Group unveils plan for shift in Chattanooga's approach to arts

20/20 ACTION AREASEconomic development: Find ways to harness and grow the arts' economic impact on the city. Grow arts-related tourism and advertise cultural events through a single, consolidated online calendar.Leaders:• Jim Kennedy III, Allied Arts Board of Directors• Ron Harr, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce• Bob Doak, Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau• Linda Bennett, Choose ChattanoogaDiversity: Make sure every neighborhood, every age group, every race and ethnicity can participate in the arts. Improve transportation systems to arts hubs, and give grants to communities and non-profits to bring visual and performance arts to neighborhoods.Leaders:• James McKissic, Allied Arts Board of Directors• Lillie Wills, community leader• Jim Hill, former president of the Tennessee AquariumEducation: Make arts education and experiences a more integral part of school. By the time a student graduates the fifth grade, have them exposed to the symphony, art museums, the ballet and the theater.Leaders:• Mary Tanner, Allied Arts Board of Directors• Henry Schulson, Creative Discovery Museum• Jill Levine, Normal Park Museum Magnet SchoolDowntown: Develop a space in Chattanooga's urban core for artists from different genres to collaborate, practice and perform.Leaders:• Maury Nicely, Allied Arts Board of Directors• Kim White, River City Co.• Peggy Townsend, Public Art ChattanoogaSource: Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study

The arts need to be in Chattanooga's bloodstream, and if Chattanooga wants to thrive, the arts are a necessity, not a luxury.

That's the message from backers of the Imagine Chattanooga 20/20 cultural plan, a long-term blueprint for integrating the arts into the city which was released earlier this year.

The arc of the plan calls for a fundamental shift in the city's approach to arts: Ask not what the community can do for the arts -- but what arts can do for the community.

"The arts are not a drag on the community, but they are an economic driver. They have a huge economic impact, and it is only growing stronger in Chattanooga," said Dan Bowers, president of Allied Arts, which is facilitating the plan.

At 8 a.m. today in the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, Allied Arts leaders are presenting their long-term plan to energize the city's arts culture.

"We truly, deeply believe that the arts are going to make a difference in people's lives in this community," said Allied Arts board chairman-elect Jim Kennedy. "It's not just a nice wish to have, it's an absolute must in the 21st century for people to use their left and right brains."

Those brains help nurture a more creative and engaging workforce, he said.

"Exposure to the arts is going to be critical to providing those attractive industries and jobs we want to have in the future," he said. "When [a worker] has an opportunity to be creative, they're a better pipe-fitter, they're a better plumber, they're a better carpenter, they're a better employee at Volkswagen."

Allied Arts' plan is being funneled into four main focuses: Harness the arts' economic impact, make arts a more-integral part of public education, foster the arts in diverse neighborhoods around the city and create a downtown arts hub where connections and collaboration between artists can happen.

"I think those are all worthy goals. Integrating the arts into more people's lives to make it more broad-based needs to be higher on the priority list of public discussion," said Janis Wilkey, artist and president of In-Town Gallery, an artist-owned cooperative on the North Shore.

Wilkey said she has seen a significant movement toward the arts in Chattanooga in the last decade, and the momentum needs to continue.

"It might be difficult, but you can never reach a goal if you don't have it in the first place. If you can convert a few people this year, then it builds."

Imagine Chattanooga 20/20 is still in the "first steps of a marathon," Bowers said, but it has started forming committees and drawing up action plans.

The group's chief obstacle is funding. Millions of dollars over many years will be needed to see the plan's ideals realized, officials say, but Allied Arts does not have a steady funding source, forcing it to start most of its fundraising efforts over every year.


Nonprofit arts and culture organizations made a $106 million impact in the greater Chattanooga area in 2010, according to a recently released study by Americans for the Arts, a Washington, D.C.-based arts advocacy group.

Of that total, audiences who attend arts and culture-related events pump about $65.5 million into the local economy, the study shows.

Arts tourists are the "gold ring" of all visitors to the city, the Allied Arts leaders say, because they spend more money and stay longer.

"We've been working on cultural tourism for quite a few years, but this study has showed how important that is," said Allied Arts board Chairwoman Patti Frierson.

