The Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Nashville, TN





About The Frist Center for the Visual Arts


A Vision for the Visual Arts

Nashville's growing need for a major visual art facility in the downtown area had been a topic of discussion for more than thirty years. Since 1969, 17 studies and reports by private and governmental institutions had referenced the need for adequate art-exhibition facilities in a central, accessible location. However, no further action was taken beyond the studies, primarily due to a lack of major financial support for such a project. Over time, the community's desire for such an institution continued to grow. (left: Frist Center for the Visual Arts. Photo: © John Hazeltine, 2012)

In 1993, a public goal-setting process, called "Nashville's Agenda," engaged thousands of citizens in discussions about the city's future. The concluding report -- issued in January 1994 -- identified 21 goals for "making Nashville the best it can be." The report highlighted the public's desire for a new visual facility in the downtown area and established its development as a community goal.

As a result, the Nashville's Agenda Steering Committee appointed a diverse group of citizens to an "Action Team for the Arts" in March 1994 to help move the city closer to this goal. Kenneth L. Roberts, President of the Nashville-based Frist Foundation, served as the team's chairperson. After further research, the Action Team reported this recommendation:

"A new kind of institution should be created in Nashville to provide world-class visual art exhibition facilities for the general public and enhance the education of schoolchildren and families. It would have no permanent collection but instead would accommodate art exhibitions of national and international scope, as well as works of local and regional artists."


The Frist Factor

Art had always been important to the family of Dr. and Mrs. Thomas F. Frist Jr. As they traveled and visited museums with their children, they realized how critical art can be to enhancing a child's education -- and how important art had become to their own children. Enriching lives and inspiring children's imagination through art became a passion for the Frist family.

After examining the Action Team's findings, the Frist Family, through the charitable Frist Foundation, decided that the development and support of a new, world-class visual art facility would become a major focus of their activities and their philanthropic support. The foundation also determined that education should be a primary mission of the new art center.


Home for an Art Center

In 1995, the Frist Foundation commissioned a marketing survey to further study community support for the project. The results reported two important conclusions: 1) that Nashvillians would indeed support a new art center, and 2) that the historic area around the downtown post office and Union Station would be the preferred location due to its character and accessibility.

The city's former main post office, located next door to the Union Station on Broadway, opened in 1934, but as Nashville grew in size and population, the need arose for a larger central mail-handling facility. When a new main post office was built in 1986 at another location, the Broadway office became a downtown branch, using only part of a single floor in the three-story building.

Acting upon the results of its 1995 marketing survey, the Frist Foundation contracted with LORD Cultural Resources Planning & Management Inc. of Toronto, Canada, a leading museum consulting firm, to undertake a feasibility analysis for the proposed visual art center. The LORD organization affirmed that the underused post office building itself had the structural integrity and space to make it an ideal home for a new, urban art center.

The Frist Foundation then began to form a public/private partnership with local and federal agencies to acquire the post office building and surrounding land as the home for the facility, which would later be named the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. After lengthy discussions between representatives of the Frist Foundation and officials of the U.S. Postal Service, the Postal Service, under Postmaster General Marvin Runyon (1992-98), agreed to sell the Broadway property for $4.4 million on the conditions that it would be used solely as a visual art center and that the Postal Service be allowed to keep a customer service center in the lower level.

Nashville's Metropolitan Government, with the leadership of Mayor Philip Bredesen (1991-99) and with the overwhelming support of the Metropolitan Council, committed to purchase the building through the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA). As the new owner, MDHA provided funds for the basic renovation of the historic property. The public costs to acquire and renovate the building were capped at $19.9 million, with no further financial obligation on the part of Metropolitan Nashville. MDHA agreed to lease the building to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts for 99 years at one dollar per year.

The Frist Family and Frist Foundation pledged at least $25 million to provide for additional costs necessary to renovate the building into a facility that would meet the highest museum standards and to initiate an operating endowment for the center. In addition, the Frist Foundation financed the purchase of 2.4 acres of land behind the building, securing room for a parking lot and a second entrance to the property. The redevelopment of this parcel of land cost approximately $5 million.

