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May 01, 2007

Picture_13_2 Historic neighborhood nourishes artistic muse

June 1, 2007

For Williamson A.M.

"You never know what you will find inside one of these homes," Nancy Williams, director of the Main Street Project for the Heritage Foundation, says about this weekend's Town and Country Tour of Homes. But is she talking about the homes or the people who live in them?

Picture_17_2 Honestly, the answer could be either, especially when talking about La Maison du Reve and its owners, Randy and Chris Elrod. The couple bought their New Orleans-style home at 808 West Main St. eight months ago.

The home built in 1986 is not historic; instead, it's deemed an infill home. "An infill home is a home built in a historic area that matches the other homes in style and period. This year the tour is all about downtown Franklin, so we have examples of newer homes that work with the spirit of the area, historic houses, historic cottages, all located in downtown," Williams said.

"We always had a dream about living in a historic area. But honestly? It is serendipitous that this home directed us toward a much bigger dream," Randy Elrod said.

The Elrods lived in a subdivision for seven years while Randy served as arts pastor at The People's Church in Franklin. In June 2006 he left the ministry, not to retire, but to retool. "I read a book about changing careers and allowing you to live out your passion. I took a sabbatical from work and decided to move in another direction. I have always been an entrepreneur as well as an arts pastor, so I wanted to explore other areas," he said.

Picture_23 Elrod had created a search engine for arts leaders and teachers in mid-'90s, "before search engines became cool." He sold that business, left the arts ministry position and began to work from home. "I built this beautiful, dream office in our house in the suburbs. I was ready to go. Come on creativity. And then. Well, I was stuck," Elrod said, laughing.

Elrod says that most people in his neighborhood would drive off to work in the morning, drive in the garage at night and go sit on the backyard deck in the evening. "I really thought I would thrive with all the quiet time to create, but I started just drying up.

Then one day Chris called me about a house." Chris Elrod, an agent with Bob Parks Realty in Franklin,Picture_19_2 happened on a house built in the historic area of downtown Franklin. "We never make decisions quickly. If we bought a baby stroller we would research it, sleep on it, discuss it. We literally walked in the house and said, 'Let's buy it.' We called our banker and bought it that day.

Moving to the historic area was a dream for the couple, but it awakened another, bigger dream. "Right after we moved in, some neighbors, Marty and Ron Ligon, invited us over for dinner. It was mostly neighbors, but the group was just amazing. Robin Hood, who has won a Pulitzer Prize, artists, songwriters.

And something just clicked," he recalled. The something was the idea that artists feed off each other. And the Elrods landed in what Randy calls creative paradise. "I can literally stand on my porch and see so much going on. And I can walk less than half a mile and have breakfast, lunch and coffee with neighbors who are also phenomenal artists. TobyMac is a neighbor, a member of Audio Adrenaline lives close by, writers, painters. I am surrounded, and we all interact," Elrod said.

Picture_20 The interaction started the creative process for Elrod, who has never been short on ideas that feed the arts. "I incubate businesses for artists. That is, I start a business, then turn it over to young music artists and let them run it, and I keep a percentage. The starving artist is alive and well, and I am living proof that an artist can be a business person, too.

"I run a think tank every year and artists from South America, Egypt and all over come to collaborate. Last year, a vice president for Disney and the executive producer for That '70's Show came.

Artists tend to end up the Lone Ranger, so I am trying to encourage collaboration," he said. Indeed, the biggest gift he received by moving to Franklin's historic district is a sense of community.

"I know how important it is for artists to have a community," he said. "That is the motivation behind Kalein." Kalein, which means beauty in Greek, is a nonprofit artist development center that Elrod is developing. "I bought 124 acres outside of Woodbury. I want to have a place where artists of every genre, painters, musicians, screenwriters, can come together and learn and share.

Having this creative community around me gives me so much," he explained. "Other artists need that, Picture_21 too." So aside from the unseen gift that the move to historic downtown Franklin offers, what will visitors of the upcoming Town and Country Tour see?

"Well, we added a studio for my paintings. It looks right over Main Street. And we will have lots of my work showcased, too," he said. Yes, in addition to think tanks, artist retreats and new businesses, Elrod has gained a following as an up-and-coming artist — with a bit of a twist. "I sell my work, but all the money goes to Third World countries. I have visited Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan to teach artist development. I know that the money can really do something in those countries. So far, I have probably sent $15,000 in the last couple of years," he said.

Touring the homes on the Town and Country Tour will certainly offer surprises. But no surprise as big as the one Randy and Chris Elrod discovered. "This community is so rich. Living in historic downtown is like living in Florence during the Renaissance. It just brings creativity to your life to live in the middle of soPicture_22 much richness," he said. "And we really thought we were just buying a great house."

IF YOU GO Heritage Foundation Town and Country Tour of Homes, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Tour eight unique homes in downtown Franklin. Tickets are $20 today, $25 during tour. For advance tickets, call the Heritage Foundation at 591-8500, ext. 18. Tickets will be available at all tour homes, which can be visited in any order.


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