For a city of Nashville's size and cultural influence to be without an MFA program in studio art is an anomaly, to say the least. And the weight shouldered by Watkins College of Art, Design & Film — the city's main art school — cannot be underestimated. As such, Watkins plays an increasingly important role among local artists — with its community programming and ability to shape young talent, of course. But just as vital is its position to employ artists as teachers. Not only does that give accomplished artists the impetus to move here, it also gives first-rate artists who are already Nashville residents a reason to stay.
Last year a handful of influential Watkins professors, among them Ron Lambert and Derek Coté, moved on to other jobs, and the effect of their absence has yet to be fully understood. Lambert helped vanguard Coop Gallery in the Arcade, and both he and Coté had equally talented partners in Ruth Zelanski and Nicole Baumann, respectively, whose presence in Nashville will also be missed.
Lambert spoke to the Scene from his new home in Bloomsburg, Pa., about his departure.
"I don't think I will ever experience the level of friendship that I felt working there," he says of his time at Watkins. "Nashville was really good to me. It is rare to find a place where artists get together and talk about art and share opportunities the way it happens in the scene there. It always felt wide open for whatever artists wanted to do."
But there's a silver lining to their departure — a new crop of artists are taking up the mantle, and an exhibit of their work seems like it may be the best way to get to know them.
In Monsters, Prophets, Sinners and Tourists, two new Watkins professors are showing work alongside two of the school's most respected. New media artist Morgan Higby-Flowers, who participated in this summer's experimental art show at Noa Noa, is exhibiting a single-channel video titled "Timonds are [not] Forever." Trained at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and New York's Alfred University, Higby-Flowers taught at Austin-Peay before he took the position at Watkins. Photographer Christine Rogers' work will be familiar to Scene readers — she'll exhibit selected photographs from a larger body of work titled The Switzerland of India, which we wrote about in the July 18 issue.
Joining the two new professors are department chair Kristi Hargrove and Terry Thacker, two stalwarts of the Watkins roster. Of particular interest is Thacker's contribution, which will include oil paintings of hybrid characters and mythologies that the artist says "collide and collude within a late-modern allegory."