So, the jig is up.
It seems that Knoxville is now a spooked horse walking along the path toward the opening of this business. The origins of this place were dreamed several years back on a corner at 102 S. Central Ave., down in the Old City. Hannah's Cafe now sits there, in the quaint corner location with chipping yellow paint. But it used to be called New City Cafe. The stage was graced with performances that arced and crackled with talent, hope, and love. A major radio station was involved, giving independent artists a voice on the airwaves in what was then a satellite of the Nashville machine, as far as radio was concerned. Concerts were played both on the stage and in the alley out back. People sat on the patio enjoying Italian sodas. A few years into the project, and the cafe moved to another location at 116 S. Central. The building had previously been a Mexican restaurant (it still had a jocular mariachi trio painted in cartoon fashion on one wall). There was a bar downstairs and one upstairs, both built in old-world style with painstakingly crafted woodwork.
This was to be home for several years, to a greater number of concerts, artistic ventures and gallery shows, a consortium offering college accredited courses and round-table lectures, and a rag-tag band of assorted songwriters and artistic misfits, including myself. This was the nest from which and to which I desired to fly as a songwriter. My friends were there, and I warmed to the glow of their talents and their passion for beauty and truth. If they had pursued it, they could have had fickle fame and fleeting riches, but they all chose to serve others rather than themselves. Their art, unsold and unmarred, became a lasting glimmer and an icon in the truest Orthodox sense of the word.
Now, a few more years down the road, the foundation which was the instrument of ownership of these buildings, through prayer and seeking, decided to purchase the buildings at 4 and 8 Market Square in order to further the dream envisioned by the small circle of people who listened to the peace-imbuing thoughts of the Creator, who is, Himself, Peace. Through a series of events, the former director, Kenny Woodhull, went on to serve in other endeavors, and Ben Bannister became the current director. Rick Kuhlman is still the director of the Fellows Ministry, which will be centered there.
The idea, both at the beginning and now, was to be a Christ-centered presence in the world of Knoxville business and a venue for artistic dialogue on both local and regional levels. New City Cafe became known, however, as 'that Christian coffeehouse'. The problem was not the label. The label itself became problematic because people brought rigid expectations to the table as to what 'that Christian coffeehouse' was and should have been. It seems that today, Ben, Rick, and others involved are fighting an uphill battle that has begun even before there is anything to discuss. 4 Market Square has become 'that Christian restaurant' or 'that Christian venue'. People are already afraid to be involved because of expectational baggage they have brought to the table.
At first, I think I was frustrated for Ben and Rick, &c. I have spoken with both of them, and with Kenny, who has never been reticent to share his heart with me on the subject. All of them, and all those involved in the vision, share the idea of living missionally as an artist rather than a salesman - by which, I mean to say, they believe that one's faith should be fully incorporated into one's life, not simply worn on the sleeve of one's actions. They are wonderful men, and they challenge me merely by the living of their lives. After the frustration for them passed, I became angry at those who would impose a rigorous collection of incorrect viewpoints upon them, crying "Prosyletizers! Bigots! Imperialists!"
But, after all that got out of the way, I was blessed to have it suggested to me, in a small voice, that I should feel pity for those who would spout their angry diatribe, and hope for those who seemed to be defeated before they began. It certainly reminds me of an ancient nation-state I read about somewhere...Some ResourcesKnoxville FellowsThe public outcryArchitects' virtual tourKnoxnews.com article