One way to build on that economic impact is to link more people to cultural events, Bowers said, and one of the best ways to do that is to consolidate those happenings onto a single, easily accessible schedule.

If Allied Arts' plan comes to fruition, that one-stop shop will take the form of a Web-based arts and cultural calendar being developed by Allied Arts in partnership with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Partner sites, such as WRCB Channel 3, will be able to place a mini version of the calendar of events on their websites, showing what's currently going on in Chattanooga.

The interactive site is intended to be a one-stop source for information on all local concerts, art shows and other events, including athletic competitions. It is expected to launch in the early fall.


ABOUT THE PLANImagine Chattanooga 20/20 is a long-term cultural plan focused on making arts and culture a more integral part of Chattanooga life. It hones in on the arts' impact on the city's economy, education, diversity and downtown development.

Allied Arts has long-held to the moniker: "The arts are for all." But the group's local survey, which examined arts' accessibility in Chattanooga, showed that many residents are missing out on even free concerts and exhibits because of disability, age, ethnicity, even where they live.

"We found many people couldn't come to arts events because of access to transportation or because of their economic situation they couldn't afford a ticket," said Frierson.

To diversify participation in the arts, the group has a two-pronged approach: Work with transportation agencies to bring more people to the arts and also to bring the arts to them.

Starting in July, the organization will be splitting $40,000 into small grants of up to $3,000 each that neighborhood groups, municipalities and nonprofits can spend on visual and performance arts in under-served areas.

Along those lines, the group has already funded a water ballet program for the developmentally disabled at the Orange Grove Center and a mural project for a small festival on the Westside.


BY THE NUMBERS$106 million: The economic impact of the arts industry in Chattanooga.$65 million: Amount arts and culture events bring into the local economy.$12 million: Amount local and state government revenue is netted through arts-related events and businesses.3,880: Number of full-time jobs directly and indirectly supported by arts.$29.87: Average amount someone spends to attend an arts and culture event, including refreshments, transportation and other costs, excluding admission.Source: Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study

When it comes to educating local students about the arts, the door is wide open because you never know what's going to inspire a child, explains Normal Park Principal Jill Levine.

"A child may be sitting in the audience of a symphony or a ballet and there is that lighting of that spark for them. They may go on to a be a violinist or a dancer. We want to give every child that opportunity," said Levine, who is on the committee working out the educational component of the Allied Arts plan.

Part of the plan is an education initiative called Imagine! that is geared towards exposing Hamilton County elementary school students to a wide range of art, then connecting the art to the classroom.

"The idea is that, by the time a student graduates from the fifth grade, they've been to the Hunter [Museum of American Art], they've been to the ballet, they've been to the [Chattanooga] Theatre Center, and all of that," explained Rodney Van Valkenburg, Allied Arts' director of communications and arts education.

Imagination and inventiveness are required in a post-information age, he insisted.

"We're moving into the conceptual age. What you do with all that information is something that requires creativity," he said.

For Levine, arts and schoolwork combine with third graders studying the principles of sound in science class, then visiting the symphony, then returning to the classroom and experimenting with glass bottles and string to learn how instruments work.

While the school system has participated in planning sessions for Imagine!, Allied Arts leaders said that, at this point, funding has been provided by private donors and organizations.

Though the group has started raising money to pay for tickets, transportation and support material for students, it needs to solicit a total of $150,000 annually to cover all grade levels.

"It's definitely achievable," said Levine. "It comes down to several donors who believe the arts are important to every child in this community."


While expanding a regional arts network, Allied Arts also wants to create a nucleus for artists in Chattanooga's downtown.

The idea is for a building or several buildings to be renovated, turning them into a hub for artists from different genres to collaborate, practice and perform, a combination of studios, galleries, practice space and other elements.

"There is a lack of working space for artists," said Kim White, the CEO of downtown development firm River City Co. "In Chattanooga we have a business incubator and a new retail incubator we just started. Why not do the same thing with the arts?"

The goal, said White, who is serving on the committee for the Allied Arts plan's downtown implementation, is to create synergy. If painters are working with musicians and performers, "you really see an expansion of the arts here."