The Carousel Waltz

I’ll admit that several years ago, when I first heard that Kingsport was building a carousel downtown, I had one question: Why?

I rode a lot of carousels as a child. The one at Dollywood, the one at the Knoxville Zoo, the one at the mall where I lived in Alabama (a full-size size one, smack in the middle of the food court). But I didn’t understand why Kingsport of all places needed a carousel attached to the farmers’ market.

The project started in 2008 with an idea from Gale Joh. Where he grew up in New York, carousels abounded, and he felt that the children of Kingsport deserved the everyday delight he’d experienced as a kid. Through years of work by many local artists, support by the government and help from its citizens, Joh’s dream came to fruition. Though he did not live to see the carousel’s completion in 2015, it is finished.

Open Wednesday through Sunday, rides are just $1.  I went for the first time this past Saturday.

My family and I went to the Fine Crafts Show at the farmers’ market. A ride on the carousel came with admission to the show. My mother was excited, but I felt neutral about the whole thing.

When we walked into the roundhouse, I changed my mind. Here was this massive structure: hand-carved and hand-painted, 32 animals and two chariots, the contributing artists listed on the walls. The music isn’t played over loud speakers; it’s done by a pipe organ, loud and brassy.

We picked out mounts, and I climbed up onto the wooden horse. I used to ride real horses, too, so my body knew what to do: heels down, legs tight, tuck your tail bone. It was familiar.

“Oh, look!” my mom said, pointing. Above us, around us, there was more to see: little animals perched on the metal framing, murals of local flora and fauna, each thing rendered in exquisite detail. For the three and a half minutes of the ride, you’re never bored because there’s always something else to turn your eye to.

Soon enough, the ride lurched to a halt. My horse stopped at the top of its rotation.

“Do you need help getting down?” my dad asked.

“Do you know how many times I’ve dismounted a horse in my life?” I countered, swinging down in one smooth arc–muscle memory.

“Oh, right. I forget about that.”

We forget about a lot of things–things that used to be an integral part of us, cast aside unwittingly or unconsciously. That’s the nature of being alive; you experience too much to remember all of it.

But we can decide to pick those things back up, once we’re reminded of them. Even if it’s only for a moment, just three minutes on a carousel, we can remember what it’s like to be children with wonder in our eyes.

That’s why the carousel. It’s a massive artistic undertaking. It’s for the kids to have fun. It’s for the adults to remember how they used to–and maybe remember how to do it again.

Craft Show by the Carousel

Craving some new decor for your home? Always wanted to learn about Bonsai trees? Just want to get out of the house?

This weekend, Engage Kingsport presents the National Carousel Fine Craft Show, where you’ll be able to do all those things and more. The show is open this Saturday and Sunday at the Kingsport Farmers Market downtown. A special preview party will be held Friday night from 6-9 p.m.

There will be all kinds of crafts on display and for sale throughout the weekend — pottery, quilts, jewelry and more. The show will also feature craft demonstrations, workshops and lectures. Food trucks will be available for lunch.

Whether you want a new photograph to hang on the wall or hope to learn something new, the Fine Craft Show is sure to have what you’re looking for.

Saturday and Sunday tickets are $5. Friday night’s preview party is $35 and includes weekend admission.

For more information, visit or call (423)392-8414.

Why We Fight

Last Thursday, President Trump released his proposed budget, which asks for an increase in military spending and decreases in a lot of other places — including the arts. This isn’t a political blog, and up till now I’ve kept myself out of it for the most part, but there is a person writing these words. That person (me) cares about the arts.

The proposed budget would cut federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts entirely, as well as that for the National Endowment for the Humanities. There would be funding decreases for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds many local radio and TV stations. (NPR has more information here.)

It’s just a theoretical spending outline. Congress will write and pass the actual budget. What Trump put out on Thursday is essentially a wishlist, and it reflects his campaign promises.

Every week — sometimes every day — I am shocked that our president continues to try to make good on those promises. Maybe that’s naive, and it’s not like I took the things he said on the campaign trail lightly; a lot of them legitimately scared me. However, some part of me hoped they were hollow promises, empty threats. Sure he says he’ll build the wall, but he won’t really. He wouldn’t dare! Turns out, he would.

The NEA, NEH, and CPD support billion dollar industries and provide millions of jobs to Americans. It’s about more than that, though. If we cut funding to the arts, then what are we doing? What are we working toward? Where are we trying to go? What are we fighting for?

