Last January, theCO hosted an event called “New Year, New Ideas” as an effort to spread the word some incredible community efforts that were making headway in 2017. One year later, we are celebrating some major progress in these projects and letting you know how you can best support them in 2018.
Four months ago, the only thing in the dark windows of 300 East Main Street was a sagging blue sign that read, “For Lease, 3 Floors.” Now, anyone driving through the intersection or walking out of ComeUnity Café can see a bright array of photos.
Last year, Aaron Hardin, photography professor at Union University, pitched the idea for “The Coalescence,” a nontraditional downtown gallery space. Hardin proposed placing artwork in the windows of vacant buildings around town. There would be no fancy opening with silver trays of hors d’oeuvres, just placing art an unassuming place anyone could access.
“A traditional gallery, you would enter into it, it’s nice, it’s staffed, all that kind of thing, but it’s also typically only for a certain demographic of people, and only a certain demographic of people would walk into a traditional gallery space,” Hardin explained.
In graduate school, Hardin learned about a photographer in an old coal mining town who used to install blow-ups of her portraits on the stone pillars underneath a bypass. It was her way to display art for the homeless community. That gave Hardin the idea for easy accessibility to art.
Hardin can relate to the feeling on not belonging in an art gallery. In grad school, he visited galleries in some of the most artistic and edgiest places on earth, but sometimes, he wondered what a country boy from West Tennessee was doing at a fancy art gallery in New York. The thought of people who didn’t even have this point of entry to the art world spurred him on during the process.
“Just because you’re from a certain background—or your parents raised you a certain way, or you have a certain economic status—doesn’t mean it’s not important for you to be exposed to good art, and it can actually affect you,” Hardin said.
Growing up in Tipton County in a non-artistic family, Hardin said that he wasn’t really exposed to art until college. It wasn’t until after college that he realized he was an artist.
“I think if, maybe when I was 12, if I had seen something or been exposed to work, that would have changed my ability or interest or whatever, throughout high school and now,” Hardin said. “So that’s really the goal . . . to see downtown thrive and flourish, and to pour culture into that space as well . . . and to show people that if you’re creative and crafty, you can do things with very little means.”
Matt Eich, a two-time Getty Editorial Prize winner and photographer for the New York Times, Time magazine, and National Geographic, photographed the artwork currently on display in the gallery. Next, the gallery will feature Cody Holcombe, a photographer from San Diego. His latest work deal with suburban sprawl, artwork that Hardin calls “really weird in all the right ways.”
Hardin wants to continue display socially minded work that’s “not just nice-looking for the sake of being nice-looking. . . . It raises questions.”
“I believe that it can actually humanize humans,” Hardin said. “And I think that’s really important right now, that we’re ingesting things that humanize each other.”
One day, as Hardin made some adjustments to the gallery, he saw a man who works at one of the tattoo parlors walking by with his daughter, a little girl steering her bicycle with pink tassels streaming in the wind. As they passed by the gallery, they stopped, and the man started pointing to the photos. Hardin stepped out to talk to them.
“He was really happy people were putting the arts out there,” Hardin said. “I am hopeful positive things are coming out of it. . . . I want people to gawk a little bit. . . . I just hope that somebody’s going to be exposed to something in the outside world.”