published Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

AVA celebrates 25th anniversary

By Ann Nichols

In the mid-1980s, Chattanooga Venture held a series of Vision 2000 meetings to foster the future growth of the city. While attending several of these meetings, Charlotte Landis and Stan Townsend agreed that there needed to be a center for artists -- not for art but for the artists who create it.

In July 1986, Chattanooga Venture appointed a committee, headed by Landis, to pursue the concept. A steering committee was formed and members visited several art centers, thanks to funding by the Lyndhurst Foundation.

"We went to Sawtooth [School for Visual Art] in Winston-Salem, N.C. and the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art to interview directors and tour the facilities to see how to institute our own ideas," said Landis.

Within the year, the Association for Visual Artists was established, a board of directors and nonprofit status were in place and 100 memberships were acquired.

Chattanooga Venture graciously offered AVA an office space until the new organization could afford to rent a separate space in the Frances Willard Building on Lindsay Street. As AVA grew and became a larger presence in Chattanooga, it had several homes before settling into its current space at 30 Frazier Ave. in 1997.

"Dennis Palmer and Lawrence Mathis called me and said that Agnew Hardware was going out of business and was AVA interested in leasing the space," said Landis. "The new location helped us fulfill our long-range goal of providing exhibition space for our artist members."

During the past 25 years, AVA has established numerous programs and events for its members, as well as the community. Beginning with Artstravaganza, a juried exhibition held in Miller Plaza, this annual art show evolved into a festival that was held at the Hunter Museum of American Art for several years and then became a three-day event that is now called Four Bridges Arts Festival.

For about 10 years, the Waterhouse Pavilion was the site of weeklong artist-in-residencies that allowed the public to watch artists demonstrate their skills, discuss the creative process and view and/or purchase from an exhibit of their work.

Numerous workshops and lecture series brought professionals from across the United States to Chattanooga for local artists to further their careers.

The corporate lending program allowed businesses to "rent" a curated show of art for their public spaces for a year.

"Siskin Hospital participated several times in this program, and one of the patients in the rehabilitation center who had not moved or spoken to date, got up and walked over to look at an AVA member's artwork," said Landis.

Another example of the ability of art to touch people's lives took place at an art display in Waterhouse Pavilion.

"I was standing next to a man who just kept staring at one of Tom Farnam's huge, abstract paintings," Landis said. "I heard him say 'This painting just touches my heart' and that confirmed, to me, what art is supposed to do."

AVA moved into the 21st century with a media lab and white space for artists to take digital photographs of their work. AVA also changed its name to Association for Visual Arts.

Artstravaganza, a celebration of the past 25 years of AVA, will be held from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday at the Waterhouse Pavilion. The event was organized by a committee chaired by David Hudson. An invitational exhibition will offer up to 60 artworks that will be available for purchase in a silent auction. There will be artist demonstrations, an open bar and heavy hors d'oeuvres available. During the evening, Landis will be honored with the presentation of the first Charlotte Landis Service Award.

"This 25th anniversary gathering is a real celebration for AVA," said Anne Willson, AVA's executive director. "The grassroots volunteer consortium that started with a group of friends has evolved into a fully staffed nonprofit organization with year-round programming and a nationally ranked festival. The visionaries who saw the potential in 1986, as well as AVA's many supporters through the years, are to be commended."

Artstravaganza tickets are $100 for the first one and $175 for two. Advance reservations are suggested and may be made by calling AVA at 265-4282.

Email Ann Nichols at annsnichols@aol.com.

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