Not long ago the arts were considered a luxury in Chattanooga, but according to a recently-completed two-year study of the region’s arts and culture "they have become a necessity in building the economy and bolstering Chattanooga’s position as one of the nation’s best mid-sized cities to live, work and play." Imagine Chattanooga 20/20, a community-wide cultural planning process facilitated by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based WolfBrown, found that exposure to arts and culture in virtually every aspect of life not only improves quality of life, but it improves education, attracts businesses and drives the economy.
Officials said Allied Arts, which has championed arts and culture in the community for more than 40 years, is aligning its goals with the community-driven cultural plan it is charged with implementing. The organization will continue to generate a reliable base of operating support for arts organizations through its annual campaign. Still, it is becoming increasingly engaged in the four critical areas of focus addressed in the Imagine 20/20 plan: education, diversity, downtown and economic development.
“We no longer focus on what the community can do for the arts, rather we focus on what the arts can do for the community. It is an entirely different way for society to view the arts,” said Dan Bowers, president of Allied Arts. “By building a healthier arts community we create a sustainable creative economy – one in which arts organizations contribute directly and indirectly to the community’s success.”
According to Arts and Economic Prosperity IV, a 2012 study by Americans for the Arts, nonprofit arts and culture organizations are a $106 million industry in the Greater Chattanooga Area. The region’s creative economy supports 3,880 full-time equivalent jobs and generates $12 million in local and state government revenue.
Since the completion of the Imagine 20/20 plan earlier this year, Allied Arts has recruited some of the community’s best thought leaders to help achieve the 10-year vision for cultural and financial sustainability. Among the champions of the 20/20 vision are River City Company President Kim White, in-coming Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce President Ron Harr, Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau President Bob Doak, and former Tennessee Aquarium Chairman of the Board Jim Hill. Allied Arts assembled leadership groups with these and a host of other experts in each of the four focus areas to integrate the arts into every aspect of life in Chattanooga in ways that are well-planned and sustainable.
“We are looking at the role of the arts in economic development in a whole new way,” said Allied Arts Board Chair Patti Frierson. “Our goal is to address broader community needs and raise it up – make our community one that embraces the arts, participates in them, and feels part of the arts community from the inner city to the outlying areas – and leverage the vibrant, culturally diverse community that creates to attract business.”
Allied Arts will fund a pilot program designed to make the arts more accessible to populations that are underserved due to geography, ethnicity, age and disability. The organization will award $40,000 in small grants of up to $3,000 each to neighborhoods, municipalities and non-profits for visual and performance arts. The goals are:
· to provide arts and cultural experiences to diverse audiences;
· to broaden the types of arts and cultural offerings supported by the community, including new and emerging organizations;
· to use arts and culture to strengthen community unity; and
· to demonstrate the positive economic impact of arts and culture.
Event-related arts and culture audience spending pumps $65.5 million into Chattanooga’s economy annually. Allied Arts plans to increase that amount when it launches a Web-based community arts calendar in partnership with the Chattanooga Times Free Press and WRCB-TV later this summer. The site will market arts events to local residents, tourist and convention attendees. It will promote cultural tourism by functioning as a one-stop-shop for information about Chattanooga events.
Exploration is underway to create a cultural hub where visual, performance and cultural artists gather to socialize and collaborate. By animating the space and bring together artists from different genres, the group hopes to attract young people and make arts more accessible in the city’s urban core.
Allied Arts leaders plan to solicit funding to fully implement “Imagine!,” an initiative aimed at integrating arts experiences and education into every elementary school in Hamilton County. Once initial funding is secured, the organization hopes to expand the program to include grades six through eight.
Imagine Chattanooga 20/20 is the region’s new cultural plan developed as a result of the input of more than 400 members of our community. For more information about the cultural plan, visit www.ImagineChattanooga2020.org. Funding for Imagine Chattanooga 20/20 was provided by Allied Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kresge Foundation, the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Lyndhurst Foundation, the Benwood Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga.