The area around the intersection of Oconee and Williams Street, on the hill where Athens started, is something of a hidden gold mine of Athens music history. It was the location of the Stitchcraft building, an ongoing industrial concern that inadvertently wound up being a party spot due to its rental of band rehearsal studios. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, where R.E.M. played its first storied gig, is there, too. And right next door to the church was The Print Shop, a space so crucial to the early development of Flagpole that without it this very paper might not exist.
Linda Phillips, founder of the Nuçi Phillips Memorial Foundation and its resource center Nuçi’s Space, died on Jan. 27 of pancreatic cancer. In the beginning, she may or may not have known about the rich history of this rather nondescript and somewhat inconvenient intersection of Athens real estate. Her mission to turn mourning her son into a lifesaving venture, however, has likely done more to preserve and promote future generations of Athens musicians than any other chapter of the Athens music history book.
Linda’s son, the talented but troubled Nuçi Phillips, died from suicide Thanksgiving Day 1996 after a years-long struggle with severe depression. The overwhelming crush of grief sank into Linda. She knew the struggles Nuçi had experienced both as a musician and as a person. She understood the difficulties that artists often face with essentials such as secure and well-equipped practice spaces. Further, she knew that the need for judgement-free access to affordable mental health services was paramount. She purchased the old Cartey Electric Motor Services warehouse at 396 Oconee St. in the fall of 1998. She and her husband, Pierre, donated it to the foundation, and the renovation of this empty husk of an eyesore into what we know as Nuçi’s Space began. It was to be, as Linda put it at the time, a place that she envisioned her son might have gone to.
Linda published her memoir, A Beautiful Here: Emerging from the Overwhelming Darkness of My Son’s Suicide, in November 2016, nearly 20 years to the day after Nuçi’s death. The tenderly honest yet stark story of her life before and after her son’s death is rich in detail, both joyful and painful.
Athens has lots of causes and nonprofits to cheer, yet many—for myriad reasons—often find themselves struggling to rally support or even impart their mission in relatable language. Nuçi’s Space was, and continues to be, one with a clear purpose that found support among its intended beneficiaries (i.e. musicians) nearly from the word go. From its beginning as a local phenomenon filling a known but somewhat irregularly acknowledged need among its creative population, it grew into a model facility from which other towns and scenes took inspiration. Significantly, both the foundation and Nuçi’s Space were structured such that they would live on past the life or tenure of any executive staff or, indeed, its founder. It’s a testament to Linda’s selflessness and commitment to service that her name was never elevated above Nuçi’s Space itself. While she tirelessly advocated for mental health services and support for the resource center, it was always to shine a light on its mission.
Even so, with Nuçi’s Space now having celebrated over 20 years of service and unerring dedication to its purpose, it is no indulgence to recognize that this resource so treasured and needed by our community wouldn’t even exist without its founding principal. In an interview with Flagpole in 2001 Linda said, “We wanted to do something to remember Nuçi; we wanted to do something active, so this is what we’ve done. Every day we get to celebrate Nuçi’s life… All I need is to think that maybe what we’ve done here has helped somebody a little bit.”
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