Seeing is Believing: The Arts Building

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It’s a new way of seeing – art and design of all varieties – integrating into Chattanooga’s Innovation District. As part of the hub in its new location the nonprofit, ArtsBuild [ℹ️ City Guide], is reinventing itself.

Ten years ago writer and social researcher Daniel Pink put forth a theory that most economic growth in this country would soon come directly from the vision of America’s design community, at every level.

The South is lavishly endowed with wonderful visual artists, craftsmen, architects, writers, digital designers, cinematographers, videograpghers, musicians, and engineers. Here in Chattanooga, through the gift of real estate and the vision of its nonprofit board, ArtsBuild seems dedicated to making Pink’s prediction come true. In November, the organization moved into its very own property, a renovated 15,000 square foot, three-story building donated by WEHCO Media, parent Comapny of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The grand opening event saw rougly 400 supports in attendance. As Councilman Yusef Hakeem said in his comments, “Seeing them here lets us know how meaningful the arts are to the community.”

Townsend Atelier has expanded the art supply shop in the front of the bright , expanded studio.

Townsend Atelier has expanded the art supply shop in the front of the bright , expanded studio.

Four years ago, philanthropist and former Chattanooga Times Publisher Ruth Holmberg and Unum Senior VP Tom White, along with city and county mayors, chaired a steering committee to develop a cultural plan for ArtsBuild Chattanooga, much the way city planners crate growth plans. These carefully chosen steps for action are designed to make the community a better place to live, work and visit, says ArtsBuild President Dan Bowers. The plan is built around broad community aspirations and it is efficient and inclusive in its delivery. “In this new facility we revisit our mission statement,” says Bowers. “The arts are for all.”

The Facility 
Once known as the Dover Building, and now over 100 years old, ArtsBuild has retained its period look inside and out, even exaggerating the look of falling plaster in the first floor lobby. The Strauss Company did the build out, working with architect Jay Kaughman to make the most of the space. Bari Elizabeth [B.B] Ryan helped with the interior design, specifying light fixtures, counters and furnishings. The Chattanooga Woodworking Society crafted the reception area.

On the first floor of the repurposed facility, Townsend Atelier occupies an expansive studio space for year-round classes taught by a select group of local, national and international artists. For the first time, artists may purchase a broad selection of supplies on-site from an art supply retail shop on the same level.

Owners of the active school, Peggy and Stan Townsend couldn’t be more pleased with the new space. “We do about a dozen classes per month,” says Peggy. “And we are so pleased to be in this new space.”

The second floor is home to the offices of Soundcorps, The Southern Lit Alliance and ArtsBuild. The Association of Visual Artists ℹ️, an ArtsBuild partner, will curate artists’ exhibitions three times per year, most with opening receptions.

The Grand Opening of ArtsBuild in November drew impressive crowds.

The Grand Opening of ArtsBuild in November drew impressive crowds.

The open area is large enough for events, with a small conference room and a large board room both opening up to expand the space. The hardwood warehouse flooring remians in its rustic condition, the high arches of the windows are original and uncompromised.

“It’s the first time we’ve had a space for events and seminars and we are excited about that,” says Director of Development and Communications, Julie Jackson. “It will allow us to interact with our community partners much more easily.”

A finished rooftop deck is a future project on the ArtsBuild “To Do” list and Bowers expects the imagination of the building’s tenants will come alive for the undertaking, maybe as early as 2017.

The Programs 
ArtsBuild’s Director of Grants and Initiatives, Rodney Van Valkenburg, was elected last February to the Kennedy Center Partners in Education Advisory Committee. Van Valkenberg joined ArtsBuild in 2001 after serving for more than 18 years with the Chattanooga Thratre Centre as director of Programs and Education.

He brings to the ArtsBuild staff a powerfull understanding of arts education and its value in the comunity. The interconnection of sponsors, educators and students is key. Van Valkenburg believes the new ArtsBuild facility is a important symbolically as it is practically. “This buiding works as a flexible space,” says Van Valkenburg.

The Kennedy Center partners with ArtsBuild specifically to provide professional development for teachers in Hamilton County. ArtsBuild also provides Cultural Connection Grants [CCG] and the popular Imagine! Programs. To date, 58 CCG grants have been awarded for a total of $145,000, with 93 percent of those who benefitted being from low-income families.

Left to Right- ArtsBuild staff Jessie Wright-Rudez, Caroline Bulman, Dan Bowers, Rodney Van Valkenberg and Julie Jackson welcomed visitors on opening day.

Left to Right- ArtsBuild staff Jessie Wright-Rudez, Caroline Bulman, Dan Bowers, Rodney Van Valkenberg and Julie Jackson welcomed visitors on opening day.

Now in its sixth year, ArtsBuild’s Imagine! Initiative’s goal is to help bridge the education gaps in various public school curriculums by providing arts and cultural experiences to all first through fourth grade students in the county. At no cost to the student or school, ArtsBuild provides the opportunity for students to see a variety of performances. Last year 39 out of 43 schools participated in Imagine! arts programs with students attending at least three events.

The Holmberg Arts Leadership Institute will also benefit from the new facility. The program is designed for those who share a passion for advancing the arts in our community. Offered each fall, the four-month program develops the leadership skills necessary to prepare its participants for prominent roles within arts organizations.

AtsBuild is designed to include everyone, not just those who are traditional arts consumers and supporters. A recent study by Americans for the Arts, “Arts & Economic Prosperity IV,” provides compelling evidence that the nonprofit arts and culture sector is a significant industry in Chattanooga, generating $106 million to the total economic activity.

Research also indicates 72 percent of business leaders today say creativity is the number one skill they seek when hiring new employment. Certainly, exposure to a variety of cultural arts programs provides a depth of expression and a new way of seeing the world.

 

 

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Brittney is the Digital Asset Manager of Chattanooga Magazine.

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