Modern Studio had quite the opening month.
In its first 30 days, Knoxville’s newest venue/community center/shared work-space saw a packed house for Daje Morris’ opening night show, and similarly crowded rooms for Shayla McDaniel’s EP Release show, a denim workshop, a show by Zoe Nutt and Devin Badgett and a craft fair.
Local artist Sarah Brobst led a Valentine’s-themed crafting event on February 8 entitled “Love it or Hate it: A Valentine’s Make and Take,” and local folk darlings Jubal crooned their beautiful harmony-driven acoustic ballads on February 10.
There’s a packed calendar moving forward, too: Adeem the Artist will bring his fiery folk with Joey English’s new project Sanz English on February 24. Electronic indie up-and-comers Hazel just announced a Saint Patrick’s Day show with rapper Thelo-Que. The venue will even be available for special event rentals.
“It’s that fact that people are in proximity and those connections get made,” says co-owner Victor Agreda, a WUOT morning host who also runs his own audio-visual production company SuperPixel and is moving more and more of it into the space. “Multiple forms of co-working together helps to connect the dots.”
It didn’t take long for the spirit of collaboration that Agreda described to come to life. The first example happened opening night at Morris’ show: the former owner of Colonial Cleaners, the business which had been housed in Modern Studio’s building on West Anderson, attended the show with his daughter. The daughter started talking with co-owner Burke Brewer about a project near and dear to her heart, Work Matters, an organization Brewer built to help adults with disabilities find meaningful employment, and decided to get involved.
“My team and I work with youth and adults with disabilities in 12 counties in East Tennessee to help them transition from high school to college or the workplace, find and maintain employment, and learn essential skills for independent living,” Brewer says. She’s worked to help people with disabilities for over a decade, starting out as a legal advocate then acting as an employment specialist. She created her own agency “to address and fix many of the problems that continue to plague this under-served and underrepresented community.”
Brewer is a bit of a renaissance woman, because she also will offer sewing lessons through her other business, Modern Seamstress, at Modern Studio. “Modern Seamstress was created to empower women to love their bodies and delight in dressing their bodies,” she says. “I offer sewing classes and custom garments and work with women to design and create clothing that they feel comfortable wearing.” Brewer explains she originally started making her own clothes after experiencing frustration with “ready-to-wear clothing” and she found that “my confidence and love of my body was transformed when I started doing so. I teach women that it’s not their bodies that are the problem, it’s the clothing mass-produced and available in stores.”
Another example is the Knox Music Scene Coalition’s monthly Music Scene Social, held at Modern Studio on Tuesday night. Attack Monkey President and Black Lillies Manager Chyna Brackeen spoke with Garrett Thompson about booking and branding to a packed house of local musicians, agents, venue reps and more. Members of local bands like Shimmy and the Burns, Jubal, Handsome and the Humbles and Jon Whitlock Trio were there, as well as songwriters like Adeem the Artist, Shayla McDaniel and Daje Morris. Recent Central High School graduate Jack Wiggers, who helps in producing and promoting The Barn Series out of a friend’s barn in Farragut was there to ask Brackeen’s advice on future music business endeavors. Music journalists, managers and reps from a few different venues attended as well, and in the informal networking period that followed the discussion, scene folks could be overheard plotting a number of future collaborations.
Kent Oglesby of KnoxvilleMusicWarehouse.com, now the comprehensive go-to blog for Knoxville music scene coverage, got involved as Modern Studio’s booking agent, and is producing shows featuring the area’s hottest upcoming indie artists. His blog’s depth and breadth spans folk, indie rock and hip-hop, cataloging the area’s top talent in reviews, lists and generous shares of links to bands’ pages, singles, and videos. Oglesby has already done some production through his own KMW Secret Shows series and he now does a weekly segment on WBIR’s Live at Five at Four on the coming weekend’s top musical events.
“I really just try to bring in the best music and the most interesting live performers that I can,” Oglesby says. “Garrett Thomson and I have talked a lot recently about why we love music and what exactly it is about music that inspires us and gives us joy. It’s made me think a lot about that one moment you get in a live show where you’re seeing something amazing, and it gives you chills and you feel alive. I’m constantly chasing that moment. If I see a YouTube clip that gives me even a hint of that feeling, I reach out and try to book that act.”
Agreda says the group running Modern Studio wants it to be a “community center” where people can learn “adult-ing” skills together, do classes and workshops on things like screen printing or video editing, as well become a state-of-the-art venue space with perfect sound and lighting, equipped for live shows as well as music video and other creative and commercial video shoots.
So far, Modern Studio’s clientele seem satisfied.
“I really enjoyed playing there,” said Shayla McDaniel of her EP release show last week. “The staff was very helpful and kind. The room sounds great, and feels welcoming.”
So what’s the long-term vision for the space?
“The vision for Modern Studio is to eventually be able to offer funding for local makers and musicians, artists and dreamers who have a vision but need help with the execution,” Brewer says. “I’d also like to see us expand our outreach and programming to serve the 37917 area, as it’s the poorest zip code in Knox County. I want kids in the area to know that they can take a chance on their dreams, and that someone’s out there who can help.”
Here’s some words about the venue from Brewer and Agreda themselves from their successful earlier Kickstarter campaign: