Chattanooga arts organizations share ideas, address challenges through new initiative

Eve Hermann and Nick York walk Caboose Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 in Sculpture Fields at Montague Park


Twelve organizations named to the program include:› ArtsBuild› Bessie Smith Cultural Center› Chattanooga Boys Choir› Chattanooga Theatre Centre› CoPAC, Barking Legs Theater› Glass House Collective› HART Gallery› Hunter Museum of American Art› Scenic City Clay Arts› Sculpture Fields at Montague Park› SoundCorps› Unity Performing Arts Foundation of Chattanooga

For one year beginning in August, 12 local arts organizations will begin meeting together and individually with visiting consultants to discuss ways to help them better complete their missions in the community.

Arts Forward is a new initiative funded by the Benwood and Lyndhurst foundations, along with the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga. It's designed to help the groups strengthen internal programming and operating capacity, as well as look for new processes and approaches to their work and help organizations work together for the greater good.

Lyndhurst Foundation program officer Kathleen Nolte said the three foundations came together to create the program with an eye to helping local arts organizations create greater resilience, adaptability and sustainability for the long term. It's more about finding ways to operate smarter and better than about fundraising, she said, though obviously that would be a benefit, as well.

photo The Bessie Smith Cultural Center and Chattanooga Presents held the IndependDance Day Street Party Friday evening on the lawn featuring dance, mural painting, vendors and the Discovery Mobile for touring.

"Chattanooga has a growing, vibrant arts community, but many of our local arts organizations are small nonprofits with limited resources and capacity," Nolte said. "Arts Forward is an opportunity for organizations to come together to share ideas, address challenges, and learn how to best leverage their resources for maximal impact."

The year-long initiative is based on working processes developed by Arts Action Research (AAR), an arts consulting group based in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the North Carolina Arts Council's statewide New Realities Program and similar consortium programs in the United States and Canada. Nello McDaniel, founder and director of AAR, will serve as lead consultant for Arts Forward, with support from Anne Dunning, AAR principal associate. Both will facilitate workshops and one-on-one coaching.

Nolte said the 12 organizations were chosen from a large pool of applicants. There are big organizations like the Chattanooga Theatre Centre and Hunter Museum of American Art, and small ones like the Unity Performing Arts Foundation of Chattanooga and Scenic City Clay Arts.

Nolte said among the criteria for selection was the organizations' willingness and ability to participate for the full year.

"We are asking a lot of them and really want two or even three people to attend," she said.

The Arts Forward process is structured around a series of roundtable workshops focused on critical challenges faced by participating organizations, such as board development, audience relationships and fundraising. Participants will also engage in intense and consistent one-on-one consulting over the course of the year.

"For the past two years, the Benwood Foundation has been working with the Lyndhurst Foundation and the Community Foundation to explore ways to help strengthen, empower and sustain arts organizations in Chattanooga in step with our growing community," said Kristy Huntley, program and financial officer for the Benwood Foundation.

"Arts Forward is a direct response to many of the challenges local arts organizations are facing, including how to scale programming, create partnerships, and expand community engagement."

There have been other initiatives and programs in the past that looked at local arts organizations and the community as a whole, but this is different in that the groups are in many cases leading the way, while working with the outside consultants.

After working with AAR as part of a similar process, Nolte said, the North Carolina Stage Co. in Asheville was advised to stop referring to itself as a mom-and-pop organization and to instead present itself as the local expert in community theater.

"It really was the catalyst for turning them around," Nolte said.

In response to a request from the arts community, the Arts Forward workshops will be open to any arts professional in Chattanooga so that the initiative can benefit as many people and arts organizations as possible beyond the twelve participating organizations, Huntley added.

"The arts are central to the vitality of our community. They have the power to inspire change and connect communities of geography and interest," said Maeghan Jones, president of the Community Foundation. "Supporting nonprofit arts organizations and programs through Arts Forward is one of the many ways we can help ensure the arts thrive in our community."

Participating organizations were notified of their acceptance into the program last week, and the first workshop will take place in mid-August. Each organization is expected to field participation from executive leadership and board members for the full duration of the program.

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.