Thriving Artist Co-op in Downtown Newport

By Miranda Lott Barker and Deborah Bahr –

Photo: Miranda Lott Barker

Thriving Artist Co-op recently opened in downtown Newport Tennessee. The Co-op embodies the art and heritage of the patchwork of unincorporated towns that surround the city. A small group of women are leading the not-for-profit LLC space. The artists buy space by the square foot, design their own displays and have the option of a reduced space price by working in the shop. They govern by consensus and use their entrepreneurs’ expertise to educate and hold up the mountain artists they serve. Local artists have found a home to share and build skills, showcase work and help downtown Newport redefine its identity during post-pandemic era of economic growth.

Photo: Miranda Lott Barker

Thriving Artist Co-op opened in February. In March, the first workshops began to be offered each weekend. Paint and Sip, Tie Dye, Needle Felting, and Junk Book creation will be available to the community for a reasonable fee. This amazing group plans on pop-up markets to encourage budding artists to take their first steps in retail sales. Youth activities,  music events, and  gardening for residents living above the retail space are planned along with a farmers’ market in the outdoor “corral.” The event space where classes are held is also open for the community to rent for a reasonable fee.

Clean Water Expected in East Tennessee, a recipient of the Tennessee Art Commission’s Arts Builds Community grants, has joined the co-op to hold monthly events in the Co-op’s community room. In February, they held the first stage of AIR Collaborative, the Engage Workshop, to build creative economies. It was a standing-room-only event.

Photo: Miranda Lott Barker

Cocke County, Tennessee, is a beautiful place with rivers, National Forest, and a National and State Park. The Appalachian heritage of Cherokee, African American, and cash-poor white folks are nestled in the hollers and ridge tops. In these radical spaces, “others” have historically made their homesteads of land more privileged folk did not want. These communities have a long history of making Art and using innovative ingredients to tell their family and community stories, build resilience and add to family economies through barter, trade, and cash sales. Cocke County is historically economically and environmentally distressed. Thriving Artist Co-op is an opportunity for this community to build and heal through cooperation, entrepreneurship, and collaboration by highlighting the ART that makes mountain life sweet.