Is Mayor Dean Really Going to Preside over the Death of Literary Culture in Nashville?!

I tell you, I just do not understand what the fuck is up with our mayor. Does he not understand what a disaster it is that Nashville proper has no reporting bookstores?* Does he not see that the library has had to step in and provide a place for authors to promote their books? And don’t get me wrong, libraries are great. And libraries should indeed also be doing stuff like this.

But something like the Salon@615 is like a grand dining room added on to a sturdy house. That is great, useful, and amazing. When you’re being told that you have to live in the dining room because the rest of your house is being destroyed?

Does it really matter how nice the dining room is?

So, the Mayor’s people aren’t funding the Southern Festival of Books this year.  Even though they have always been funded, because, mysteriously, the agreement Humanities Tennessee had with the Mayor’s people has mysteriously changed. In the past, Humanities Tennessee has been allowed to get a basic op grant to run the Southern Festival of Books, even though it doesn’t quite fit the grant, because the city has valued it. Now, it still doesn’t quite fit the grant and somehow this is a problem.

To Cole, however, the distinction between arts and humanities makes Humanities Tennessee ineligible for a basic op grant — and the Southern Festival of Books doesn’t qualify for their current project grants, which are skewed toward neighborhoods and after-school programs. To clarify which groups can get basic op grants, the new guidelines define “arts organization” as “those whose primary mission is to directly support performances, programs, exhibits and the dissemination of artistic content that engage professional artists in creative works.” This statement replaced the previous guidelines: “Primary purpose must be to produce or present art or cultural programs.”

“Only arts organizations are eligible for basic operational support, and they’re a humanities organization,” Cole says. She points to the Humanities Tennessee website: “Their mission statement doesn’t mention the word ‘arts.’ And the majority of their programs aren’t literary arts, they’re community history, culture — the humanities.”

Never mind the other programs still in the running for grants that also don’t have “arts” in their mission or don’t have a majority of their programs dedicated to art.

And if Humanities Tennessee can’t come up with the money some other way? They might be forced to shutter Chapter 16.

Is Mayor Dean really prepared to dick over the state-wide literary community like this?

We need Bredesen to put on the Green Vest of Comfort and go have a talk with Dean about the importance of supporting Nashville and maybe getting some people in his administration who understand that books, indeed, are art.

*By “reporting,” I mean bookstores that report their sales to Bookscan.

21 thoughts on “Is Mayor Dean Really Going to Preside over the Death of Literary Culture in Nashville?!

  1. I don’t know that any of the major cities I’ve lived in in the past fifteen years have a “reporting bookstore” inside what you’d consider their primary boundaries (there might be some inside the official city limits.) Memphis doesn’t have any inside 240, New Orleans lost theirs when Tower and Virgin shut their doors, Atlanta MIGHT still have a B&N or Borders in Buckhead. I think the David-Kidd fiasco at Green Hills and the B&N loss at Opry Mills will be rectified, given time.

    Shame about the Festival of Books, though.

  2. It’s not Nashville’s job to compete culturally with cities that don’t have things, but with ones that do.

  3. Barry, that made me laugh. And, also, to really get that what we’re talking about is how much we, as a city, can lose and still go on.

    Sure, the answer is “a lot.” We’re resilient.

    But that that’s the discussion is really heartbreaking.

  4. Again, I’m confident that something will take up the bookstore place in Green Hills, and Opry Mills will eventually reopen. In the meantime, if you get everyone to move out of the suburbs and back into the city, I’m sure the bookstores will follow. They certainly did in the other direction.

  5. There was actually a small ‘quirky’ bookstore on 5th by the Arcade recently. But they closed 2 weeks ago.

  6. It’s because we as a city (and indeed as a society as a whole) no longer value the humanities. Everything is always “math and science this” and “math and science that.” It’s how we’re supposed to remain competitive as a nation.

    And it’s also how we create great little worker bees for the corporatocracy at the expense of creating good citizens who will question authority and challenge the status quo. It’s why every dictator and autocrat throughout human history has tried to suppress the arts and humanities, because that is the threat to power.

    This may sound like a crackpot idea, but the definitive essay on the topic was published in the September 2009 Harper’s. You need a subscription to read it, but it’s worth it. It’s
    Mark Slouka’s Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school. It pretty much explained everything that’s going on here.

