Juried artist and JCHS junior Tyler Earp demonstrates his pottery skills. Photos by Meg Dickens

By Meg Dickens

The Johnson County Center for the Arts brings a new splash of creativity and innovation to Johnson County. The art center has strived to empower everyone to explore their artistic capabilities since its opening in August 2017. Musicians, storytellers, painters, quilters, potters, woodworker, and a plethora of other types of artisans flock to the center. There are currently more than 35-juried artists that frequently display wares at the center.
The Johnson County Center for the Arts is more inclusive than the public may know. Workshops and classes include traditional art along with the less conventional such as quilting, robotics, business, filmmaking, and specialized programs for seniors, veterans, young children, and youth.
“One thing I love about our art community is that it could be competitive, but it isn’t,” said Executive Director Cristy Dunn. “Everyone supports each other.”
Creativity is not limited to current artists or students. The center now offers open gallery events where anyone can submit art for a small fee. Two new artists entered and won awards in the February Heart of the Mountains- Resilience show. The next open show will be Halfway Home on April 5.
All submissions must be in by March 27. The center will also start a new annual Rising Stars Youth Art Exhibit this May. Locals 21 years old and younger qualify.
“We need to let children understand that they don’t have to take a backseat to anyone,” explained founding member Evelyn Cook.
Local artists share techniques, and local musicians entertain during monthly gallery events. These same artists volunteer around the center to help keep everything running smoothly. One example of this is the building renovations. The building was a simple storage space lacking heat, electricity, and plumbing before volunteers stepped up. Only a few repairs remain.
The Johnson County Center for the Arts plans to accomplish an ambitious feat in the community. The Heritage Square project will link local businesses and nonprofits together in a more tangible way. Heritage Square will include the art center, Johnson County Library, Heritage Hall Theatre, Johnson County Senior Center, the Taylorsville Masonic Lodge, and may expand to include the United Methodist Church, heart center, and Farmers State Bank.
Members of the steering committee are currently working on fundraising ideas to fund remaining building projects and Heritage Square beautification. Two current ideas are a garden tour event with live music and a showing of “The Town that Wouldn’t Drown” followed by a musical performance at Heritage Hall. Dunn plans to use a corkboard on site to keep the public informed on progress.
These organizations are already more connected than many may realize. Both Heritage Hall Theatre and the Johnson County Center for the Arts originated with Evelyn Cook. Seniors from the Johnson County Senior Center take art classes every last Wednesday of the month for a reduced price of 3 dollars thanks to a Tennessee Arts Commission grant. These groups intertwine in ways unseen by the public.
Everyone at the art center works to show the public that the art community is accessible and welcoming. Artists of all disciplines, ages, and skill sets show their wares.
For example, JCHS junior Tyler Earp demonstrates his craft during his fourth period daily. Students rave about Dunn’s supportive teaching style. The numbers speak for themselves. All current classes are full, and many have waiting lists. Several courses have had multiple sessions to account for public demand.
The center recently started the JoCo Arts News. This bi-yearly newsletter’s express purpose is to inform and connect people with local art resources in the community. Heritage Hall Theatre prints these newsletters free of charge, while the TN Arts Commission pays for postage. The Tomahawk Newspaper’s Graphic Artist and juried artist Lewis Chapman handles the layout.
The art center makes a point to link to artists outside of the art center as
well as inside. For example, Jean Ann Savery class numbers tripled through its influence.
The friendly volunteers, warm atmosphere, and unique wares make the center a popular destination in Mountain City. All current art classes are full, and visitors rate the center 5 out of 5 stars. The staff is currently raising funds to purchase the building to ensure the center stays open to the community for the foreseeable future. They have raised nearly a third of their $90,000 goal.
Mountain City is full of surprises, culture, and history. In the words of Cook, “don’t ever say that it’s just Mountain City. We have a rich, rich heritage,” and there is still more to come.