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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Songbirds Foundation Director Reed Caldwell, right, sets up a distortion pedal for his lesson with 14-year-old Alex Bell at the Siskin Children's Institute on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Songbirds lives, at least as a foundation.

During its relatively short three-year life, the Songbirds Guitar Museum, as well as the live music venue's spaces that came after its opening, created a buzz in Chattanooga as a world-class museum featuring the largest collection of rare and original guitars on the planet.

It didn't survive the coronavirus pandemic, closing its doors for good in August, but the Songbirds Foundation, created as a side project of the museum to introduce guitar to area youth, will carry on the brand using the former museum space at the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Foundation Executive Director Reed Caldwell said the organization's work in the space will be entirely focused on its Guitars for Kids program, which is all about "getting guitars into the hands of kids. Everything we do is for that purpose."

He said the plan is to spend the next couple of months thinking about how the space can be reworked to feature not only educational displays and teaching spaces, but also a stage for live concerts that will serve as fundraisers for the foundation.

He said many of the things like display cases, the LED wall and signage built for the museum will likely stay and be repurposed.

"It will not be the museum," he said. "We will likely have some guitars on display, but the emphasis will be on education and Guitars for Kids."

The space will generally be used for events, classes, concerts, rentals and performing arts showcases, and details will be figured out over the next several weeks.

The Guitars for Kids program has raised enough money in the last four years to purchase 1,600 guitars. More than 3,500 children across the state and in North Georgia have received lessons at no cost to them. The program also uses guitars as therapy for children with special needs, as well as those who are critically injured.

"We provide guitars for programs that work with all kinds of people," Caldwell said.

Because of the success of its digital teaching methods, the foundation recently announced that it would be increasing its work with area high schools and middle schools to teach guitar as a safer way to teach music during the pandemic.

Songbirds Foundation board chairman Johnny Smith said the move keeps the Songbirds brand alive and, more importantly, moves the foundation's work to a new level.

"I am so thrilled that this is moving into that space and that it will have a huge impact on our youth," he said.

"And, I'm excited to have those neon lights come back on," he said, referring to the signs in front and atop the Choo Choo space on Station Street. He said the sign is currently dark on purpose and he looks forward to turning it back on when the foundation is fully moved in and operational.

The space will be leased and Choo Choo President Adam Kinsey said that having the Songbirds Foundation move into the space "is an exciting idea that will be a seamless transition.

"It is good not only for the [Choo Choo] property, but the neighborhood."

He said he has been in discussions with several businesses about reopening the Songbirds South space downstairs as a music venue. It has a capacity of about 600 people.

"Absolutely it will be a live music space again. It is a turnkey operation. It's plug-and-play, and when [COVID-19] is over, Chattanooga will need a space that size. The city needs it, and the neighborhood needs it, and a lot of work and money went into that space."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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