Rowanne McKnight helps nurture local artists with the Nashville Artist Collective

By Kathleen Boyle

Photography by Kiki Morton

Rowanne McKnight understood it was a risk to begin and lead the Nashville Artist Collective. Not that her hometown wasn’t ready for it; on the contrary, an organization like the collective seemed overdue in Music City. The risk involved, rather, was personal. “I left my job,” explained McKnight, whose career background is rooted in marketing and sales. “I was working for a technology start-up but have always been drawn to the arts, and I knew that I wanted to work in this field someday.”

So when McKnight met Allison Williamson, founder of the 8-year-old Charleston (S.C.) Artist Collective, at a marketing conference, she knew Williamson could benefit by expanding her business into Tennessee. Williamson business model struck a resounding chord with McKnight: Showcase emerging, local artists in a way that is both approachable and affordable. “I told her at the time that I’m not looking for a job, but I really think that Nashville is right for this,” McKnight said.  “There are so many creative people in this city.”

Rowanne McKnight

Shortly thereafter, Williamson took McKnight’s advice and also offered her a position with the Artist Collective. Her mission? To further the aims of the founding Charleston branch with Nashville-based artists, cultivating a network of creatives and collectors that surpasses the breadth of a single city.  Nashville now represents one of the organization’s four sectors, joining Charleston, the D.C. metropolitan area (Capital Artist Collective) and Atlanta.

“The network is really nice because I have partners,” McKnight said. “We all share the same website, accounting and the business … but I am running Nashville myself. So it’s the best of both worlds — owning your own business and being in a partnership with other amazing women and markets.”

Nashville Artist Collective nurtures a group of 14 Middle Tennessee artists, all of whom are primarily painters: Langford Barksdale, Richard Bowers, Susie Elder, Tess Erlenborn, Jeremy Fowler, Craig Greene, Carey Haynes, Gina Julian, Hannah Lane, Trevor Mikula, Katherine Stratton Miller, Lauren Ossolinski, Whitney St. Pierre, Lisa Zager. It’s a diverse assembly both demographically and stylistically, and the resulting portfolio offers potential clients a breadth of options with the goal of appealing to several aesthetic palettes.

While many of these artists’ careers could be labeled as early-stage, McKnight is quick to point out that the artists of Nashville’s collective are not novice. “Most of the artists have been painting long enough to have a real voice. They all have very distinctive styles, but their work is still affordable because they are not represented by top galleries in cities like New York.”

The Nashville Artist Collective is unusual in that it does not have a physical location. Taking a deliberate break from the customary art gallery model, the collective is a fully operational fine art business that functions primarily online and through pop-up events. “Our online method is meant to be an alternative and a complement to the traditional gallery scene,” McKnight explained. “We meet customers where they are, which is usually at work or on their mobile devices. We recognize that more and more people make design decisions online, and that embracing this technology is necessary.”

That said, McKnight doesn’t believe that art galleries are a thing of the past. On the contrary, she takes pride in collaborating with Nashville galleries and other local businesses (Galerie Tangerine in The Gulch and AshBlue in Green Hills are two recent examples), devising innovative ways to showcase her artists’ work offline and in person.

“I have found that when people work on their interiors, they often lack confidence on the art side,” McKnight said. “It’s fun to educate people on what’s going on, host different parties and events where people feel like they can come and experience the art in a nontraditional way.”

In addition, McKnight takes pride in joining forces with interior designers. Not only does Nashville Artist Collective have a number of finished paintings of various genres, sizes, media and price points available for purchase, but the organization is also available to discuss commission work for any architectural need. “Collecting totally changes a space,” McKnight said. “It can be a dorm room, or a gorgeous kitchen, or living room. It doesn’t matter. I tell my interns, ‘If you can only afford a $50 artwork, that’s okay, but buy something you’ll love.’”