The energy of downtown Chattanooga has changed considerably in the last two decades, thanks in no small part to the ongoing efforts of River City Company.

Now in their 25th year, the downtown economic development agency, in partnership with local government, private individuals, and philanthropic entities, continues to sharpen their focus on helping downtown businesses, residents and visitors create and enjoy the buzz of a city on the move.


Depicting this energy was local artist, Daryl Thetford’s goal when designing original art for one of five CARTA electric shuttles unveiled Thursday during River City’s 25th anniversary celebration.

Thetford was one of five artists whose designs were chosen in a public art competition, Art in Motion, created by River City, Public Art Chattanooga and CARTA.

Thetford’s design is a unique composition created through his own archive of abstract contemporary images.   

The color, texture and text chosen all come from urban poster walls, graffiti, signs, and train cars: urban art re-purposed to create urban art, one of the central themes in Chattanooga’s ongoing, and exciting, renewal,” Thetford said in his proposal.

Thetford said he moved to Chattanooga in 1989, three years after River City Company was created to implement a 20-year blueprint for the city’s riverfront and downtown development. With the Art in Motion initiative, Thetford said he is excited to see the art community incorporated into the renewal projects.

“I lived downtown for two years, and worked downtown for ten… first in the community mental health system, then as the owner of an internet book business, and now as a full-time artist. I have seen all of the changes first-hand, and they still excite me,” he said.

“A vibrant, friendly community bustling with arts and music, wonderful green spaces, a beautiful river….Chattanooga is the place to be, and it’s all right here,” Art In Motion winner Karen Estes said, describing the ideas behind her digital illustration.

River City Company President and CEO Kim White, who also unveiled the agency’s new downtown brand, “Chattanooga Happens Downtown,” said the shuttles have been a unique feature of downtown since the Aquarium opened in 1992.

“Art in Motion celebrates the uniqueness of downtown Chattanooga and the important role that public art plays in creating vibrant community,” she said.

“Come on down! (downtown) and hop on the super colorful shuttle, ‘Joy Ride.’ Take a spin around town inside this work of art, as it cruises down the streets of Chattanooga. Or, see it from the outside and watch the colors dance away into the horizon,” artist Rondell Crier said of his winning design.

The five mobile public art works will be in service downtown for the duration of two years beginning this month.

“My goal with this project was to create as much of Chattanooga’s downtown area as possible in one scene and represent its qualities as a vibrant, active, diverse, and easily accessible community,” artist Jaimie Davis said of her design, “Chattanooga’s Urban Connection, Yellow.”

“Our natural world is in constant motion. Trees are fundamental characters, standing and flexible symbols. They’re a clear sign of invisible change,” artist Claire Vassort said of her design, which was originally hand painted on silk before being transferred into a format that could be produced onto the adhesive material that is wrapped around nearly every surface of the shuttle.

All of the artists were present during Thursday’s unveiling, although only three of the shuttles were on display. Organizers said Vassort’s and Crier’s were being used in circulation along the shuttle route downtown but would be on display at the Chattanooga Market this Sunday.

The event was a celebration of River City Company’s pioneering of the Chattanooga downtown renaissance over the last 25 years, including the Tennessee Aquarium, the Riverwalk, The Chattanooga Lookouts Stadium, the Majestic 12 multiplex cinema, Riverset Apartments, Battle Academy and Brown Academy, and the Nightfall concert series.

The new downtown brand was developed to “ensure that we are all doing all we can together to invite local citizens and visitors to enjoy our magnificent downtown,” White said in a prepared statement.

Since the opening of the Tennessee Aquarium, White said River City Company’s efforts have contributed to bringing more than $2 billion in private investment and over 3 million tourists annually.