Ashley Bergeron, the founder and owner of a Nashville-based art gallery called the Studio 208, feels like she survived the bombing that shook the city on Christmas Day by a miracle.

Bergeron, who lives behind her gallery, was on a birthday trip when a suicide bomber detonated his RV about half a block from her building on the morning of December 25.

If she hadn’t delayed her flight back home at the last minute, based on a gut feeling, she would have been at the gallery at the time of the explosion.

“I can’t explain it, but my instinct just told me ‘don’t go home,'” Bergeron told Hyperallergic in a phone conversation. “I was ready to fly back to Nashville, but I followed my intuition.”

The massive explosion quaked downtown Nashville, injuring at least eight people and damaging more than 40 buildings. The bomber was later identified as Anthony Quinn Warner, a 63-year-old man from Antioch, Tennessee. He died in the blast; his motivation remains unknown.

Bergeron had to wait for five days until she was allowed access to her home gallery, as police cordoned off the area during the investigation. When she returned to the space, she found that the gallery’s windows were shattered and its internal walls had caved and cracked. The floor was covered with dust, bricks, fallen light fixtures, and shards of glass.

Ashley Bergeron’s gallery in October of 2020

“It looked like a war zone,” Bergeron said. “A lot of artworks were thrown off the walls,” she added, noting that one painting was thrust to the other side of the room.

Bergeron is still assessing the damage to the artworks, which seem to have mostly survived the blast, except for one painting by Nashville-based Kristin Llamas, which was ripped by glass shards.

“This was my favorite show of the ones I’ve had,” Bergeron said. “I finally felt like I figured it out.”

The explosion also destroyed a public art installation at an AT&T facility next to where the bomber parked his vehicle. The 2018 project, organized by Bergeron in collaboration with the telecommunications company and other local arts organizations (Nashville Downtown Partnership, The DISTRICT, and Nashville Metro Arts Commission) featured large-scale artworks by eight local women on the building’s windows. Each artist represented a different area of the city.  

A public art installation by eight women artists at an AT&T facility in downtown Nashville was destroyed by the explosion

Almost two weeks after the explosion, Bergeron still lives in a hotel while working to repair her gallery. She says that it will take months until she can open again.

“This place has brought me so much joy,” she said. “I’m not in shock anymore. I’m not even sad or angry. I’m focused on cleaning up, repairing, and eventually opening again with a new perspective.”

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...