JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — With local art hung in the warm light behind her and local artists busy in studio space down a hall, Nancy Fischman took a satisfied look around the downtown space where vision had become reality at last.
“I bought the building knowing exactly what I wanted to do with it,” Fischman said Monday of 133 Commerce Street, more than 6,000 square feet of former warehouse space that’s now home to “Atelier 133” — a gallery, more than a dozen for-rent studios (all spoken for or occupied already) and a soon-to-open bakery-cafe. “My idea is to promote local and regional artists.”
Fischman’s eponymously named gallery had its first opening May 13, almost seven years to the day after she bought the former grocery warehouse that faces King Commons Park. More than 200 people turned out for a show featuring art produced or from the collections of members of Bravissima, a local women’s group that supports artistic causes and projects around the region.
Fischman is one of those artists as well as a supporter of area arts endeavors since not long after she and her husband David Close moved here in 1978.
“This is exactly what I thought about for years,” she said, standing near several platforms displaying her own pottery work.
Fischman began looking for studio space for herself years ago after she began taking classes in East Tennessee State University’s ceramics department. She bought a surplus kiln and was seeking a place to store it when she ran into Jim Dosser, who knew the owners of 133 Commerce and said the space might work.
“I walked into this building and it was like, ‘tell me about this building,’ because it was just perfect … with my plan to have artists’ studios and a gallery and for my daughter, a bakery/café.”
Fischman eventually worked her way to the right people and when the building became available, she jumped on the opportunity.
With Johnson City home only to the Reece Museum on ETSU’s campus, the Tipton Gallery and Nelson’s Gallery, Fischman said the community was ripe for more gallery and studio space.
“That’s basically what my premise is right now — monthly exhibits of local and regional artists of all media, and also I have 14 artists’ studio spaces here, so we’ve got kind of a community of those artists being able to talk with each other and give ideas back and forth as well as being able to display their work.”
The May 13 opening was publicized only through social media and word of mouth but still drew a large crowd. Fischman has monthly shows lined up through March 2023, with the exception of December. Her daughter Maren Close’s “Lazy Lady Baking Company” just got approved for off-premise sales and should be open soon.
Fischman said it adds up to a long-awaited place she believes will help Johnson City’s arts community thrive.
“The artists are certainly excited about having a space to display their work, and I think the community’s going to respond as well,” she said.
The gallery is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and Saturday mornings. Opening nights will coincide with downtown’s First Fridays, with a Juneteenth show set to open June 3 that allows visitors to meet some of the artists between 6 and 9 p.m. that night.
Fischman belongs to Tennessee Craft, a statewide network of craft artists and craft art communities. That group was talking about a Juneteenth market in Nashville, and it got her thinking about her long-time connection with the UMOJA group and festival.
“I approached (UMOJA officer) Angelitti Bradley and we put together a really good show,” Fischman said. “I hope to make that an annual event.”
Reaching out to traditionally underrepresented artists is among Fischman’s numerous goals for her project now that it’s finally taken flight.
“I want to do a youth show and individual artists shows, group artists shows, various meetings.”