Notes From The (Fayetteville) Underground


Notes From The (Fayetteville) Underground

By Christopher Spencer

A meeting is under way within the bowels of a former bank on the Fayetteville square.

Gene Andes of Four Square Fine Art makes his pitch to a handful of artists during a potluck of Cajun food and red wine in plastic cups.

He says: Rather than wait for the blighted real estate saddled with the low rent required to make it affordable as studio space, let’s create similar conditions downtown for area artists, just without the urban blight.

Andes wants to transform the bottom floor of East Square Plaza, the old Bank of America building, into 20 low-cost studio spaces for area artists. There they can work, teach and sell their art in a new gallery below the street.

Five artists are already committed to renting space, mostly those hand-picked by Andes. It’s time now to expand and tell more people about the concept, he said.

Welcome to the Fayetteville Underground, a newly minted nonprofit group with the backing and blessing of Ted Belden, managing partner for East Square Plaza’s owners.

Andes said he hopes that by bringing artists together a creative focal point will develop, making the area a destination for those wanting to buy art.

“There are more good artists working in Fayetteville than there are people to buy their art,” Andes said. “If you want to support the arts, buy art.”

Robert Glick is one of the participating artists. His mixed media works combine acrylic, the occasional verse of original poetry and a technique he calls an “inquiry” that uses flame to sear images into the canvas.

Some of his work is reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s layered splatters and Glick acknowledges the influence. Pollock was known for his dance-like movements as he dribbled paint on the canvas to an internal rhythm.

Much of contemporary art is about rhythm, Glick said. 

He plans to display three pieces — The Chairman of the Board, Skulls and Target — at a show April 16 at the gallery.

Glick said he’s pleased to be working alongside other artists and also hopes that creation of the Fayetteville Underground will make Fayetteville a more attractive market for art buyers.

“High-quality buyers will make the move if the formula is right,” he said.

“If we can create a certain gravity here, then others will come to it,” said Basil Seymour-Davies, another artist interested in renting space underground.

Students who graduate from the University of Arkansas and want to work in visual arts often have to move elsewhere to find a market where their art can sustain them financially, said artist and university instructor John L. Newman.

“You have to work to nurture your public, to develop your market,” Newman said. This project is hopefully a step in that direction, he said.

Newman was considering Andes’ offer on Sunday. So were Lisa Bauer and Debi Grimm, two artists associated with the Eureka Springs arts scene.

Fayetteville Underground signed a seven-year lease for the space that took effect March 1. It’s now up to the nonprofit to come up with rent each month while offering low-cost studio space to emerging and established artists, Andes said. 

That’s where the new gallery comes into play. Artists in the studios will be able to sell their work at a 40 percent commission. Standard commission in a gallery is about 50 percent. Fayetteville Underground can use that money to make up the difference in rent, said Steven Aust, whose helping broker the real estate deal.

The gallery will also be staffed by artists who earn credit against their rent by contributing some creative sweat equity to the project. The gallery is expected to open March 25. 

Rent is $12.50 per square foot, but can be as low as $5 a square foot as long as the artist makes up the difference through gallery sales or work on the project, said Leslie Belden, Ted Belden’s wife.

She is president of the nonprofit’s seven-member board of directors which is in charge of reviewing applications by new artists. She hopes to implement an artist review committee in the near future made up of participating artists who will review new applicants.

Renovations totaling $1 million were completed at the site in November. The building’s bottom floor is an upscale blend of glass, wood and metal with open studio spaces. Some are on display like fishbowls, while others, are private bays with ample raw space. 

Four condominiums were sold on the building’s top floor and a proposed science museum may temporarily locate on the building’s ground level if they can get a grant, Leslie Belden said.

Fayetteville’s experiment is similar to Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va., which attracts about 500,000 visitors annually. That building once served as an actual torpedo factory until it was converted into the art center in 1975. It now serves as space for 82 artists’ studios, six galleries, two workshops and the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.

Robert Andes, an artist and son of Gene Andes, said the idea for the Fayetteville Underground emerged from a small group that started gathering each Sunday about a year and a half ago. They started meeting at Common Grounds, then Urban Table and finally in his father’s gallery.

Often they would watch and talk about an artistic film like Wim Wender’s “Wings of Desire” or the German Expressionist film, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.”

From just a few friends and family to about 15 people who would regularly meet on Sundays, the group grew slowly and without much fanfare.

Gene Andes hopes Fayetteville Underground will grow in the same fashion, slowly, solidly and with a long-term plan and that plan is to transform Fayetteville into an arts destination.

Artists Wanted

If you are interested in being considered as an artist in the Fayetteville Underground go to the nonprofit group’s Web site at or call 466-1061.

Other Interesting Links:

Four Square Fine Art

Robert Glick

Basil Seymour-Davies

Lisa Bauer

Debi Grimm

John L. Newman

Robert Andes

Categories: Features