Arts and the future

Arts and the future

June 17th, 2012 in Opinion Times

While residents, corporations, commercial enterprises and foundations in Chattanooga and the region have long been known for their appreciation of the arts, there has been an increasing need for a comprehensive plan to build on that tradition to create a new blueprint for the role arts should play in community life in the future. That plan -- and it is a sound one -- is now available for public scrutiny, comment and action. The call to action should be answered in the affirmative.

The Imagine Chattanooga 20/20 cultural plan, facilitated by Allied Arts and developed through intense study and research as well as widespread citizen participation in the planning process, calls for significant changes in the way the city's arts culture is viewed and supported. The plan strongly and properly calls for the arts to become fully integrated into every aspect of community life. It is an far-reaching goal, but one that can be achieved.

Indeed, if the city and the region for which it serves as a cultural, civic and economic hub, is to continue to thrive and to grow, the arts in their broadest sense by necessity will have to play a more prominent role here. If they do not, the city and region likely will find it increasingly difficult to sustain the quality of life -- cultural and otherwise -- that heretofore has made them so attractive to individuals and corporations -- think Volkswagen, Wacker and Alstom -- in search of new homes and sites for plants.

Don't believe it? Check with VW leaders. When the automaker announced plans to build its new plant in Chattanooga, company executives specifically mentioned the city's Riverfront development, which showcases public art, and the broad array of cultural offerings here as powerful influences on their decision-making process.

Indeed, the value of art and culture is not limited to its growing role in economic development. Both contribute directly to the prosperity of the city and region and to the well-being of those who live here. It promotes the region's esthetic value, public enjoyment and quality of life and bolsters tourism. In a world where every aspect of community life is examined by individuals and corporations whose presence is essential to continued growth, arts and culture, like good schools, roads, sewers, medical care and other public amenities, are used as measuring stick by decision makers.

The Allied Arts plan for the city addresses that need. It has four main components:

• Finding and promoting ways to harness and expand the economic impact of the arts on the city.

• Expansion of access to the arts for everyone in the community through programs that bring arts to the people rather than requiring people to come to fixed sites to experience arts and culture.

• Making arts a more visible and expansive part of education through programs that expose students, particularly those of elementary school age, to theater, art museums, ballet and the symphony.

• Creating, developing and sustaining a downtown hub where artists and performers from a variety of disciplines can collaborate and work and perform together.

Those plans, for the moment, are more a work in progress than a finished product. Additional refinement is needed. That process has started. It deserves -- requires -- widespread support from the community if a fully-fleshed plan is to be developed and implemented.

It won't be easy. There are two significant obstacles. The first is lack of funding, always a problem here and elsewhere when it comes to support of the arts. Allied Arts, for example, does not have a steady source of funds and many arts organizations have limited resources of their own. The second is public indifference to the arts.

An admittedly unscientific online poll conducted by the Times Free Press last week indicated that 66 percent of respondents believed that arts are important to Chattanooga, but that 33 percent did not. The first number is gratifying, but the latter is a matter of concern.

A greater appreciation of the arts and the positive role they play in individual and community life here would translate into broader support -- financial and otherwise -- of the arts. Clearly, those promoting the new arts plan have work to do.

That should not be a deterrent. The new cultural plan is sound and worthy of the support and interest needed to bring it to fruition.