published Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Art important to Chattanooga, Imagine group says

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    Ruth Holmberg and Tom White are looking for new Arts leaders

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If Chattanooga wants to continue being touted in national publications as among the "best places to visit" and "best places to start a business," it needs to continue investing in arts and culture.

That's what city leaders emphasized during Tuesday's presentation of Imagine Chattanooga 20/20 -- a plan to inject arts and culture into every aspect of city life that was unveiled at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre Tuesday evening.

The presentation outlined a nine-month study of the arts and culture in Chattanooga, which found what many thought to be true all along: The arts are an important part of what makes Chattanooga special, and more emphasis needs to be placed on them.

"It's quite an overwhelming blueprint of our hopes for the future," said Ruth Holmberg, co-chairwoman of the plan's steering committee. "It's built on the theory that things go better with the arts -- and this is an opportunity to expand on that."

During the presentation, co-chairman Tom White outlined the plan's six key areas: Arts and cultural education; economic development; diversity and democracy at its best; vibrant downtown; a good quality of life; and providing the infrastructure, resources and tools.

"This is not simply an opportunity for people in the arts and culture community to express their needs," said White. "What this plan does is really start a dialogue about community, and what it asks is, 'What can we do to make a community better?"

To create the plan, a 50-member steering committee of business, civic and community leaders drafted the study, which gave the community the chance to offer ideas on arts and culture. Meetings were held to discuss everything from art in schools to public art to funding and involved more than 400 people.

Allied Arts has been designated to oversee the implementation of the plan.

When Imagine Chattanooga 20/20 was begun nine months ago, the focus was on what arts can do for the community, rather than how the community can support the arts, said Dan Bowers, president of Allied Arts.

"That really is a different way of viewing things," he said, and the plan represents "more of a beginning and not an end."

"Now that we have a consensus vision, there is a lot of work that will probably be spread over several years," Bowers said.

"We've tried to divide things into immediate things that can be done and some intermediate goals and some big, big dreams that might take several years," he said.

Funding for Imagine Chattanooga 20/20 -- about $200,000 -- was provided by Allied Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kresge Foundation, the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Lyndhurst Foundation, the Benwood Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga.

Staff writer Kate Harrison contributed to this report.

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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