Martinez: Could we save the arts for the price of a latte?

Martinez: Could we save the arts for the price of a latte?

September 29th, 2013 By Cherie Martinez in Opinion Columns

What would Chattanooga be like if you drove down Market Street and found the Tivoli Theatre sold off to private developers, the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera closed, the Hunter Museum and Chattanooga Theatre Centre just a memory, the Chattanooga Zoo abandoned and no local PBS station to show "Masterpiece Theater."

We enjoy these nonprofit entities because of the hard work, skills and determination of unpaid volunteers and donors who have the passion and the vision for the future of our culture -- the culture that we so often take for granted in this wonderful city.

Really, when Hamilton County politicians thump their chests, and the State of Tennessee officials slap each other's backs and say they are the reason Volkswagen is here, I beg to differ. Volkswagen is here because we offer a great variety of culture, arts and recreation. The arts must be important for Volkswagen as they sponsor many CSO programs at their facility.

If it wasn't for WTCI we would not be enjoying "Downtown Abby," "Nature," "Frontline" or the "PBS News Hour" from the most credible channel on our television dial.

The dirty secret is that Hamilton County government stopped funding the arts in 2010. The city continues to fund the arts at a level rate. The State of Tennessee offers a license plate that will pass on a portion of proceeds to the arts. These public sources pay a fraction of the cost of running these organizations, along with many other fine nonprofits, and the contribution from these public sources is declining. Nonprofits have to run harder and harder just to stay in place. Then, the politicians try to make it look like it's by their efforts alone that people come here to Chattanooga. Humbug!

It's not! Many should be ashamed to even admit their minuscule part to funding Chattanooga's cultural success. The sheer weight of trying to keep these fine institutions going, by donors and volunteers is starting to show. The CTC, CSO and the Chattanooga Zoo, I'm sure, have been on shoestring budgets for so long that it's hard for them to envision a future five years out.

We can solve this! If our Hamilton County taxes allocated on average $5 per person -- the cost of a latte -- to the arts, we could help keep these and other fine nonprofit organizations continuing for our children and the future of Chattanooga.

Wouldn't one latte be worth it, to have these and other nonprofits to keep Chattanooga at the top of the list of best cities?

Cherie Martinez is a Chattanooga arts advocate.