For now, the building at 919 Broadway is little more than a
marble and metal amplifier for bone-rattling din.
Chain saws buzz and hard-hatted workers bark instructions as they
reshape what was, until a few years ago, Nashville's famous 1930s
Art Deco post office.
But the cacophony of construction is a prelude to what could be
one of the South's greatest artistic triumphs. Come April, the
great, square structure will open as the Frist Center for the
Visual Arts - host to Renoirs and Cezannes.
Neither Nashville nor the South has ever been seen as much of an
art mecca, but the Frist Center is a symbol of how those
perceptions are slowly changing. True, New Orleans may never become
New York, and Paris has nothing to fear from Mobile, Ala., yet
several Southern cities are spending big bucks - as much as a half
billion dollars regionwide - to renovate or rebuild art galleries.
Part of it is tourism - as cities, boosted by good economic
times, try to bolster their standing as travel destinations.
There is something deeper, though, as Southerners clamor to
regain a sheen of sophistication largely lost during the poverty of
Reconstruction. By raising its profile in the art world, even
incrementally, Dixie is hoping to promote its homegrown cultural
heritage, while showing Yankees that they're not the only ones with
"The South has always been cultured," says Butch Spyridon,
executive vice president of the Nashville Convention and Visitors
Bureau. "Now, cities have the money to show it to the rest of the
world. Part of it is to compete with the North, part of it is to
get tourists, who otherwise might not think that city has anything
to offer them, to the region or a city."
Nashville's arts leaders have realized that the city's residents -
and other Southerners - are hungry for art and innovative museums.
In recent years, the city has promoted the numerous art galleries
and museums already here.
To become a player in the art war that is blossoming in the
South, though, the city needed an anchor - a drawing card like the
$45 million Frist.
Indeed, even as Southern cities have landed professional sports
franchises, they are also spending money to improve museums and arts
In Tampa, Fla., for instance, the Tampa Museum of Art was
recently built at a cost of $45 million. In Little Rock, Ark., the
Arkansas Arts Center has undergone a $22 million renovation and
expansion. It includes a $40 million collection of art.
When he visited earlier this year, President Clinton pronounced
himself "overwhelmed" as he was led through the center's new two-
story modern atrium of blond wood and slate. …