Chattanooga has made a name for itself through a focus on the arts. If that is to continue, it will take a collage of community members working together, which is the premise for the recently unveiled Imagine 20/20 campaign.
"[The plan] really starts the dialogue about community - how can we make our community better?" explained steering committee co-chair Tom White. "It's a blueprint for the role arts and culture can play and are playing in that process. We want a vibrant, diverse culture celebrated locally, regionally and nationally for the ways in which creativity and arts and culture enriches and enhances our way of life."
Just as the plan stresses access to the arts for all, the subcommittees formed to put the plan in place are open to anyone with a desire to serve. Based on interest, experience or connections, citizens can choose from the areas of: diversity, downtown, economic development, education, infrastructure and resources and quality of life.
"We hope many of you will be part of continuing the evolution of this plan," said Jim Kennedy, future chair of the Allied Arts board, which is now tasked with guiding the plan's development. "We want to pick your brain. You're all busy people, but for many of you there are things in this plan that speak to your priorities and interests."
A follow-up meeting is scheduled for June in order to report back on progress and keep the plan's implementation accountable to the public. In the meantime, anyone can follow the process and progress online, either at imaginechattanooga2020.org or via Facebook.
"We know what the arts have meant as far as the competitive edge we have here in the city and county," said county Mayor Jim Coppinger, following Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield's assertion that the arts are largely responsible for helping land VW and for Chattanooga being named one of the 45 places to see this year by The New York Times.
"We certainly know what it's going to mean in the future," Coppinger added.
One of the long-term visions of the plan is constructing a "state-of-the-art midsized performance space," according to White. Also envisioned is a universal cultural endowment that encompasses the many arts organizations that already exist in the area, and a strengthened public art program.
"Whoever says this arts and culture stuff is not for me and then goes to church and sings in a superb gospel choir has to realize their contribution," White said.
By making art education part of the K-12 curriculum in every school and for every student, future art sources - and standardized test scores and graduation rates - would be increased, according to White. Other demographics like hospital patients, gang members and the incarcerated could be untapped resources as well.
"The plan is really built on the theory that things go better with the arts," said steering committee co-chair Ruth Holmberg. "Now's our opportunity to build on that."
"The arts are far more important than people can actually measure," said Littlefield. "The arts are paying tremendous benefits that are difficult to measure."