Creating areas to bring people together was a reoccurring theme during a session seeking community input on a strategic plan for the future of public art in the city of Chattanooga.
A group of about 30 people gathered at the Spot venue Thursday evening to brainstorm and identify what inspires them about the city, where some natural gathering places already are and which areas they think need more love.
Through the plan, the city hopes to shape a public art framework that identifies specific sites, areas of focus and project themes for the next 10 years.
Several people chimed in with thoughts and ideas, many of which included hopes for creating spaces that invite people to interact and get to know each other, especially in seemingly more segregated areas of the city.
Ric Morris pointed out that the session was held in a Brainerd area venue along Brainerd Road, which has historically divided white neighborhoods from black neighborhoods, he said.
"Brainerd was one of the first suburbs of Chattanooga and was predominantly white," Morris said. "So when white flight happened, it became predominantly black. And now we have that same kind of polarization."
Public art consultant Barbara Goldstein pointed out that public art doesn't have to just be something that is placed somewhere to look pretty. It can be something that becomes engaging and provides a sense of awareness and attracts people to communities that are often neglected.
"When there's a street that divides people by race or by whatever, it's really important to think about how do you bring them together," she said. " You really have to figure out ways to get people to know each other."
A woman in the audience suggested having experienced artists lead groups of young people in creating different forms of public art in those often overlooked neighborhoods.
"It'll give [young people] a sense of pride for what they're building in their neighborhoods," she said.
Another woman said she remembered a time during which community members regularly were invited to help artists create public art, and she hoped community-based art projects would make a comeback.
Before the session started, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke pointed to the AT&T building on M.L. King Boulevard as an example of those community-based art projects. The building was painted in 2015, and community members were invited to participate, even if they didn't have experience in painting.
"It's the stories of people in our community that are reflected on there that provide so much meaning to who we are and build up the heritage and culture of one of the most important stories in our city," he said.
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