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Centennial Art Center commemorates Black History Month with impressive art from local African-American Artists and a perspective on Social Equity

January 28, 2016

Nashville, TN ---This February, the Centennial Art Center will commemorate Black History Month with a visually impressive art exhibit by local African-American artists. This month’s exhibit serves to honor the role of African-Americans in the local art scene as well as their formative role in making Nashville a vibrant city. The slate of 14 emerging and established professional artists who will display paintings and sculptures includes 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 exhibit will open with an artist reception which will include a brief 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 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. According to The Tennessean, by late July the pool closed. Historian Leland R. Johnson wrote in his book, The Parks of Nashville, “The lack of funding was the official explanation for the closing… 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, located at 301 25th Avenue North (in the northeast corner of Centennial Park).

The Centennial Art Center offers 27 weekly classes to a diverse student population. The Center is a visual art learning center and community art gallery. Operating hours are 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday – Thursday. For more information, visit the Art Center’s website at www.nashvile.gov/cac