Seab Tuck of Tuck-Hinton Architects was chosen to draft plans for the Frist Center. He was assisted by Ove Arup Engineers of New York, a widely recognized museum engineering firm. In 1998, the building's ownership officially transferred to MDHA, and the Postal Service's new "Broadway Retail Unit" opened on the lower level in November 1999. Renovations began immediately.

GSC Design-Build, LLC served as program manager for the renovation, and R.C. Mathews Contractors oversaw construction. Other nationally recognized museum professionals and consultants were involved in the planning and design process to assure that the facility would meet current museum standards.

The building's renovation also focused on the careful preservation of the historically significant structure while adapting it for its new purpose. The building itself is a work of art and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Originally designed by Marr and Holman Architects, its exterior is a prime example of the stripped classicism style predominant in public buildings in the early 1930s, and its interior contains numerous Art Deco-style ornamental features. Great care was taken to preserve original features when possible, including the original hardwood flooring, Deco lighting fixtures and decorative metal grillwork.


Overseeing the Dream

In September 1998, a Board of Trustees comprised of educators, working artists, arts patrons, business leaders, community activists and government officials was selected to lead the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.

In December 1998, the board tapped Chase W. Rynd, a New York native and Executive Director of the Tacoma Art Museum in Tacoma, Washington, to become the founding Executive Director and CEO of the Frist Center. Rynd is a member of the American Association of Museums.

Advisory councils assist the Board of Trustees and staff by providing ideas and feedback related to the Center's mission and programs, and they help communicate the Center's mission and programs to the community. Nashvillians from extraordinary diverse backgrounds sit on the councils: the Artists Council, which includes artists working in variety of media; the Collector's Council; the Community Outreach Council; the Marketing Council; the Development Council; and the Education Council, which actively involves educators and education advocates in the Center's planning; and the Council of Partner Institutions, comprised of leaders from area museums and collecting educational institutions.


It's All About the Art

With approximately 125,000 total square feet, the Frist Center for the Visual Arts is a vibrant institution where community members and visitors can enjoy seeing outstanding exhibitions. In addition to the Center's commitment to present the finest visual art from local, state, regional, U.S. and international sources, the Center is dedicated to delivering an extensive educational program, both on-site and through its community outreach activities. This commitment is reflected in the Center's mission to stimulate and nourish an understanding and appreciation of the visual arts among people of all ages and diverse backgrounds.

The Center's main level Ingram Gallery and the Upper-Level Gallery feature exhibitions of two to three months' duration. The Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery, adjacent to the Ingram Gallery, underscores the Frist Center's support for the creativity of living artists. Opposite the CAP Gallery, the Education Gallery explores ideas and themes related to current exhibitions. The Conte Community Arts Gallery, on the west side of the main level, is devoted to exhibitions that are of local interest or related to the Center's outreach in the community.

Also on the main level are: a Visitor Services Center, which acquaints visitors with current exhibitions and programs at the Frist Center and at some of Nashville's other cultural institutions; a 250-seat auditorium suitable for films, lectures and other special events; a gift shop; and a café.

The ArtQuest Gallery, next to the Upper Level Gallery, encourages visitors to further their understanding of the basic principles of art and to improve their visual observation skills through hands-on activities and interactive computer programs, all closely coordinated with the Center's exhibitions. The Art Library and Resource Center, on the same level, offers media and printed resources for visitors and educators who would like to learn more about the works in the exhibitions. Three classrooms, including one computer lab, support the Center's educational programs.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is the result of much dreaming, discussing and planning by Nashville's citizens and community leaders. Now, the city truly has a new "window on the world" of visual art, where area residents can be delighted and inspired and perhaps learn something new in the process.

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts is located at 919 Broadway in Nashville, Tennessee 37203-3822. For hours and admission fees please see the Center's website. (information as of 2009)

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