Dr. Jim Chappuis
Dr. Jim Chappuis
Founder, Westside Cultural Arts Center
There aren’t many doctors in town who can ease the pain in your back and sate your appetite for cutting-edge art at the same time. Dr. Jim Chappuis, a surgeon and founder of the Buckhead-based Spine Center Atlanta, has mastered that ability by combining his medical talent with a drive to discover and offer an outlet to emerging local artists.
“I was drawn to art first, but was told you can’t do art for a living,” says Chappuis, who grew up in Ohio, the son of a waitress mom and a mechanic dad. “I liked math and science, and was amazed by human anatomy. It’s much like art.”
So medical school it was, followed by opening a practice in Atlanta in 1987. The decision to concentrate on the spine was also influenced by his love of art.
“Twenty-five years ago, there weren’t a lot of answers for someone with spine problems,” he says. Working on those problems provided the opportunity to design new instruments for spine surgery—an activity that channeled his artistic creativity. When he wasn’t focusing on medicine, Chappuis was keeping an eye on the local arts scene.
“To me, it’s been very fragmented,” he says. “I don’t think there’s been a venue to bring collectors and artists together. And there’s a lot of corporate- sponsored art, which means if it’s too controversial, it won’t work.”
Ten years ago, Chappuis bought an old warehouse west of Howell Mill Road as an investment. He eventually tired of being a landlord and wanted to put the space to an artistic use, so two years ago, he reconfigured the building into art studios, gallery areas and event spaces. The result was the Westside Cultural Arts Center.
“Here, artists can be who they are,” Chappuis says. “I think art should push the envelope; I’m attracted to artists who have something to say. For me, it’s a way to effect social change and raise social awareness. If artists can’t do that, who can?”
The center has hosted shows on gun violence and is gearing up for what Chappuis expects to be a much-talked-about display around religion. His aim is to have a new exhibit every eight weeks or so, featuring local artists working in abstract, contemporary genres.
“I’m looking for shows that the High wouldn’t embrace,” he says with a smile. “And I’m not looking to pigeonhole art, to say, ‘This is African-American’ or ‘This is women’s art.’ To me, it’s just art.”
The space is dotted with many of Chappuis’s own collected pieces, including several paintings and photos of Muhammad Ali, one of his idols. Other works are on display in his medical office, where they double as soothing backdrops for patients. “To me, art is about sharing,” he says. “I think it’s selfish to just buy it and take it home.”
To learn more, head to westsideartscenter.com
STORY: H.M. Cauley
PHOTOS: Sara Hanna