published Friday, April 8th, 2011

Courter: A new era for local arts is looming

Whether we know it or not, there are some potentially big changes on the arts horizon in Chattanooga. Some are predictable, and some are not.

One of the most obvious is that as of about 10 tonight, Robert Bernhardt will no longer be music director of the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera. He has held that position for 19 years and, by almost all accounts, he has done a tremendous job. I waffle a little in making that statement only because I have not personally spoken to every single one of you.

It’s hard to imagine that there are too many folks out there who have not been touched in some way by the CSO under Bernhardt. That to me should be his legacy. You might have attended an opera or classical show at the Tivoli, or maybe you enjoyed a Sousa march while sitting on the lawn at Coolidge Park or Chickamauga Battlefield.

Maybe your child was one of those who got to hear the holiday program at the Tivoli or had some of the players visit his or her school as part of the educational outreach programs the CSO does. I’ve always appreciated that Bernhardt seemed to enjoy performing a pops program of Beatles music as much as he did a Beethoven symphony.

The new music director has not been named, but it is a safe bet the CSO will take on a new personality and direction with whoever is chosen. That’s a good thing. As Bernhardt himself has said about his reason for leaving, “Every organization needs a little shaking up every now and then.”

He will still be around, of course, taking on the title of music director emeritus. He will conduct some pop concerts and maybe some opera performances, but change is afoot.

Speaking of shaking things up, the Cultural Plan being facilitated by Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga has the potential to do some major reorganizing of how we fundraise, manage, use, promote and view the arts in town.

First, it should be pointed out that “arts” in this instance refers to just about everything you can think of pertaining to the arts. Sometimes we seem to get bogged down thinking it means just public art pieces or just the symphony or just paintings in a museum. This plan is looking at those elements, as well as dance, theater, architecture and arts in education, and how they can be used to create better students.

The Allied Arts people have emphasized over and over in the last year how studies show that students who have regular arts opportunities in their schools do better in almost every other area.

So what does all of this mean in the real world?

The folks doing the studies and the people at Allied Arts have said that everything is on the table. They believe the changes could be as grand for the arts as Vision 2000 was for downtown.

One of the biggest challenges identified in phase one of the plan is that while we have some very generous donors, they are aging and are not being replaced by a younger generation of givers. This will obviously need to be addressed.

The public will be given opportunities to express hopes, wishes and wants in the coming months.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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