Tivoli Theatre Foundation Envisions Performing Arts Center
On a Tuesday morning in downtown Chattanooga, the Tivoli Theatre’s lobby smells of popcorn. Small children stare up at the gilded ceilings, clutching their soft drinks and buzzing with the excitement of an extraordinary experience on an otherwise ordinary day. They’re here to enjoy a summertime movie series geared toward kids. Today they’ll be seeing Ratatouille…but first they’re treated to music performed on the theatre’s 1924 Wurlitzer organ. Joy is palpable as the lights go down and the curtain opens.
Ten years ago this scene would have seemed impossible. After decades of neglect and budget deficits, the Tivoli Theatre Foundation was formed in 2015 with a singular goal: take control of three City-owned performance spaces and get them out of the red. The Tivoli Foundation has been successful beyond anyone’s expectations – the number of shows at the Tivoli, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium, and the Walker Theatre have increased 900 percent since 2015, and the Foundation has been able to invest $10 million back into updating and upgrading the venues.
Banking on their success, the foundation has acquired an office building adjacent to the Tivoli, and has developed a $55 million plan to transform the spaces into a world class performing arts center.
“We have an opportunity to transform the performing arts landscape in Chattanooga,” says Nick Wilkinson, CEO of the Tivoli Theatre Foundation. “The new Tivoli Performing Arts Center will be a cultural anchor that will add to the quality of life in our community and contribute to the resurgence of what’s happening in the city center.”
Features of the plan include:
- New 200–300-seat theater – the Bobby Stone Theatre will be home to an art house cinema as well as rehearsal space for partners including the Chattanooga Ballet and CSO. This smaller venue will also be equipped as a full-fledged music venue with front and back of house amenities and will be available for occasional use by community groups and others. Retractable seats will make the space flexible for all types of audiences and performances.
- Animated street presence – the ground level of the arts center will feature a restaurant and bar with seating that can extend to the sidewalk. Upstairs, visitors can enjoy a rooftop bar.
- Improved patron amenities – new, more comfortable seats are coming to the Tivoli (!!) as well as safety upgrades including additional and larger bathrooms, enhanced ADA accessibility, expanded lobby space, easily accessible elevators, and improved ventilation.
Focus on Education
As exciting as a new theater and more leg room are, Wilkinson is quick to point out what the board considers to be the heartbeat of the project: an innovative education partnership to increase access to performing arts community-wide.
“There are far too many talented kids in our city who don’t have exposure to performing arts,” he says. “We are working with arts leaders at UTC to develop an education program that leverages resources like our membership in the broadway league that only the Tivoli can offer. We have a vision for summer programming, workforce development, and career advancement. The arts have so many facets – both what happens on stage, and the technical aspects behind the scenes. We are building relationships with arts educators in Hamilton County Schools and are excited about the unlimited possibilities of how we can partner.”
Further, with the help of Benwood, the Tivoli Theatre Foundation is committed to making sure that at least 50 percent of all education program participants are students of color and/or from low-income backgrounds. For Hamilton County School students, that means more scholarships to attend events and programs that complement what they’re learning at school.
Work will begin on the new center in the fall of 2022, with a goal of raising the Tivoli Theatre curtains once again in late fall 2023.
“We are excited to be able to provide these world-class arts amenities to our community,” Wilkinson says. “Our goal is for the Performing Arts Center to be vibrant and dynamic 24/7/365.”
Performances at the Memorial Auditorium and the Walker Theatre will continue during construction of the Performing Arts Center. Discover what’s on stage at www.tivolichattanooga.com.