Audra Harvey, co-founder of abrasiveMedia in Nashville, Tennessee, grew up in a diverse arts community in Edmond, Oklahoma. “I was constantly surrounded by artists of different kinds,” she explains, “so when I went off into the world, I just expected that was normal.”
But when Harvey moved away from her hometown—and eventually to Nashville—she realized her experience of the arts had been anything but normal. She found that, despite Nashville’s reputation as one of America’s most creative cities, artists often struggled to connect with each other, even within their own genres. Connection between genres, then, was virtually nonexistent.
So in 2004, Harvey—with her husband, Justin, and fellow artist Andrew Collins—founded the small, multi-genre arts group to bridge the gap between artistic genres and the artists who participate in them. The initial purpose of the group was to encourage an environment in which one was allowed to create with whatever tools one wished to use, with no rules or requirements.
Harvey’s artists’ collective put on small shows and exhibits for six years, and eventually they began holding forums that paired local artists with individuals working in the field of social justice. “It took a long time to figure out what we were really doing,” Harvey says. “In 2010, we decided that we either needed to quit, or figure out how to make it a thing.”
It was then that Harvey reached out to some leaders in the arts community who helped her identify the group’s mission, and guided her through the process of becoming a nonprofit organization. “I sat down with them and took a lot of notes and basically did exactly what I was told until I knew more of what I was doing,” she says. “And it worked, is working; we’re still growing.”
Of course, growing a successful nonprofit organization has come with its share of challenges. A more recent challenge is the responsibility that has come with the organization’s growth and recognition. “We are beholden to far more people now than when we started,” Harvey says. “If we screw up, more people see it, and it affects more people. That’s something I think about a lot.”
AbrasiveMedia now boasts year-round programming, two artists-in-residence and an active presence in the Nashville arts community. The group hosts fitness, dance and fine arts classes five days a week. It participates in a monthly neighborhood art crawl and hosts regular events both for its own artists and for artists in the community. This year, abrasiveMedia is finishing two long-term projects, including “Th3 Anomaly” from artist-in-residence David Landry.
Landry joined the group in 2011 after proposing to blend fine art with comic book-style narrative in a walk-through graphic novel experience. Landry was inspired to begin this project when he observed the role fine art had taken in the Nashville community. “Very few people, myself included, were as excited to go to an art gallery as they were to go to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster, and I adore fine art,” he says. “Most children dreaded the boredom of having to walk through a fine art gallery. I wanted to change that.”
Four years later, Landry’s project, which consists of 321 paintings in more than 2,000 square feet of gallery space, is open to the public.