Athens Review, Athens, Texas

January 4, 2013

Lenz family moves here from Dallas to create art venues

Philokalia Jones
Athens Daily Review

Athens — Think about it: What on earth would cause a young savvy couple to even consider giving up the cultural richness, diversity, and convenience of Dallas for a little town like Athens?

Longtime Athens residents Michael and Catherine Lenz made just such a leap in the early 1990s, when Michael left a successful job as a hair stylist in a famous salon in Dallas, and decided to open a salon of his own in Athens – Catherine's  hometown.

Interestingly, a key clue to why the Lenzes left the profitable “high road” of urban sophistication for the “low road” of small town life, is hidden in the name of “Athens.”

Harkening back, in its name, to the time-honored cultural center of ancient Greece, Athens was clearly never intended to be just another sleepy little town in East Texas.

The thoughtful way Athens is laid out, with its broad roads and amazing architecture, clearly indicate that a lot of thought (and money) went into founding/developing Athens.

In fact, ask around and you find out that art, music, and theater have been flourishing in Athens “forever.”

When Michael and Catherine Lenz moved to Athens in 1993, Michael right away noted that there was “an energy” in Athens which was simply begging for expression. 

Fueled by their shared passion for the arts, in addition to opening up Agape Salon, Michael and Catherine took it upon themselves to try and create art venues which could tap into Athens' creative wellspring.

The Agape Warehouse was the Lenz's first enterprise, followed by The Agape Tea House, and then later The Image Warehouse. 

The concept of play, as a powerful and necessary creative force, was an important part of each of these venues.

The fearless courage to play, to experiment/ explore/create, within an environment which, while breathtakingly-free and unstructured, was still intentional, challenging, and reflective, turned out to be an amazingly fruitful approach which touched and inspired many in Athens, especially area teens. In one way or another, The Athens Art Co-op (www.artgallery211.net), the current local independent music scene, the Railroad Cafe, the Texas Swing Festival (www.texasswingfestival.com), The East Texas Rural Arts Initiative and The Arts Exchange, have all benefited from the Lenz's “playful” approach to the arts.

Michael Lenz is convinced that the key ingredient right now to continuing to grow a viable art community, one that is sustainable and productive, is motivating people to talk and dialogue about vision for the future.

As Michael puts it, “Building community of any kind is not about ownership or power, even less about politics. Community is about getting people to talk together, helping folks admit that they need each other, creating possibilities for further exchanges – always with a view to becoming more than the present.” Sounds like a plan, don't you think?

Next week: Local artist, Cheryl Hicks, breaks open the topic of creativity. Don't miss it!