When laura linz doesn’t like someone, she’s pretty vocal about it. The new director of the Association for Visual Arts’ 4 Bridges Art Festival arrived in Chattanooga late last year, and she’s already formed a few impressions.
“I’ve noticed there are a lot of doers here,” she says. “There are people willing to take a step out and attempt to do what they’re talking about instead of just theorizing about how it might be if someone were to do that. I hate the word ‘someone.’ If you’re going to put it out there, that someone is either you or you need to find that someone.”
“People tend to tell me repeatedly that I’m extremely high energy,” she adds. “I usually lose 10 pounds the week of festival because I never stop moving. Some people see that as kind of a crazy tornado coming their way, but I have been very embraced here at AVA.”
Linz is also impressed by Chattanooga’s art scene. Compared to Greenville, S.C., where she spent the last decade, she sees edgier art here.
“In Greenville there was sometimes pressure on artists and galleries to bring what patrons wanted,” she says. “I think Chattanooga is more about bringing what is going on and what is intriguing to the audience and letting audiences decide for themselves. I think you’d be hard pressed to find the range of art that’s here in many other places. You can find everything from very emerging artists to extremely high quality art. And it’s all accessible.”
Before coming to Chattanooga to lead 4 Bridges, Linz directed arts festivals in and around Greenville, worked with artists in galleries and consulted with arts nonprofits. She joins 4 Bridges as its notoriety is rising fast. Last year the festival shot from No. 97 to No. 62 in the top 100 art festivals in the country. This year it was singled out for praise in a recent New York Times story, ranking Chattanooga one of the top 45 cities to visit in the world in 2012.
Linz is not making any major changes this year, but a few intentions are emerging. She says she loves the Emerging Artist Scholarships that 4 Bridges grants to up to five less experienced artists and hopes to bring some of them back for a “where are they now?” gallery show.
She’s also working with the 4 Bridges jury to gradually include more artists in the festival. This year the number will increase from 150 to 170. As the word gets out among artists and the applicant pool grows, she sees the total increasing toward 200. But only if the quality stays high.
“We never want to pick quantity over quality, so we will slowly raise that number. And the jurors will always have the ability to stop at a lower number.”
This year, 650 artists applied (a small increase over last year), and the blind jury process was extremely competitive.
“It speaks to the quality of the applicants that the jurors had to look very closely,” she says. “Every year we bring in new jurors. They don’t know these artists. The person who has been in 4 Bridges five or six years in a row might not get in.”
This year is also the first time 4 Bridges is not just a standalone event but also serves as the opening anchor for the 10-day HATCH Festival.
“The arts are always stronger when everyone is doing well and when everyone is helping each other,” she says. “It’s really astounding that something of this magnitude has been pulled together so quickly with so much support. If 4 Bridges’ notoriety can help be the kickoff and be the launch to bring attention to some other things that’s really great. If you can keep people engaged for 10 days, think how much further that will go during the year,” she adds.
Linz also seems to have one eye firmly on the economic impact of 4 Bridges, while keeping a bigger picture in sight.
“More than $1.5 million will be coming into Chattanooga from 4 Bridges, and those 170 artists will have a job,” she says.
At the same time, however, Linz struggles with the idea that art needs to be justified.
“If we could dispel the mystery that you have to think a certain way or be a certain way to understand art or to enjoy it, then the necessity of art would be so blatant that you wouldn’t have to sit there and say ‘it brings in 1.5 million dollars,’ ” she says. “People would understand the importance as just a given. They would know it just like they know they have to go to school to get an education. To me it’s like eating, it’s life sustaining.”