  7. I grew up in a town of 25,000 people with no bookshop (or cinema) at all. It was pretty heinous, especially once I’d read through the library. A city the size of Nashville deserves better (even if you do have some book-selling shops, that’s not the same!)

  8. SB, when Nashville holds its first “Festival of Math and/or Science” I may concede your point. From the empirical evidence, it is not math and science supplanting books (I’m not going to say “humanities,” because books aside Nashville does a MAGNIFICENT job supporting culture) in out hearts and minds, it’s Hot Chicken.

  9. Anyway, if you just change the name to “festival of Lifeway Christian Books” the TN state government will step in and fund it, so no worries!

  10. Parking.

    We can talk all we want about values and cultural climate change. But the end result is what it always is.

    The parking sucks in this city.

    Nashvillians like to read–we are one of the largest publishing centers in the country–but when you can get the books on Amazon without paying FIFTEEN FUCKING DOLLARS to park, that’s what you’ll do.

    Sherlock Books, the quirky store W mentioned, wasnt a reporting store. Nevertheless they did try to make a go of it. But having a store open five hours a day with no parking nearby will not cut it in this town.

    The reporting stores we just lost were done in by rent. All the prop mgmt companies are jacking up rent on existing space to offset losses faced in the housing bubble. It’ll be a long time before brick and mortar space within the DavCo limits can support a tight margin retail store of any kind.

  11. I don’t get the parking complaint in this town. I’ve been here two years, I spend a lot of time downtown, daytime and evening, and I have *almost* never had a parking problem. (I very rarely even pay for parking.) The trick to Nashville is just being able and willing to walk two or three blocks. That’s a whole lot better than many other major cities.

  12. SB, you speak as if preparing students to compete in a global high-tech economy is a bad thing, and imply (without evidence) that humanities programs are being cut in our schools to pay for it. I’m not sure how to respond to that, except to say that I disagree with your thesis (all parents can take their kids to a symphony or a library, precious few can teach them vector calculus), and that my own observations (as a citizen, a parent, and a former teacher) don’t support your argument.

    Of course, I’m also new in town, and hardly objective when it comes to education, humanities, or technology. I know both the life value and market value of degrees in theatre (hi to everyone not working in theatre!) and engineering.

  13. I concede that point. That said, I’ve heard the parking problem complaint as, if not more. often from Charleses as Charlottes.

  14. But even still, it’s not a problem unique to Nashville. It’s a problem inherent to any urban center. (Barring some impossibly massive underground parking project) If there were as much parking available as people feel there should be in downtown Nashville, where would we put all the buildings?

  15. Yeah, if I were Bert instead of Betsy, I’d be parking up by the capitol on weekends all the time. Free, convenient and a great view.

    But I think one of the reasons our dismal parking is so noticeable is that our public transportation is terrible, too. I mean, yes, it sucks to try to park in, say, Chicago, but once you get parked, you can go just about anywhere you want on the bus (or the El).

    Even Memphis has public transportation that goes from where tourists stay to where tourists want to drink and back.

    If there are tourists taking our buses in great number or on our train, I haven’t heard of it.

  16. You’re right. I love our bus system, and I’m sure MTA does its best with the resources it has (though I might not feel that way if I lived five blocks up and 15 blocks over and were dealing with the Jefferson line instead of the Charlotte line), but there’d be a lot less to complain about—downtown parking and West End/Gallatin traffic all spring to mind—if we had a comprehensive, 24-hour, well-utilized transit system.

  17. Yeah, I hope people don’t take this as a dig at our current MTA. They’re doing the best they can with the resources they can, I think. It’s going to take real leadership from a mayor or city council to say “We need to pour some real money into this.”

    And we do need to think about mass transit that serves both people who live here and people who are just visiting.

    I mean, if I knew I could park for free at my employer out on West End and just take the bus downtown and be able to get back to my car when my evening was over, that would be lovely for me.

  18. It’s the getting back to your car when the evening is over that is the main barrier in that last scenario. We tried to figure out if we’d be able to get home on the bus after the art crawl ends, and the buses simply don’t run late enough.

  19. Yep. But I guess that’s not surprising in a town where the traffic lights start blinking yellow at 11 p.m. even on weekends.

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