Chattanooga Now City Beat: Bottom-up ideas seem to work better here

Chattanooga Now City Beat: Bottom-up ideas seem to work better here

September 28th, 2017 by Barry Courter in Chattnow Outabout

I don't have gobs of data to back up this theory of mine, but I believe things seem to work better around our city when they are initiated by the people most affected by them. In other words, bottom-up versus top-down thinking.

It's not true 100 percent of the time, but a lot of the time I think it is. I first made this observation years ago when those of us on the Riverbend Music Selection Committee thought creating a stage featuring Latino music would serve the growing community here. It was a good idea that failed miserably because, as we observed later, no one was asking for it. I remember thinking the same thing about the Bessie Smith Performance Hall shortly after it opened. Great idea, great venue, but there really wasn't a groundswell of demand from the people it was supposedly built for.

During my interview with Bob Bernhardt recently to discuss the fact that he is beginning his 25th year with the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, we talked about the idea behind the pops concerts that have been presented over the years.

They were designed to essentially introduce new fans to the symphony in hopes they would like hearing an orchestra do Beatles or Pink Floyd music so much they would return for a Beethoven symphony. It's perfectly sound logic and it has been tried by orchestras around the country, but it hasn't worked, at least not in big numbers.

Barry Courter

Barry Courter

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

It has, however, revealed that there is a segment of the community that likes the pops shows, so the efforts have not been futile. But it was a top-down idea. This is not a knock on the CSO for trying, just an observation.

Last week I spoke with Liz Levitt and Sharon Yazowski, president and executive director of the Levitt Foundation, the group that funds and administers the wonderful Levitt Amp concert series at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center. For full story, see Friday's Life section.

The series brings free music to 25 cities for 10 weeks in hopes of bringing otherwise disparate communities together. It doesn't just throw money at people, however, as the communities have to prove they are serious about it.

Not only do people from the applying cities have to go online to vote in big numbers, Levitt wants to see groups in those communities working together on the series. In our case, those groups are Jazzanooga, Urban League of Greater Chattanooga, Bessie Smith Cultural Center, Chattanooga Convention & Visitors Bureau and the city of Chattanooga's Office of Multicultural Affairs.

I would argue the Tennessee Aquarium disproves my theory, but that was the ultimate top-down decision that worked.

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.

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