A new cultural plan for Hamilton County has reached another milestone this week as Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga announced a series of new programs and initiatives designed to move the long-term plan forward.
Imagine 20|20 is a communitywide cultural planning process that began in 2010 and included focus groups with 70 local artists and a series of public meetings involving more that 200 participants. A steering committee of volunteers helped to draft the plan, unveiled in February, that focuses on the role of arts in four key areas: diversity, economic development, downtown and education.
A new list of major priorities and actionable goals for each of the four key areas was presented Wednesday morning in what Allied Arts President Dan Bowers described as the first mile of a marathon.
Initiatives that aim to see significant progress this year during "the first mile" include the awarding of $40,000 in new grants for individuals and organizations typically ineligible for traditional arts funding, the creation of a cultural hub for artists in the center of downtown, a centralized online cultural calendar, and a potential new partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.
"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 and attracts business," Allied Arts Board Chair Patti Frierson said in a prepared statement.
Bowers said although the new set of action items is simply the starting gate for years of future work required to realize the plan in full, he is excited about the direction and pace set forth thus far.
$40,000 in new grants
A new pilot program will award $40,000 in small grants to neighborhoods, municipalities and visual and performance arts nonprofits in an effort to bring more art experiences to diverse and previously underserved audiences throughout the county.
Helping fund smaller emerging groups, including faith-based youth and senior programs, will work toward the plan's goals to broaden the types of arts and cultural offerings supported by the community, leaders said.
A new network of neighborhood-based arts ambassadors will form an Arts Diversity Council that will actively work with local churches, neighborhood associations and other community groups to strengthen, catalog and fund many smaller efforts that have been active but under the radar.
Centralized creative hub for artists and performers
Creating a cultural hub in downtown Chattanooga for artists to create and collaborate with other artists while sharing resources and administrative space is the priority for the committee addressing the arts presence in the downtown area specifically.
According to Maury Nicely, who chairs the downtown committee, a location or group of locations for this new hub could be announced in the next six months. Ideally, the locations will serve a variety of needs, including providing rehearsal space, classrooms and studios inside the city's urban core.
Nicely said the committee is still exploring possibilities and taking an inventory of what is needed by artists, what the public may want, and what spaces are available and suitable to deliver on those needs and wants.
Integrating art experiences with education
A new initiative aimed at elementary schools in Hamilton County will seek to integrate a foundation of arts experiences for kindergarten through fifth-grade students, with the hope of expanding to sixth to eighth grades when fuller funding is secured.
Henry Schulson, chair of the education committee, said the group hopes to have a sustainable source of funding for the program, IMAGINE!, by the end of the year. Once funded, the pilot program will focus on integrating the arts into every elementary school science and social studies program in Hamilton County, Schulson said. Creating an all-county celebration of student achievement in the arts is also planned.
Schulson said discussions have already begun to partner with the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts' Any Given Child project as a potential source of resources to "provide arts and cultural education to every student" (kindergarten through eighth grade) every day, every year.
Arts and economic development
According to a new study by Americans for the Arts, the economic impact of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and their audiences in the greater Chattanooga area looks slightly better than national averages.
The Huffington Post reported that $135.2 billion of economic activity is generated by the arts industry in the United States, with $61.1 billion coming from the country's nonprofit arts and culture sector and $74.1 billion coming directly from event-related expenditures (parking, lodging, restaurants, child care) by audiences.
Chattanooga was one of 182 communities and regions in the country included in the Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study, which surveyed 48 local nonprofits and cultural organizations and 879 audience members who attended various performances, events and exhibitions in 2011.
Following how each dollar is "re-spent" in the community shows that on average, Chattanoogans spend an additional $29.87 above the price of an event admission ticket for a "night out."
In Hamilton County, $65.5 million has been pumped into the local economy each year by arts audiences, according to the Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study. More than $4 million in revenue is generated to local government, and more than $7 million is generated to the state from spending by arts organizations and audiences in the greater Chattanooga area during fiscal year 2010, according to the study.
To spur future revenue, Jim Kennedy, committee chair, said the group will begin working more closely with the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to use arts and culture as a tool in attracting new businesses, creative professionals, retirees, and arts-based tourists and convention business.
A centralized online mega-calendar of events and cultural outings will be launched later this year as a comprehensive "one-stop site" for locals, tourists and convention attendees who seek out cultural activities and arts destinations in the area.
Cultural plan belongs to community
Although Allied Arts has been asked to help communicate and oversee the plan, steering committee member Virginia Anne Sharber reminded the Wednesday morning audience that it is not Allied Arts' plan.
"This is a community plan," she said.
The mission is to work more deliberately on how the arts can help improve the community, as opposed to how the community can support and improve the arts.
The comprehensive plan is a work in progress that will take years to realize, Sharber said.
Funding for the study and implementation of the plan was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kresge Foundation and the Tennessee Arts Commission, with local dollars from Allied Arts, the Lyndhurst Foundation, the Benwood Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga.
Anyone interested in learning more about the plan, its programs and opportunities to participate can check the Imagine 20|20 website for related documents, photos, forums and events.