Community Voices

Exploring Our Creative Chattanooga

Chattanooga has had a tremendous legacy of cultural philanthropy, which has allowed us to develop progressive arts organizations. I am proud to work for one such institution and am delighted when a senior offers a sweet reminiscence of his annual Christmas tree visits as a child, elated for the young bride who tells of her fiancé proposing to her on one of our terraces, and I grin each time I see a proud dad bringing his son to the same summer camp he attended as a child.  I am gratified when a Chattanoogan who attended a recent art + issues or artful yoga program posts an unsolicited testimonial on our Facebook page, recounting how deeply she was affected by the experience, and I love having a passing acquaintance stop me at the Chattanooga Market to share excitement over a work of art that astounded him when he stumbled upon it on a recent Free Sunday program at the Museum. Likewise, I also value the emails and anonymous surveys I receive that offer critical comments, as that feedback only helps us to grow our programs stronger to better serve our visitors.    

While all of this is invigorating and proves the vitality of the arts in Chattanooga, I believe some of the most exciting changes in our cultural scene are taking place beyond the walls of our longtime institutions. For as interest in the arts expands, so too does the breadth and magnitude of the artistry of this town. Cultural entrepreneurship can now be found in all pockets of our community -- in the work of young artists breaking into new media, in the products of professionals in other fields who might not even self identify as artists but whose work and pride in craftsmanship reflects a fundamental artistry, in the tireless efforts of people finding new ways to engage new technologies to bring the arts to previously isolated populations and in the unity of innovative philanthropists who unite to prove that all can be patrons of the arts, regardless of bank account size.   I hear it in the street musicians diligently preserving the bluegrass music that has rung from our mountain tops for generations, and I am uplifted by the joyful sound of a singer whose soulful voice is only really known to those who witness her Sunday morning church solos.  I’m dazzled when I see indigenous dancing and swirling colors at a cultural celebration held in a park that, just a few years ago, was more known for its crime statistics than its intercultural celebrations. I’m inspired by a shy man tentatively sharing his creative app at a Pecha Kucha and delighted to see the groundswell of support he receives. I am in awe of those who work tirelessly to make our large festivals possible, just as I am of those who bootstrap their way to produce local films on tiny budgets, proving the vitality of a movie world far from the Hollywood studio structure. And when I see teens deeply engaged in a coffee house poetry slam, I’m reminded of the power of the word, of creative thought, of community support and most of all of the promise of the future, as these veins of creativity swell and turn for future generations.

So when asked to be the arts editor for the Benwood Community Voices Blog, I was deeply honored and could think of no better way to engage than to showcase these individuals, groups, trends and ideas running through the cultural fabric of Chattanooga. I will not use this space to debate the rather thorny “what is art” issue, this is not a blog focused on connoisseurship. Rather, the aim is to explore, consider, expose and celebrate a sampler of the many fabrics that make our cultural community so diverse and vibrant and enhance the experience of life in our Creative Chattanooga.  

“ I believe some of the most exciting changes in our cultural scene are taking place beyond the walls of our longtime institutions. ”