Rebekah Hampton Barger, FALL performance at Edgehill Artisan Fair. Photograph by Justin Harvey

Rebekah Hampton Barger, FALL performance at Edgehill Artisan Fair. Photograph by Justin Harvey

Wedgewood/Houston’s newest art space abrasiveMedia houses four dance companies and an art gallery, hosts classes such as trapeze and painting, and provides studio space for artists of all stripes. I talked with Executive Director Audra Almond-Harvey for an article in the May print edition of Nashville Arts. Here is the full interview:

What is abrasiveMedia?

abrasiveMedia began in 2004 as a small organization which held small art shows and exhibitions as well as community forums connecting artists with those working to address social justice issues. In 2010, we decided to take on our first two resident artists as guinea pigs to develop resident programs — David Landry and Rebekah Hampton-Barger. Rebekah launched FALL (an aerial and contemporary dance company) in the end of 2010, and FALL became our first resident project. FALL worked as a pick-up company until last autumn, when Rebekah began a strategic year which will direct the company’s growth to a full-time company. Rebekah has taught aerial classes with us since 2011 and is now partnering with Aerial Fabricators grow that program. David has completed two series of work since joining us, and began Th3 Anomaly, a graphic novel in which each panel is a painting and is based on the life and work of Nicola Tesla. When he’s done, the project will have over 300 paintings as well as costumes, props, and miniatures used in staging the scenes.

Our mission has always been to build community by helping artists grow, connect, and produce, and our first two residents have helped us develop this mission. David has invested in the visual arts scene here in Nashville and is now curating a small gallery out of our space. He also teaches classes – he’s a really wonderful teacher, as he not only teaches the technique but personal confidence and love of the art form. Through FALL we were able to connect to the Nashville Sideshow Fringe Festival where performed their initial debut as well as their first full-length concert. We also connected with the Brick Factory (now Fort Houston) and hosted classes with them for awhile. In the past couple of years we’ve been able to connect with the Arts and Business Council of Nashville and have received support from the Metro Arts Commission, and those relationships have assisted us in our growth. We have been lucky to work with so many passionate and inspiring people over the years, and they have helped us come into our own.

We met Gordon Gilbreath at Houston Station last year; he really saw the importance of what we are doing and offered us space when we were struggling to find a home (it’s amazing how many landlords don’t want you to hang from their ceilings.) He and his wife Elizabeth (who runs the events at Houston Station) have been so generous to us; it’s really amazing to go to work in such a beautiful space. When we opened our temporary space there we were able to give a home to New Dialect, a new contemporary dance company founded by Banning Bouldin which offers daily morning classes to the professional dance community, as well as Company Rose under the direction of Marsha Barsky (contemporary dance company in residence at the Frist) as well as Saliba Dance, founded by Gabrielle Saliba. The contemporary dance community has really been growing over the past few years, and we are very lucky to be a part of that growth.

The driving mission with everyone we work with — as we have always been an interdisciplinary company — is that we work with artists who have big ideas and who desire to help the arts in Nashville grow.

How has abrasive evolved over the years?

We operated out of various coffee-shops, living rooms, churches, gyms, parking lots, front yards, etc. from 2004-2010 — really anywhere that would let us set up shop for our events. We met the Brick Factory folks in 2011 and started teaching classes in their space when they were in Cummins Station. We also hosted a few events there – they have been really amazing to us as well. When they moved into their new space as Fort Houston we decided it was time to grow again, and we connected with Houston Station in April of 2013. We operated out of their event venue until September when we opened our temporary facility. We’re waiting on the go ahead for our move into our brand new, 3000 sq ft facility (with windows — we’re really excited about the windows) where we will grow our performing arts program (we’d like to expand into theater and spoken word) expand our resident visual artists (we’ll be offering studio work space), and hopefully connect with the literary community as well. We’re also offering co-working spaces for artists — we’d love to give a home to some graphic designers and other working artists who need desk space.

What do you see as abrasiveMedia’s mission?

abrasiveMedia’s mission is to help artists grow, connect, and produce. We do that in a variety of ways — from an ongoing artist residency, to classes and events, and unique programs in collaboration with other artists, companies, and organizations. We work specifically with people, programs, and ideas focused on investing in the arts in Nashville.

Are you excited about any upcoming classes or events?

We love everything we do:) But we are really excited about the launch of our Super Squad, an interdisciplinary arts experience for kids, and of course moving into our new space, which will allow us to grow our resident programs.

Can anyone join abrasiveMedia?

Absolutely! We have a variety of ways for people to join with us – we have a lot of info on our website, and you can always email us at info@abrasivemedia.org

How do you feel about the Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood? Has it changed much since you first encountered it?

We love the neighborhood. Interestingly enough, I attended an art show way back in the day at the Fugitive Arts Center which was in the current Houston Station building, and we apparently met a lot of people there that we ended up working with later on. The area has been a home for the arts for a long time — I think that it’s in a phase now in which all the major players over there are growing and maturing and thus the city is more aware of the neighborhood. And it’s more and more becoming a place for makers – there are several galleries and companies in the area offering work spaces for all sorts of artists, alongside exhibition/gallery/performance spaces. I think the next step — which is already happening, with the monthly art crawls that happen here — is for the major players to continue to work together to share what’s going on in the area with the city. I think it would be lovely if people see the neighborhood as one of the arts districts in Nashville, and know that there’s always something creative going on here.

Anything else you’d like to add?

We’re in the first year of a three-year strategic plan to grow from a grassroots, all-volunteer organization with limited programming to a fully staffed and funded organization that is well-positioned for lasting contribution to the arts in Nashville.This has really always been a dream of mine — a home for artists in a variety of genres, where artists are able to grow and share resources, and participate in collaborative projects made possible by such a community. By always, I mean I wrote my first “business plan” for the idea when I was a kid, in crayons. I built my first arts center out of encyclopedias in my bedroom for my dolls and action figures — this is what I did for pretend play; it’s awesome to see the idea become a reality, and have the opportunity to share my passion for investing in artists with others.

Tony Youngblood is the founder of the Circuit Benders’ Ball, a biennial celebration of free culture, art, music, and the creative spirit. He created the open-source, multi-artist, scalable “art tunnel” concept called M.A.P.s (ModularArtPods.com) and runs the experimental improv music blog and podcast www.TheatreIntangible.com.

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