note from Metro Arts: we are working with partners to provide a Spanish translation of the roundtable video. Check back here or follow us on social media at @metroartsnash to alerted when the translation is ready.