This February the Centennial Art Center commemorates Black History Month with a visually impressive art exhibition featuring works by several outstanding local African-American artists.
The exhibition serves to honor the role of African-Americans in the local art scene as well as their formative role in making Nashville the vibrant city we know and love. The 14 emerging and established professional artists who will display paintings and sculptures are Carol Saffell, Claudyne Jefferson, David Jackson, Darrell Dunn, Joseph Love, James Threalkill, Jerry Waters, LaRhonda Angelisa, Lakesha Moore, Michael McBride, Martha Nixon, Sean Wallace, Thaxton Waters II, and Charles Graham Jr.
The exhibition opens with an artist reception, free and open to the public, which offers a perspective on the historical impact of the facility and the critical role it played in helping insure social equity for the Parks Department.
The Centennial Art Center location was once the site of the city’s most popular swimming pool. In 1961, a group of approximately 20 black teens decided to take a swim in the city’s ‘big pool with the concession stand’ at Centennial Park, and by late July the pool closed.
“The lack of funding was the official explanation for the closing,” wrote historian Leland R. Johnson in his book, The Parks of Nashville. “However, civil rights demonstrations were in progress at the time, and it is the opinion of some that Mayor Ben West and the Park Board ordered the pools closed to avoid the sort of disturbances that had occurred in other cities when swimming pools were integrated.”
The Centennial Park pool was one of many throughout the city that closed during the early 60’s. In 1971, the city reopened and repurposed the site as the Centennial Art Center, a visual art learning center offering popular, affordable, painting and pottery studio classes for all Nashvillians. The Center was also the city’s very first “adaptive reuse” building.
Today most of the original structure remains intact – the former women’s locker room now functions as a pottery studio and the former men’s locker room serves as a painting and printmaking studio space. The deep end, of what was once the old pool, is now a sunken lawn, and the shallow end is now the home of a beautiful courtyard with a stunning herb garden maintained by the Herb Society of Nashville. The facility is also a popular site for weddings, private receptions and other social events.
“It’s important to learn from the past while planning for the future,” said Parks Director Tommy Lynch. “The Art Center stands as one tangible example of how the city used the lessons from a difficult past to create dynamic recreational opportunities now and for the future.” Lynch will recount his memories of that historic time in the facility’s history and the department’s successful efforts to insure equal access for all citizens during the reception, scheduled for 5 p.m., Friday, February 5 at the Art Center, which is located at 301 – 25th Avenue North (in the northeast corner of Centennial Park).
The Centennial Art Center, a visual art learning center and community art gallery, offers 27 weekly classes to a diverse student population. Operating hours are 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday – Thursday. For more information, visit the Art Center’s website: www.nashvile.gov/cac