For now, EPB's street-facing windows on Market, Broad and M.L. King reflect ordinary scenes of city life: vehicles idling at the intersection and brightly dressed runners powering by. But over the coming weeks, those windows will transform into whimsical worlds complete with blinking snowflakes, dancing teddy bears and merry-making elves.
The EPB Holiday Windows have been a Chattanooga tradition for more than 60 years. Every year, the displays are unveiled on Thanksgiving Eve with much ado. Families gather, choirs sing and the mayor makes an appearance. Then, the windows continue to sparkle and shimmer day and night through Jan. 2.
Bringing those scenes to life takes more than sugarplum dreams. Those Holiday Windows involve multiple community partnerships and hundreds of volunteers for an effort that begins as early as June, when Angela Love, EPB resource planning manager, calls the first meeting to brainstorm that year's theme.
To come up with this year's theme, EPB partnered with 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade students involved in STEP-UP Chattanooga, a program that connects youth with local companies. During the students' two-week internship with EPB, they were asked to research and pitch potential ideas for Holiday Windows.
After several brainstorming sessions, together the group settled on "Holidays Around the World."
Next, it was time to channel the spirit of the season and figure out how to make that concept magical.
"We have to figure out how we bring that to life. We like to have lots of movement, lots of color and lights," Love says.
For the past four years, EPB has let students from STEM School Chattanooga lead the way on designing each window. A class of 11th-graders not only develop the concept for each window, but work in their school's "Fab Lab" to build actual models. They are provided the windows' dimensions and instructed to visualize their display in nine equal frames. Each frame, Love says, should feature a twinkling light or moving part — something to catch the eye.
"But keep in mind," she adds, "these windows are open for roughly 45 days, so whatever you put in there has to work for that length of time."
The only other direction Love gives is, "Make it fun; make it cute. Don't do anything that would make a person stand there going, 'I don't understand'"
This year, each window will reflect a wintry celebration taking place on a different continent. To keep it easily identifiable, the students chose recognizable places from around the world: France with the Eiffel Tower, Egypt with its pyramids, and the North Pole in Antarctica, for example.
"We have to think very carefully about the placement of everything. The elves have motors on their backs, so you have to think about them overheating. You can't put them at an angle because you don't want people to see the motors. We have to conceal those very carefully, or we take away from the magic," says Bolus, who was assigned to the North American display, featuring, of course, Chattanooga.
Bolus' group's first idea was to show the aquarium, the bridges and the river.
"We had created a full-scale model that featured elves and penguins ice skating, but then we met with EPB representatives and were told it had been done before. It wasn't original enough," Bolus says. So her group returned to the Fab Lab to draw up a different idea suggested by Love and her team.
The new display showcases a never-before-seen side of the Scenic City — a side that will remain unseen until the unveiling of Holiday Windows, Love says, a twinkle in her eye.
In early October, the STEM students presented their final models to EPB's board, receiving grades for their creativity. Then, Love says, a casting call goes out to EPB employees. "We list all the things we have a need for: sculpting, painting, sewing, carpentry, for example," she says. "We have some guys that are really talented. A couple years ago I was in [Sam's Club] and I saw this stuffed puppy dog. I thought, 'Oh, that'd be really cute in a display.' So I took pictures and sent it to one of our volunteers and asked if he could do anything with it. He said, 'Sure, bring it back.'"
Using lengths of PVC pipe, chicken wire and a motor, that plush toy was animated to look like it was playing fetch. When an elf lifted a stick, the dog raised up on its haunches.
"It requires a lot of dedication," Love says, adding that seeing Chattanooga's city streets transform into a whimsical wonderland is always worth the effort.
"It's our gift to the community."