by Erica Ciccarone
There’s a spot in North Nashville on Herman Street and 18th Avenue North that, according to the owner, Aj Sankari, was once a wheel and rubber factory. By the time Sankari bought it, it was being used as a junk lot. But something interesting started happening: graffiti artists and muralists from all over the city were leaving their mark on the many dilapidated walls of the buildings.
Jay Jenkins, who goes by Woke3, was one of those artists. “I called it the Deep End,” Jenkins said. “When you’d go down there, you’d feel like you were part of something. It would feel like you entered a whole new world when you went down there to paint.”
Jenkins, a senior at TSU, fulfilled a long-held vision in October when he organized the Norf Wall Fest in Sankari’s now-rebuilt corner of North Nashville. He received a Thrive grant from Metro Arts Commission and approached artist and North Nashville figurehead Thaxton Waters for help.
“I’ve been working with Jay for a while, and I see his promise. I always look for those artists at universities. I don’t necessarily look at technique, but I look at a certain work ethic that they have. Those are the artists that I gravitate toward, the ones that can see a vision and follow it through.” Waters, a graduate of TSU himself, juried the show, selecting a bill of artists that includes Brandon Donahue, Arjae, Brad Wells, Jamond Bullock, Sam Dunson, Folek, Michael Mucker, Elisheba Israel, and Doughjoe.
The project culminated in a day-long festival of poetry, music, and art. The work held powerful messages. Sam Dunson’s piece is a take on Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. A kid lifts up his shirt, revealing a bullseye on his chest, while a three-headed serpent looks on approvingly. In Brandon Donahue’s, a child sits at his desk, writing furiously in his notebook, a bright red A+ above him, and the inscription, “The present is a gift.” Jenkins, Waters, and Sankari are encouraged by the success of the event and are already planning Phase II.
For more information about the Norf Wall Fest, follow @NORFSTUDIOS and woke3 on Instagram.
Erica Ciccarone is an independent writer. She holds an M.F.A. from the New School in Creative Writing. She blogs about art at www.nycnash.com.