Snopes recently confirmed that that last question is not in fact a Winston Churchill quote, but the sentiment remains strong. Churchill did have something to say about the arts, however, and that’s what I’ll leave with you.

“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”

One Step for Man, 39 Steps for Comedy

The banner for the play The 39 Steps from the production’s Facebook page.

Kingsport’s State Theatre Company opens its second production this weekend with The 39 Steps, a play adapted from the 1915 novel by John Buchan and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film.

The production opened last night at Taylored Venue & Events located in downtown Kingsport. It runs March 16 – April 2, with $15 tickets available at the door or at STC’s website here. The show is family friendly, and a cash bar will be open every night serving classic cocktails to fit with the show’s 1930s feel.

The play itself is a spy thriller played for laughs. Only four actors–three men, one woman–play over 100 characters over its course, with lightning-quick changes between them and oftentimes playing more than one character per scene. An uproarious comedy that has been performed and adored the world over, this is not a show to miss.

Check out the trailer below or visit the production’s Facebook page here for more details.

Putting the Art Back in Kingsport’s Heart

image1Kingsport, Tennessee, is and always has been an industry town. Eastman, Domtar, an abundance of hospitals–it’s easy to forget that this town has more to offer.

Engage Kingsport, working with the Office of Cultural Arts, sought to change that starting several years back. One project it spearheaded was the Kingsport Carousel, a massive undertaking that took years of work by many artists that now rests, completed, downtown for the public to enjoy.

The Art in the Heart Gallery originally opened as a volunteer-led art gallery to help support the Carousel Project. After the project’s completion, Engage Kingsport had every intention of shutting the gallery down. However, Faye Boushley believed that the gallery still had purpose in the town.

Three years after its initial opening, the Art in the Heart Gallery continues to flourish. The number of artists on display has grown from 20 to 75. Each week, local artists teach a variety of classes for children and adults (the schedule for which can be found on the gallery’s website here).

With its mission to support local artistry, Boushley keeps a 100-mile range on the artists showcased in the gallery. The first Thursday of every month, the gallery spotlights a featured artists during downtown’s Sip and Stroll event.

As a nonprofit, all the proceeds from the gallery now go directly to its overhead. Artists are juried into the gallery do not pay a fee to have their work shown. They receive a percentage of the proceeds from the sales.

“The ultimate goal of the gallery is just to continue on,” Boushley said, “and to grow and to support more of the local artists. Also to let Kingsport and the surrounding areas know we’re here.”

The gallery certainly is here and is worth a visit. Located at 246 Broad St. in the heart of downtown Kingsport, it is open Wednesday-Saturday.


Public Art Committee meeting

The Johnson City Public Art Committee will have its monthly meeting tonight at 5 p.m. Meetings are regularly held on the second Wednesday of each month at City Hall in the administrative conference room.

According to their page on Johnson City’s website, the “Public Art Committee is responsible for establishing policies of the public art program, setting goals, consulting with staff on an annual work plan, developing project ideas, overseeing the selection of artworks and their locations, securing funding, ensuring proper maintenance of the public art collection, and advocating for public art.” It is comprised of 12 members appointed by the City Commission for staggered three-year terms.

With the dissolution of the Johnson City Arts Council, the PAC is trying to build a higher profile in the community. The PAC is in the beginning stages of organizing an arts festival for this fall to garner community interest and support for public art.

Tonight, PAC will  discuss active public art projects such as the Quote Walk fundraiser and the Veterans Park sculpture. They will review marketing and long-term planning goals.

For more information on the PAC as part of the Public Works Administration, visit their webpage or contact its director Phil Pindzola at


Unity Through Division

Art asks questions, but rarely does it expect an answer.  This wasn’t the case for the Divided States of America, a performance and discussion at Emory & Henry on Feb. 20.

As part of a series of “DIY performance events” mobilized by Bad and Nasty, Kelly Bok presented part of her senior thesis and asked the audience to get involved. Based on the idea of forum theatre created by Augusto Boal, the event sought to facilitate dialogue about the recent political climate.

Forum theatre makes the audience as much a part of the performance as the actors, and that’s just what Divided State of America did.

Through various means, the performers asked the audience to engage physically, emotionally, and intellectually with each other and the issues facing the country today. Bok’s idea was that through listening and discussion, people might gain a better understanding of the people around us and how to deal with what’s going on.

