Money, Coffee and Art: Changes on Gay Street

Urban Girl Rides the Art Dog outside the Phoenix Building, Knoxville, Spring 2014

Urban Girl Rides the Art Dog outside the Phoenix Building, Knoxville, Spring 2014

I heard from a helpful reader about the ATM which has been installed in front of the Phoenix Building. It took me a few days to get to 418 S. Gay Street to look into it, but I finally made it out last night and, sure enough, an ATM sits where once sat what I’ll refer to as “Art Dog.” The Art Dog, unless I’m mistaken, was a part of a fund-raiser for the Arts Council in 2004 called “Hounds on the Town.” They were to be displayed for a year then auctioned off. I assume this one had been on Gay Street for ten years. The same thing was done with bears one year. Eventually, all that was replaced with the annual installation of art around the city.

So, it related to the arts, held some nostalgic appeal and was a very nice photo op for anyone with small children. Now an ATM sits at the entrance to the Phoenix Building. It’s a net loss, in my opinion. There are plenty of ATMs around downtown and I’m not sure a free-standing ATM machine should be allowed on Gay Street. Does the Downtown Design Review Board have any say over what is placed outside buildings?

ATM outside the Phoenix Building, Knoxville, June 2014

ATM outside the Phoenix Building, Knoxville, June 2014

ATM outside the Phoenix Building, Knoxville, June 2014

ATM outside the Phoenix Building, Knoxville, June 2014

ATM outside the Phoenix Building, Knoxville, June 2014

ATM outside the Phoenix Building, Knoxville, June 2014

To be fair, the ATM is more in the entrance than on the sidewalk. The placement also clearly shows a concern for appearance – it sits centered behind a pole facing toward the building. It is likely not on public property. I would still like to see this sort of thing banned from the city streets. The next one could be larger, uglier and much more poorly placed.

As a bonus, I finally got to meet the artist of Gay Street (I just made that up), Mark Burns. Mark lives in the Phoenix and is often seen painting in the outdoor seating area of the Downtown Grind. Currently working on a Sgt. Pepper’s era painting of the Beatles, he is also responsible for the pretty cool Elvis painting on the side of the construction walk-through in front of the adjacent JC Penney Building. Though not always the case, his paintings often portray musical icons, such as Ray Charles pictured here that I took a year or so ago. If you are interested in his work, you’ll have to stop by and see him as he currently has no online presence.

Mark Burns outside the Phoenix Building, Knoxville, Spring 2013

Mark Burns outside the Phoenix Building, Knoxville, Spring 2013

Mark Burns outside the Phoenix Building, Knoxville, June 2014

Mark Burns outside the Phoenix Building, Knoxville, June 2014

I was able to go inside to see some of his other work in the first floor space that is well overdue for something cool, but currently serves as storage. You might imagine (or look at the photograph) what I found inside: the lonely hound amidst a pile of detritus. ┬áBut that wasn’t all I saw inside the building.

Storage inside the Phoenix Building includes Art Dog, Knoxville, June 2014

Storage inside the Phoenix Building includes Art Dog, Knoxville, June 2014

Opposite the storage area sits Downtown Grind and Prestige Cleaners – or at least that was true until sometime recently. Not so, now. The ATM out front is simply the reflection of the fact that there is now a branch of Clayton Bank inside the coffee shop. The cleaner is still located in the building, but they’ve moved down the hallway to a space behind the bank. What seemed like an odd pairing: a cleaner and a coffee shop just got stranger.

So, beyond the question of whether a free-standing ATM should be allowed on Gay Street, beyond the question of how important is the loss of the dog, new questions arise: Did we really need another bank downtown? Really? Can a soulless entity like a bank co-exist with a coffee shop which is the very essence of soul? Can the cleaners, relegated to a spot down the hallway and with no street presence survive?

Clayton Bank inside the Downtown Grind, Phoenix Building, Knoxville, June 2014

Clayton Bank inside the Downtown Grind, Phoenix Building, Knoxville, June 2014

We’ll see in time just how it all sorts out. I have to say I’m not interested in banking in my coffee shop and I don’t expect quality coffee in a bank, but, hey, maybe it’s just a little urban quirk and everyone will live happily ever after. I understand there may be additional news about the building coming soon, so watch for that and go have a cup of coffee and take out a mortgage while you wait.

Comments

  1. Gordon fowler says:

    1) I love mark’s work and I’m glad he’s getting credit for Elvis.
    2) I’m a member of Art Market Gallery, next to the Phoenix. Some of our work is displayed in the window and hallway of the Phoenix. And yes, a coffee shop, bank, and a cleaners is a strange combination. But we did not add another downtown bank- they just moved from a few blocks away. Jim Clayton and Eddie Mannis (Prestige Cleaners and chairman of Honor-air Knoxville) are two of the biggest supporters of the art community in town.

  2. Banking and coffee combined is a bit of a strange twist but actually a growing trend in some places like New York. First Citizens Bank in Columbia has opened a coffee shop that eventually will allow customers to obtain a credit card with their morning coffee. Other banks, such as Bank of America, have studied the idea as a way to draw people in, but rejected the idea for now. It’s an odd trend for sure though.

  3. Just John says:

    “I understand there may be additional news about the building coming soon” — what a way to wrap up the post ! Any hints or timetable ?

  4. One day a woman was walking her dog down Gay Street when her dog suddenly stopped to bark and growl at Art Dog. She laughed and laughed at how stupid her dog was.

  5. Lettie Flores says:

    An “dog sculpture ATM”- now THAT would have been cool!

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      Great idea! Credit card in the mouth and cash dispensed . . . well, that would be really cool.

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