Chattanooga program offers grants to move artists into empty Glass Street storefronts

photo Teal Thibaud, Rondell Crier and Katherine Currin, from left, talk about grants that Glass House Collective has received for artists.

A Chattanooga arts foundation is offering grants to artists in an attempt to fill some of the many empty storefronts that line Chattanooga's Glass Street.

Glass House Collective will give away three $30,000 grants to three artists who will spend a year working in studios on Glass Street and creating art projects for the neighborhood.

"The majority of [the street's] storefronts today are abandoned and vacant, but were once filled with thriving local businesses," said Katherine Currin, Glass House director. "This is a way to get people reacquainted with Glass Street."

The grass-roots arts organization was formed in 2012 and funded by ArtPlace America to use art to revitalize the Glass Street district, which is riddled with crime and decaying buildings.

The group has already found some success: between 2012 and 2013, data from the

Chattanooga police department shows that property crime in the neighborhood dropped by 62 percent, and violent crime decreased 42 percent, Currin said.

Now, a new grant from the Education Foundation of America is funding this new push to get artists in storefronts. Glass House is putting out a national call for artists -- applications must be in by Nov. 1 and the artists will move in Jan. 1, 2014.

The year-long art projects must be located in the Glass Street district and must focus on either community engagement, neighborhood safety or beautification -- three priorities determined by area residents.

Currin hopes putting the artists in storefronts will pull pedestrian traffic back to Glass Street and spur new businesses in the neighborhood.

"We think animating storefronts makes for safer streets, gives people home and new ideas, and changes perceptions from something abandoned and dangerous to a viable commercial corridor," she said.

This isn't the first time Chattanooga has tried to lure artists to the city in order to spur economic growth. ArtsMove, a program started in 2006 by Allied Arts and today administered by non-profit Choose Chattanooga, has offered financial incentives -- ranging from forgivable mortgages to moving expenses -- to artists who relocate to Chattanooga.

ArtsMove has drawn more than 30 artists to the city, and led to $5 million in home sales, according to Times Free Press archives.

One of the Glass House grants is already slated for Glass House's resident artist, Rondell Crier. He hopes to incorporate a community garden into his art project. He added that he expects to collaborate with the other two artists, who could come from anywhere in the United States.

"You get different mindsets and different artforms," he said. "And there may be some cost collaboration. A lot of interesting things can happen."

In a similar but larger-budget program in York, Alabama, an artist used materials from an abandoned house to build a 100-person open-air event hall. The entire getup is on hinges and folds up to look like the original house, but unfolds as a stage.

"We can't conceive of what the ideas will look like," Currin said.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or