Arrowmont: life after Gatlinburg

As mentioned earlier in this blog, the Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts should get out of Gatlinburg. Although the settlement school that grew into Arrowmont remains an important part of the town’s heritage, the people who run Gatlinburg have no place for history–they see the town as one big cash register. Arrowmont no longer fits this gauntlet of hucksterism, and the sooner the school leaves, the sooner developers can throw up more waterparks and T-shirt shops and tattoo parlors on what used to be the Arrowmont campus.

The question, then, is where should Arrowmont go?

Let’s look at what the School needs and then ruminate about where it might find those requirements. First, I think Arrowmont should stay true to its Southern Appalachian roots and thus stay in East Tennessee. Here’s what the School should look for:

  • Space that inspires teachers and students. People come to Arrowmont to create beauty, and they need ample studios, good places to take walks, and good rooms and outdoor areas in which to interact with each other: lounges, cafeterias, and room to sit down and chat. These various spaces can be carved out of existing buildings or realized through new construction.
  • Parking and space to interact with visitors. Creative people thrive on the reaction they receive from others. The new Arrowmont should make it easy for visitors to walk through galleries and attend events at the School without battling traffic.
  • Things for non-students to do. Arrowmont courses last for one or two weeks. What does the spouse or partner of an Arrowmont student do during that time? Any town or area in which Arrowmont relocates should have a variety of activities for that person to do–or places where he or she can connect to the Internet and work.
  • A receptive and supportive environment. Arrowmont needs a community that is proud of the School and willing to work to help it succeed. At the beginning, this could include support for the move such as donations of land and/or buildings. Local people should be willing to serve on the School’s board of directors, and make annual financial donations. The local newspaper should publicize events and strengthen ties between the community and the School.

Now let’s look at some possible destinations. The Tri-Cities of Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City all have underutilized downtowns that could provide plenty of space for Arrowmont. Restaurants and libraries are close by, and all three have strong communities and media outlets that could readily support the School. The Mountain Home part of the East Tennessee State University campus would be a beautiful new location. Arrowmont would be a small fish in a big pond in these cities, however, so unless one of the Tri-Cities could offer big funding for a move, relocating to one of these places will probably not happen.

Jonesborough comes to mind, but there aren’t many available buildings there, and Jonesborough’s tourist traffic, although nothing like the hordes in Gatlinburg, could prove distracting to Arrowmont’s students and faculty.

Small towns such as Rogersville, Erwin, and Cumberland Gap are possibilities. Rogersville has a delightful small downtown with ample space for the School, and Erwin offers lots of outdoor activities. Cumberland Gap would be a stretch, and would require a lot of new construction, but could work. Bell Buckle, below Nashville, is a perfect example of a tiny town that has grown its own arts community.

The town with the best match for Arrowmont, I believe, is Greeneville. The home of President Andrew Johnson has a downtown that has space and, better yet, a wonderfully forward-looking attitude not seen in many East Tennessee towns. Greeneville is home to several art galleries such as the James-Ben Studio and Gallery Art Center. The town has shown a commitment to the arts with the construction of an art center AND a commitment to a sustainable, liveable future.

Much of this forward thinking is due to funding from the Niswonger Foundation, which has underwritten a redevelopment strategy in which Arrowmont would perfectly fit.

Greeneville is my pick for a new home for Arrowmont, but there’s one more place that might work as well. Washington College Academy lies between Greeneville and Jonesborough (see map below) and already contains much of what Arrowmont would need: classroom space, dormitories, and a kitchen. The Academy has a distinguished history, and at one time was the eighth oldest college in the country.

It has fallen on hard times, however–no one has answered the phone for the several days I’ve called–yet what are bad times for the Academy might be a golden opportunity for Arrowmont. Washington College Academy has campus buildings that look like they would fit in a Grandma Moses painting and, with some work, would work well for Arrowmont’s craftsfolk. The campus is close enough to Jonesborough to siphon off some of that town’s many visitors without having them around all the time.

Wherever it lands, Arrowmont has much work to do: getting the best deal from Pi Beta Phi, negotiating a good place to go, making the move, and keeping the School running in the meantime. As Arrowmont is finding, however, the School has many friends, and I think that, properly motivated, those friends will transform what now seems like a crisis into a wonderful change, launching Arrowmont into a new and more vibrant stage of its history.

I believe that Arrowmont’s best days lie ahead. I really do.

This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

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3 Responses to Arrowmont: life after Gatlinburg

  1. Karen says:

    Finally, someone is talking intelligently about Gatlinburg, East Tennessee, and Arrowmont!! As a Pi Phi and a native of Kingsport, Tennessee I appreciate your thoughtful analysis of the situation for Arrowmont. Lost in this discussion is the dire financial need for the school. If East Tennessee wants Arrowmont to thrive, the residents are going to have to step up and be part of the solution. Not doing anything, even if the land is not sold, will not save Arrowmont. Arrowmont desperately needs good and creative leadership at this time.

  2. Tom says:

    I’d like to make a pitch for Pittman Center getting Arrowmont. Pittman Center has implemented controls to prevent the type of rampant growth it’s neighbor, Gatlinburg, seems to desire. The location would be less stressful for staff and artists and provide a safe haven close to it’s traditional roots. Pittman Center’s mission is to “preserve our mountain heritage”. The board of mayor and alderman are more interested in maintaining heritage and scenery than seeing rampant growth. Sevier County does not want to see Arrowmont go. There is plenty of local support for the school.

  3. tennesseeguy says:

    Pittman Center would be a good place for Arrowmont. What is it about this hamlet that has led its citizens away from the path of iniquity down which Gatlinburg is running so fast?

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