Knoxville’s Arts District Rises Nationally While New Artists Join Our Scene

Alfieri working on her acrylic painting Awaken., Knoxville, March 2024 (Submitted)
Alfieri working on her acrylic painting Awaken., Knoxville, March 2024 (Submitted)

(Today’s article is by intern Alexa-Marie Melendez)

USA TODAY’s 10Best provides readers with experiential content that aims to help travelers and adventurers alike by aiding them in the discovery of new destinations and events. It offers tips on travel and tourism for both national and international destinations. 10Best allows the public to share their thoughts, via the monthly 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards, a nationwide vote. The contest highlights the best of the best — the top ten, with categories such as hotels, food and drink, things to do, and more. The publisher launches new contests each week.

One annual choice award is for the top ten art districts nationwide. In 2023, our vibrant city ranked fourth on the list for cities its size. I held my breath as I scrolled down the posting this past Friday preparing for the moment Knoxville popped up—fearful we might place lower. I am proud to say that Knoxville, Tennessee placed second this year and ,honestly, why wouldn’t we?

The community’s support for the arts makes for a vibrant art scene, which continues to grow as our general population grows and new artists arrive bringing their own creativity to the mix. Who are some of these new artists? During Knoxville’s First Friday ArtWalks, regional and local artists get to present their eye for beauty, but what about newcomers? Meet Jessica Alfieri of JESSiCA ALFiERi ART.

Originally from Southern California, Alfieri and her husband moved to Knoxville in the summer of 2020, after living in Arizona for a brief period. A year after moving to Tennessee in 2020, Alfieri gave birth to their now two-year-old son, rearranging priorities for the couple. Early on, Alfieri and Angelo agreed it was best that Alfieri stay home. “When I had my son, I quit my job. It made more sense for me that instead of paying for daycare, I stayed home. We decided to go that route and it has worked out so far for us”, she explained. While the married couple acclimated to the addition to their family, they buckled down on school and work.

After her husband graduated in 2023 from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s in food science, Alfieri took her turn at UT. Currently enrolled in the Design-Centered Foundations for UT’s graphic design program, Alfieri is working to pass her portfolio review next spring, while preparing for the birth of their second child in April.

Alfieri’s “If We Could, one of many pieces put on display at Printshop Beer Co., Knoxville, March 2024, (Submitted)
Alfieiri’s Royalty, a two year long piece that expresses a vision Alfieri had during meditation., Knoxville, MArch 2024, (Submitted)

Alfieri loved art and pursued it from an early age. For her art is an expression of imagination and spirituality, illustrating the connection our spirits have with life. “Anytime I’m creating I feel kind of connected to those places . . . It’s about the unseen, about what’s out there, and life beyond us. It feels very trance-like where I’m supposed to be and I feel connected to those spaces,” Alfieri shared.

She participated in numerous art shows and gallery exhibitions throughout Los Angeles and Southern California and last year helped illustrate a book of poetry, “The Divine Wisdom of the Soul, Volume One” (2023), with author and medium, Seraphina Phileo-Noor. “We actually talked about doing this book for over a decade, and it was a project hoping to inspire others through her poetry that she channels. And then I took her messages and used that as inspiration for the illustrations. It’s a really small poetry and illustration book but it was meant to uplift other people if they stumbled across it,” Alfieri said.

Long-time friends, the two first met at meditation classes Seraphina taught in the Los Angeles area. Right away they connected over similar ideas surrounding spirituality and art. However, the book is not the final collaboration, Alfieri and Seraphina are planning to launch a podcast and the two are finalizing platforms, setup, topics.

An Alfieri illustration from The Divine Wisdom of the Soul Vol. 1, Knoxville, March 2024 (Submitted)
Alfieri’s, The Hand of the Infinite., Knoxville, March 2024 (Submitted)

Despite life being — well life, Alfieri’s artistic mind and spirit continued to flourish, and she remained ready to take action when the timing was right. That proved to be now, and for February Alfieri participated in the First Friday ArtWalk, where she displayed her art at Printshop Beer Company — thanks to encouragement from the owner, Jim Civis.

“I have never done any kind of show where it had been just my artwork, I have always participated in events that have several artists. I was actually trying to make sure I had enough pieces to hang up around his brewery,” Alfieri exclaimed. She and her husband Angelo, got to know Jim since Angelo works as a part-time brewer—while also working full-time for Keurig Dr Pepper Inc., as a coffee process coordinator. The couple became good friends with Jim and his wife, with Alfieri even helping Jim out with small graphic design projects.

The Californian native admires Knoxville’s art culture and hopes to participate in more local events soon. I look forward to watching Alfieri’s artistic view and West Coast art culture blend with East Tennessee and Knoxville art. Her spirited hues of blues and pinks, swirl together, yet contrast one another, as if depicting the imagination and spirituality she references and it seems different from local and regional art I’ve seen. She said she hasn’t yet had the time to find like minded artists locally.

Although art in Knoxville is constantly advancing, new expressions and mediums add to the overall artistic landscape. The opportunity to see work by new artists is a privilege. In a way, when we cross paths with these new perspectives, we witness history in the making as it impacts and interacts with our older art traditions. In this way, we witness firsthand the impact and legacy they build in this city.