When I introduced you to Modern Studio last July, it seemed little more than a dilapidated building and a dream. Victor Agreda, Jr., Burke Brewer and Carolyn Corley had a vision and a lot of optimism. Raise your hand if you wondered if it would ever happen. I see you out there, and you, and you. It was easy enough to doubt that building could transform into anything useful, let alone a hub for creative endeavors. But it did.
I stopped in earlier this week to check up on the project and I was greeted first, with a building whose facade is barely recognizable. It reminds me of the transformation of The Central Collective building. You really need to stop right now and return to that original story linked above to see how it looked before – both outside and in. Once inside, the full extent of the renovation hits with force. The floor is beautiful, the lighting has been thoughtfully installed and discussions are underway about sound.
I found Victor and Burke noticeably proud of the space, excited about the looming prospects and very appreciative to the people who have helped get them to this point. Notably, building owners Joe Fox and Tyler Fogarty who have worked with them to make the project affordable on their end and to finish the space out far better than they could have imagined. Dimmable LED lights, spotlights, a beautiful floor finish, hiring a designer to consult regarding color choices and many more supportive gestures communicated the owner’s care for the project.
As the project has progressed, they’ve shifted emphasis a bit. While still offering space for groups and for creative efforts of all sorts, the listening room aspect has emerged as a central effort. Kent Oglesby of the Knoxville Music Warehouse (who the two proclaimed a “genius”) has taken over musical booking and his first event – and the first of any sort for the venue – is a concert by Daje Morris set for 8:00 PM tomorrow night. I recently heard her at The Central Collective and she is a very talented young woman and a great choice for a first concert.
Other musical guests scheduled already include Shayla McDaniel who will have her EP release party there January 27. Catch Luke Brogden’s excellent article about her and the EP in Blank Newspaper. Zoe Nutt and Devin Badgett play there the next night (January 28). Andy Harnsberger (2/5) throws an interesting curve into the schedule with an “interactive” marimba concert/event. Two of my favorite duos play back to back in February when Jubal (2/10) and Count This Penny (2/11) take the stage. Drakeford (2/25) and R&B powerhouse Caleb Hawley (3/8) perform in shows leading up to the one that made my eyes pop out: Ben Sollee performs there (3/10) for a very modest $15. I’ve got my tickets and you best get yours quickly.
A number of non-musical events are also planned, with comedy shows there next Friday night (1/20) and I’ll have more on that later. A New Play Festival Kickoff (1/22) will christen the new venue with the first of its theatrical events. Marble City Opera takes over on Valentine’s weekend with a wine and chocolate event in conjunction with Holly Hambright. Ooh Ooh Revue will begin producing burlesque shows there soon. And there will be much more. It’s the loudest “soft opening,” I’ve ever written about.
But the space will be used for more than performances. The goal, which Burke framed as a necessity is for the space to be utilized “eighty percent of the time.” To that end, work spaces of pretty much any type are available and they will work to accommodate your needs. A church plant will be using the space on Sundays. The possibility of a poetry slam is being explored with Black Atticus. Victor will be pursuing his photo and video work. An audio isolation booth in the back is set for podcasts which Victor plans to do regularly with the artists who appear on the stage.
Depending on the structure of the event, the capacity could be as high as 150 to 200 people, with some shows likely utilizing a stage in the back and others being, “in the round.” In any case, flexibility is an emphasis and the parts inside the structure, whether the stage or partitions will be moved about to suit the purpose.
Victor summed it up, “Our intent truly is to connect the dots,” providing flexible space for groups and events that may not fit the conventional options. Burke pointed out that the venue is a unique size in the Knoxville/downtown market. Clearly, they want Modern Studio to be a premier listening room, but they want more. Burke said, “The community has financially supported us. We need to make something awesome for the city of Knoxville. We want to inspire others.” And so they are.