Chattanooga group pushes for arts in area schools to help curb violence

Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Chattanooga Times Free Press

If you go

› What: Unity Group meeting› When: 5:30 p.m. Sunday› Where: Eastdale Village Community United Methodist Church, 1403 Tunnel Blvd.

Sadness burned inside the Rev. Charlotte S. Williams as she listened to hundreds of reports of black people killed by police and killed by other blacks. Then she saw the online shooting of 23-year-old Korryn Gaines in Baltimore. Williams said she understood Gaines' frustration and felt compelled to help other young people.

Her solution includes asking principals for more arts and cultural programs in schools to curtail violence.

"Having the arts in schools will encourage [youth] to find other positive outlets to make the world a better place," said Williams, pastor of the Eastdale Village Community United Methodist Church and Unity Group co-chairperson.

The group will host a meeting of local dancers, singers and poets at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Eastdale Village Community Church, and it's inviting principals and elected officials to attend.

Dr. Justin Robertson, Hamilton County Department of Education administrator, applauded the group's effort and said developing partnerships with principals is one of the best ways to get the arts in schools.

A former principal of Red Bank High School, Robertson partnered with local artists who volunteered to work with advanced art classes on sculptures and had them displayed outside the school.

Local principals from at least seven elementary schools formed a partnership with the Creative Discovery Museum to bring the arts to their schools.

Robertson, the school system's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said he'd be willing to talk with the group if there was something he could do to help.

"The more that we can engage kids, the more likely they'll want to come to school and enjoy learning," he said.

Despite a state mandate that all public elementary schools should employ a visual arts teacher, during the 2014-2015 academic year, only 13 out of 43 Hamilton County elementary schools had a visual arts instructor, according to

Experts say putting more arts and culture in schools increases students' self-esteem and teamwork skills. It improves parental and community involvement with the schools and promotes a positive school climate, according to an Arts Education in Secondary Schools study published on the website.

Local poet Erika Blackmon, who will perform at the church Sunday, said she's seen firsthand how the arts give a positive outlet for self expression.

"Once you get involved in an art project, you are almost addicted," she said. "If you can get the kids' minds focused on something other than negativity, they don't have time to get in trouble. They only have time to create."

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at [email protected] or 423-757-6431.