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Urban renewal

Mellwood Center offers local artists
new place to call home

The former meat packing plant has shops,
rental space for special events

By Michella Marino
Contributing Writer

LOUISVILLE, KY. (June 2006) – Louisville and its surrounding communities are filled with vibrant local art, music and culture scenes, but no one place encompasses all the scenes quite like the Mellwood Arts and Entertainment Center.

Janie Moss

Photo by Michella Marino

Janie Moss works at her booth
in the Mellwood Center.

This new facility at 1860 Mellwood Ave. is located in a former meat packing plant but since 2003 has been the artsy vision of local developer John Clark and his family. Clark’s wife is also a painter, so he realized the necessity and potential for an art center where emerging artists could work, display and sell their wares.
“He saw the need for this,” said Scooter Davidson, Mellwood’s leasing and marketing director.
According to Davidson, the Mellwood project is loosely based on a few other factory-turned-art center projects like the restoration and recreation of the former torpedo factory in Alexandria, Va. However, the torpedo factory was only 87,000 square feet, whereas this reconverted meat packing plant encompasses four times the footage.
Clark loved the Louisville factory building with its original brick still intact and its unique architecture, so he hired Moseley Putney, an architect who specializes in adaptive reuse, to turn the old factory into a spunky character-filled art center. Under Putney’s tutelage, Mellwood changed its zoning from heavy industrial to that of a covered mall like Oxmoor or St. Matthew’s. Davidson said no live animals have been in the factory for almost a decade.
Thus, as of September 2003, Mellwood Arts and Entertainment Center has housed a variety of art studios, galleries, retail stores, restaurants, event rooms, and even a fitness center. Mellwood continues to grow daily and is a work in progress. The first two phases of Mellwood are completed, but several floors of the building are still under renovation and construction. For instance, the street level floor of the building, which is 13,000 square feet, will be completed around August and will house a furniture and design center, which will also feature antiques. Due to be completed in 2007 is the three-story open air Mellwood Tenant Gallery Bar, and a theater is also in the works. Davidson hopes that some of the upper floors will be turned into offices for businesses that would enjoy working in an artful environment.
Mellwood boasts a large special events room including a patio and balcony and adjacent lawn area that can be rented out for such events as weddings, art shows, fundraisers, proms, dance recitals, plays, book readings, reunions, corporate luncheons or parties.
The room itself is 10,430 square feet and holds up to 720 people seated, which makes it one of the largest rentable rooms in the area. A second, smaller event room, which holds 125 people seated and is 4,000 square feet, should be completed by August, and the lobby of the art center can also be rented out.

Mellwood Art Center

Photo by Michella Marino

In addition to artist studios for rent,
the Mellwood Center Arts and
Entertainment Center offers a restaurant
and fitness center, and rents space
for special events.

Several events are being held at Mellwood this summer. On July 28-29, Mellwood will play host to the fifth annual Forecastle Festival. According to a publication for the event, it is “the largest regional gathering of artists, musicians, and (environmental) activists featuring national headliners.” Estimated attendance for the Forecastle Festival is expected to be between 5,000-6,000 people.
The 10th anniversary Benefit for the Shamrock Foundation, Inc. “Art for the Animals” will also be held at the Mellwood Center. This event will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Aug. 3. “Art for the Animals” will include a silent and live art auction, gourmet hors d’oeuvres, fine wine, BBC beer, and live jazz. Mellwood also participates in the F.A.T. Friday Trolley Hops that are held on the last Friday of every month from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Plenty of free parking is available at the art center and a trolley stops by every 10-12 minutes.
Despite continual construction and renovation, almost 200 various artists and businesses have made their home at the center. Items ranging from jewelry, oil paintings, posters, mirrors, woodwork, clothes, pots, vases, paper mache can be found there. Music is also available on the weekends in the courtyard, and the Mom’s Music Headquarters will soon take over the old Tumbleweed building next door.
“Art and music go together, so this is the best thing to happen for this whole corridor,” Davidson said. However, businesses are also represented that aren’t so directly related to art, such as a spa, hair salon, interior design, café and a fitness center to name a few. As more space is completed, more studio and retail space will open up.
Celia Smith, owner of “Celia’s @ Mellwood,” has rented space since Mellwood first opened in 2003. She initially used the space as a working studio but now has a retail store that houses her own creations, along with showcasing other artists work that isn’t normally carried in the area. Smith’s store features “home and personal accessories” and she enjoys hunting for “quirky, functional stuff” to sell in her store.
“I have no doubt that Mellwood Center, when completed, will become a major destination place,” Smith said. “It will be able to entertain people all day long. It’s perfect for an art center – sightly bizarre and interesting.”
Janie Moss, another local artisan and studio owner at Mellwood, shares Smith’s feelings. Moss is a working artist who focuses on what she calls “fun arts” such as paper mache. Moss has rented space in Mellwood since December 2005 and has virtually been there everyday since.
“I love it because it’s my second home,” Moss said. She has discovered a great camaraderie between the artists in the center to the point where some of the women even host a girls’ night out. “There’s a real good feeling among us.”

• For more information on the Mellwood Arts and Entertainment Center, call (502) 895-3650. or visit: www.mellwoodartcenter.com.

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