For the past dozen years, Marilyn Harrison has been the backbone of Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga, according to Allied Arts president Dan Bowers.
Harrison, formerly vice president, retired June 30. Tonight, a celebration in her honor is being held at the Tivoli Theatre.
"I'm terrified of what might happen," Harrison said in a telephone interview. "They might roast me."
She is more likely to be toasted than roasted at an evening that will celebrate her achievements in improving the state of the arts in Chattanooga, those close to the arts organization say.
"She is passionate about the arts," Bowers said. "She wants the best for the whole community."
During her tenure, Harrison created the Holmberg Arts Leadership Institute, which allows Chattanooga-area residents to get an inside look at the different arts organizations around town, to see how they work and, hopefully, to become more involved themselves.
She also was instrumental in securing several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as
one from the Kresge Foundation to launch projects such as the new Main Terrain park in the Southside and the Imagine Chattanooga 20/20 program.
"When you receive a grant like that, you just want to go hop-skipping along and shout it to the world that Chattanooga has received an NEA grant," she said.
Imagine Chattanooga 20/20 is a cultural planning process designed to engage more Chattanoogans in asking: "What can creativity, arts and culture do for our community?"
In other cities, Harrison said, neighbors were less eager to come together to figure out solutions to problems.
"I think Chattanooga has a real advantage in that people get together, and they figure out solutions for whatever it is."
She said she looks forward to seeing the program develop more.
"I think that can guide the growth of the arts organizations and support for individual artists. With all the work that went into that and all the people involved, putting that together will surely result in a lot of growth in the arts."
"We're going to miss her mightily," Bowers said.
Some "shuffling of the deck," he noted, will occur to try to fill the void, but "you can't replace Marilyn."
Contact Holly Leber at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6391. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/hollyleber. Subscribe to her on Facebook at facebook.com/holly.j.leber.