This Tennessee Community Has an Advantage When it Comes to Art
Rutherford residents are met with a flourishing cultural scene.
Just a short drive from downtown Nashville, Rutherford County boasts a vibrant and energetic arts scene, offering everything from music and theater to public art, exhibitions and community events centered around the arts. Together, these not only make up a large part of the community’s identity, but contribute greatly to its economy.
A national study in 2017 from Americans for the Arts showed that the arts – both arts events and tourism – generate $31.2 million in economic activity every year in Rutherford County.
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“When locals and tourists attend Rutherford County events, from festivals to performances, cash registers are ringing. They are dining in our restaurants, shopping in our retail stores, purchasing souvenirs and touring our attractions,” says Barbara Wolke, senior vice president of the Rutherford County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “When people come for an event or a performance, this is a great opportunity to showcase everything we have to offer, and many people consider relocating here. You can’t really put a price on that, and that is how arts and culture are stimulating the economy.”
Some of the events that draw tourists and locals alike include the roots and Americana music festival Uncle Dave Macon Days, the Greenway Art Festival, Main Street JazzFest and Boro Art Crawl, which pairs local artists with businesses that showcase their work on the second Friday of every even month. These festivities pour over to attendance at other attractions like the Stones River National Battlefield, the Springhouse Theatre Co. in Smyrna, the Earth Experience at the Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History and the Center for the Arts in Murfreesboro, which provides the region with theatrical productions, musical performances, art exhibits and educational programs.
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Though the arts have been a cornerstone of Rutherford County for decades, the Rutherford Arts Alliance was launched in 2019 to identify, unite and promote arts, culture and heritage in the community.
“There are over 1,200 arts entities in our county,” says Lucy Langworthy, the organization’s chair. “It was very apparent that there was so much going on that we needed to connect them and provide advocacy for various arts, cultural and heritage groups here.”
One of the alliance’s missions is to create community connections as well as collaborations between arts education, public art, businesses and the community. Monthly meetings are held at different locations that have a connection to the arts, where members brainstorm various projects on the docket for the year, such as a theater performance to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote.
Carpe Artista, a local nonprofit launched in 2011 that provides arts instruction for hundreds of children and adults each year, attracts thousands of people to its festivals and is focused on building the arts in Smyrna and northern Rutherford County. It offers private and group instruction at Carpe Academy, business and leadership training at Carpe Studio, and summer and specialty camps, workshops and classes. Plus, the nonprofit participates in a number of community events like the Farmers Market, Depot Days and Christmas Market, and it sent a troupe of youth actors to Europe.
Carpe Artista’s various community building projects include Carpe Café, a café that gives real-world business, management and entrepreneurship experience to students and young adults who work and volunteer, as well as renovating its new facility and participating in economic development task forces.
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“Our four pillars, or core values, are character, calling, crafting and community,” says Ron Alley, founder and CEO. “The reason the community development part is important is because if you’re really going to help students grow in their art form and leadership ability to a high level, you’ve got to create an environment for them to be able to spread their wings.”
If you'd like to learn more about the Rutherford County area, check out the latest issue of Livability: Rutherford County, Tennessee.