Though known far and wide as “Music City,” Nashville is home to over a dozen charming art galleries that highlight the works of the less musically inclined. Here are a handful you should check out during your next visit.
Aaron Douglas Gallery
Unassumingly nestled on the Fisk University campus is the Aaron Douglas Gallery (Fisk University, 1000 17th Ave. N., 615/329-8685, Tues.-Fri. 11am-4pm, Sat. 1-4pm, Sun. 2pm-4pm, Free), which houses the school’s collection of African, African American, and folk art works. It also hosts visiting exhibits and others by Fisk students and faculty. The gallery is named after painter and illustrator Aaron Douglas, who also established Fisk’s first formal art department, and is located on the top floor of the Fisk library. Nearby Cravath Hall is home to several Aaron Douglas murals that are worth seeing.
If the second floor of The Arcade (244 5th Ave. N., hours vary by gallery; first Sat. of the month 6pm-9pm, Free) looks locked up, it’s because a number of small galleries and artists have spaces here, and their public hours are erratic at best. During the monthly First Saturday Art Crawl, however, all the doors are open and the lights are on. This is the best place and time to see innovative and affordable art in the city, when the energy is high and the wine flows. Galleries feature artwork in mediums like sculpture, photography, paintings, and printmaking. If you see something you like, buy it. Many of these galleries are essentially pop-up shops, and it may be hard to find the works again next month.
Art + Invention Gallery
The Art + Invention Gallery (1106 Woodland St., 615/226-2070, Fri.-Sat. 11am-6pm, Sun. noon-5pm, or by appointment, Free) is an East Nashville institution. Proprietors Meg and Bret MacFayden put on 5-6 shows each year, including the signature Tomato Art Show, part of the annual Tomato Art Festival in August, and are well loved for their support of other Music City creative types. The shop stocks handmade decorative art, jewelry, pottery, knit goods, and more. Art + Invention was the go-to East Nashville creative boutique before the streets were lined with them.
The Arts Company
One of downtown’s most accessible and eclectic galleries, The Arts Company (215 5th Ave. N., 615/254-2040, Tues.-Sat. 11am-5pm, Free) offers exhibits of the works of local and national artists, with contemporary works ranging from the avant-garde to the everyday. The works are shown in a gallery space in an inviting historic building. Unlike some other galleries, The Arts Company, one of the area’s first galleries, typically has worked with a wide range of prices.
Carl Van Vechten Gallery
The Carl Van Vechten Gallery (Fisk University, 1000 17th Ave. N., 615/329-8720, Tues.-Sat. 10am-5pm, $10 adults, $6 seniors, free for children) is named for the art collector who convinced artist Georgia O’Keeffe to donate to Fisk University a large portion of the work and personal collection of her late husband, Alfred Stieglitz. The college still retains 50 percent of the collection, although they have sold the other half to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in Arkansas, to raise funds for the cash-strapped private school. The legal battle waged in courts for more than seven years. Beginning in fall 2013, the collection will rotate between Crystal Bridges and the Van Vechten every two years. Other exhibits will be on display when the Stieglitz collection is in Arkansas. The collection includes works by Stieglitz and O’Keeffe, as well as acclaimed European and American artists including Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Diego Rivera, Arthur Dove, Gino Severini, and Charles Demuth. It is truly a remarkable collection and one worth seeing, but call ahead to confirm hours, particularly when school is not in session. Ring the bell to the right of the door to be let in.
Sculptor Alan LeQuire is known for two iconic Nashville works: Musica, the Music Row sculpture controversial for its unclad figures, and Athena, the massive golden goddess at the Parthenon. His Sylvan Park gallery is more diverse, exhibiting both his own work and that of other sculptors. In addition to having works on display, Lequire Gallery (4304 Charlotte Ave., 615/298-4611, Tues.-Sat. 10am-3pm, Free) also teaches classes and workshops for those who want to get in touch with their artistic side.
Transplanted New Yorkers Theo Antoniadis and Veta Cicolello opened Ovvio Arte (425 Chestnut St., 615/838-5699, By appointment, Free) in 2008. This art gallery and performance space is a venue for the unexpected. It offers regular theater, dramatic readings, and art shows. An evening here is sure to highlight Nashville’s offbeat, creative side. This is not a static gallery: It is a performance space where art, music, and theater collide. The space is 2,500 square feet large, built in a 1937 garage.
The Rymer Gallery
Perhaps the most cosmopolitan of all Nashville’s galleries, The Rymer Gallery (233 5th Ave. N., 615/752-6030, Tues.-Sat. 11am-5pm, Free) installs thought-provoking exhibits with works from artists of national renown. The Rymer is also home to Nashville’s Herb Williams, a gifted artist who creates sculpture from crayons. Williams’s work has been on display in the White House and other prestigious addresses.
The Sarratt Gallery(Vanderbilt University, 2301 Vanderbilt Pl., 615/322-2471, Sept.-mid-May Mon.-Fri. 9am-9pm, Sat.-Sun. 10am-10pm, mid-May-Aug. Mon.-Fri 9am-4:30pm, Free) is housed in the main student center on the Vanderbilt campus, which has a more contemporary bent than the other on-campus gallery, the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery (1220 21st Ave. S., 615/343-1702). The Sarratt frequently exhibits the work of alumni and students and kicks off the shows with popular opening receptions. The annual holiday sale is one of the best places to shop for artisan crafts in the city. The tall space is in a welltrafficked lobby of the student center, alongside a small courtyard with a fountain.
Twist Art Gallery
The upper level of The Arcade (244 5th Ave. N.), houses several artist studios that open as galleries during downtown’s monthly First Saturday Art Crawl. One favorite is the innovative, multi-room Twist Art Gallery (73 Arcade, 888/535-5286, Thurs.-Sat. 11am-3pm, first Sat. of the month 6pm-9pm, Free), which exhibits different artists and works each month.
Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery
In 2009 the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery (Vanderbilt University, 1220 21st Ave. S., 615/343-1702, Sept.-early May Mon.-Wed. and Fri. noon-4pm, Thurs. noon-8pm, Sat.-Sun. 1pm-5pm; early May-mid-June Tues.-Fri. noon-4pm, Sat. 1pm-5pm, Free) gallery moved into the historic 1928 McKim, Mead and White building on Vanderbilt’s pretty Peabody campus. The moved prompted a shift of the gallery’s mission as well. Today the gallery is home to a permanent collection of more than 6,000 objects of art that are exhibited throughout the years. Exhibitions can be up for several months at a time and are often tied in with special lectures and other events on campus.
For years Zeitgeist Arts (516 Hagan St., 615/256-4805, Tues.-Sat. 11am-5pm, Free) was the cornerstone—literally and figuratively—of Hillsboro Village. Its small, bright space attracted high-quality artists and well-heeled collectors. In 2013 the gallery moved to a bigger, reclaimed historic space with Manuel Zeitlin Architects. The exhibited art changes monthly, depending on which artists the gallery is featuring.