A Museum for the Masses

A downtown Nashville post office becomes a stunning center for visual arts.
Lynnmarie P. Cook

A 6-year-old girl stares intently at her reflection in the mirror as her mother sweeps the red wisps from her forehead. "That's better," says the artist with pencil poised, wheels spinning, mind engaged.

It's Friday afternoon at ArtQuest, a 4,000-square-foot hands-on art center within Nashville's new Frist Center for the Visual Arts. ArtQuest's 31 stations, grouped into three areas--Art Essentials, Art Materials and Techniques, and Art and Meaning--allow visitors to draw, cut, pose, play curator, or simply play.

Says Ellen Pryor, long involved with the center, "The art stations take abstract concepts and connect them with everyday life." The same can be said of the center itself and its effect on the community after its opening last spring. Plans for this facility were undertaken eight years ago. It was Thomas F. Frist, Jr., who caught the vision--and committed funds--to convert a 1934 post office to a 21st-century museum.

Planners went to great lengths to preserve the historical integrity of the marble-and-granite building not only because it's on the National Register of Historic Places, but also because the building itself is a work of art.

"The city has such an emotional tie to this building, so we took care to preserve it," says Ellen, noting the original hardwood flooring, Art Deco lighting fixtures, and decorative cast-aluminum grillwork. Today, the once-turquoise walls gleam in muted hues, calling attention instead to the remarkable artwork they display in 24,000 square feet of gallery space.

The Ingram Gallery and the Upper-Level Gallery house exhibits. The Contemporary Artists Project Gallery underscores the center's support for living artists; the Education Gallery links the themes of current exhibits with community outreach efforts; and an Orientation Gallery describes exhibits and programs at this and other local cultural centers.

But that's just the beginning of the center's reach to the broader community. The Media and Technology Resource Center maintains an on-site reference collection as well as six computers for visitors to search the Internet and preview software related to exhibit themes.

Meanwhile, over in ArtQuest, there's a 6-year-old self-portrait artist who's reaping the benefits of this commitment to art lovers of all ages.

Frist Center for the Visual Arts: 919 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37203; (615) 244-3340 or www.fristcenter.org.

This article is from the April 2002 issue of Southern Living.Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.