Many people felt apprehensive and even fearful of the new administration’s agenda, while others had a more “wait and see” approach. Some were directly affected by many of the issues discussed — the travel ban, the Affordable Care Act, fake news, the women’s marches and “the wall.” Some felt fear not for themselves, but for their loved ones.

The night ended on a bright note as Bok asked each audience member to stand and share something that brought them hope.

String Theory

The cold did nothing to keep the crowd away from an artist’s talk with Sheila Pepe on Thursday night. They came with hats and coats (and one person with a bag of fries), but a diverse group of students and non-students gathered in Ball Hall at ETSU for the event hosted by Mary B. Martin School of the Arts.

Pepe is an artist and educator active since the mid-1990s, and in her craft she seeks to bridge the divide between abstraction and figure. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Massachusetts College of Art and a Master of Fine Arts from the School of Museum Fine Arts, Boston.  Currently, she works at the Pratt Institute as the assistant chair of fine arts.

Pepe has a softspoken eccentricity, highlighted by her appearance: blue polka dot button-down under red suspenders, large black cat-eye glasses, flyaway salt-and-pepper hair cut short, and a “Stay Woke” button. Her quietly cheerful demeanor warmed into hilarity as the evening progressed, the crowd laughing loudly at her jokes.

“I grew up in a family deli, where work was play and play was work,” she noted. This and her upbringing in the Roman Catholic Church led to her fascination with “transformation and temporality,” which shines through in her work. She also commented that she is as much influenced by the pop art from the New York World’s Fair as she is by her family’s trip to Vatican City when she was young.

With a slideshow, Pepe took the audience through her personal art history, as well as what influenced her along the way. While she works mainly in three-dimensional mediums such as crochet, photographs of her work can be found on her website here.

An hour and a half after it began, the crowd greeted the end of her talk with heavy applause.

“My work is smarter than I am,” Pepe said, “and I have to catch up to it.”

For a full list of Mary B. Martin School of the Arts spring schedule, visit the website here.

Sweet Dreams Are Made of Mangoes

Every semester, Mary B. Martin School of the Arts partners with the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers to bring three films to ETSU’s campus—and not only the films, but the filmmakers as well. The first showing of the spring on Monday, Feb. 6, was a narrative film called Mango Dreams.

The film follows the story of an Indian doctor who lost his family during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. He embarks on a journey with an unlikely companion: a rickshaw driver. The two wayward men strike a balance and travel across India together to reach the childhood home of the doctor. It is a story of reconciliation, of bridging the gap between past and present, between Hindu and Muslim, young and old, Indian and Pakistani.

This is the first picture by filmmaker John Upchurch, a native of Raleigh, North Carolina. He gave a question-and-answer session after the screening and talked at length about what inspired him to make the film and how it was made. He had had the basic idea for the story in his head for a long time, and when he began learning about Indian history after marrying an Indian woman, the details came together. Upchurch shot the film in India, and most of the cast and crew are from India.

The crowd packed into the Culp Auditorium for the 7 p.m. screening—and it was a crowd, nearly full. (Interesting note: your blogger may have been the youngest person in the room.) The audience received the film well, laughing generously and applauding when the credits rolled. Present were two people of note: a man who had survived the partition himself; and a woman whose husband endured a similar separation as the main character of the film, except his story took place in Israel and Palestine.

One man in the audience thanked Upchurch for the film, noting how timely the story of bridging differences felt to him given the world’s current political climate.

Mango Dreams will be released on Netflix or Amazon Prime sometime in the late spring. Upchurch said to watch the film’s Facebook page for updates.

The next films as part of the Southern Circuit Tour are two documentaries: I Come From, which follows incarcerated poets and playwrights, screens March 13; and Speed Sisters, the story of an all-woman race car driving team in the West Bank screening on April 10. Both films will be shown in the Martha Street Culp Auditorium at 7 p.m on their respective dates.

Welcome to my tiny blog

I am trying very hard not to start typing the lyrics from “Wilkommen” right now, which might be all you need to know about the person behind this webpage. For those of you who would like to know more, please keep reading.

My name is Hannah Purdy, and I am a journalism student at East Tennessee State University. For a reporting class this semester, I had to choose a beat to write and blog about. Sports? No, thanks. Politics? I am too tired and small, and I need to rest. But the arts—yeah, I can write about that.

So here we are, on the internet together, in the place where I will write about the arts in the Tri-Cities. It will be in a more professional, less weird tone than whatever you call how I’m writing right now. Stick around and you might just learn about something cool going on near you!