August 22, 2013

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We are all familiar with the Chattanooga story. Our arc from the “dirtiest city in America” to the home of Volkswagen, the Gig, and a thriving downtown, is a study in community transformation. We are at a unique point in that story, where all of us—government, nonprofits, artists, community leaders, and others—have a role to play in writing the next chapter. 

Since taking office a little more than 120 days ago, I have been wholly focused on making sure that city government reflects our community priorities: Safer streets, stronger neighborhoods, a growing economy, and smarter students. As we move forward, it is important to remember the role that the arts can play in each of these areas. 

First, mediums like dance, music, painting, and many others are a critical part of youth development. Through art education, we can build smarter students and inspire kids to explore positive outlets for creativity. Second, public art and creative activities improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods. Chattanooga’s reputation as an artist-friendly community also draws tourism and boosts our local economy. That’s why I expanded funding to ArtsBuild in the 2013 budget, promoting the integration of arts into our daily lives.

Chattanooga is not alone in recognizing the importance of the arts. Cities play a vital role as regional drivers of innovation, creativity, and economic opportunity. From their origins, cities have been centers of economic and cultural development. Yet the role of the arts has morphed as cities have changed over time. When cities across the country were in a state of crisis in the 1960s and 70s—rising costs and shrinking revenue, blighted neighborhoods, and bloated governments—the creative culture within those cities also suffered. As the inner core rebounds, though, much like Chattanooga in the 1990s, we see the arts ascending once again. 

In the landscape of resurrected post-industrial cities, economic development, culture and livability are inseparable. When businesses examine whether to move to Chattanooga, they see the high quality of life we offer their employees. To recruit top talent, we need to show prospective employees that their children will receive a well-rounded education. Our theaters, music venues, and museums all play a part in Chattanooga’s reputation as a great place to live and do business. 

Not only is our economic development aided by our arts community, but thousands of tourists come to Chattanooga each year for arts festivals and events. For the years when the American City was dead, central downtowns were the headstone. Now, Chattanooga’s downtown is a distinct attraction, due largely to the unique sense of place created by our artists.  

Art, especially public art, gives a community a purpose and identity. It represents who we are and builds Chattanooga’s unique sense of place. My administration is focused on growing this unique image and fostering an environment that is open to change, innovation, and creativity. During the next few years, we will work with artists and creative workers from across our city to continue building a better, more inspired community.


August 22, 2013

Comments (3)

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The UNFoundation

Great article Andy. It is exciting to see a new administration that is dedicated to these priorities, and making Chattanooga an even better place to live!

In the spirit of your article, I hope you don't mind that I use this comment section to highlight a local organization I am involved with called the UNFoundation. Our website is, and there is a list of the 19 community based projects we have funded so far in Chattanooga since winning the 48 Hour Launch event in November 2011.

We are a random group of engaged Chattanoogans who pool our money and resources to fund cool, locally based projects that benefit our city, on a monthly basis. If any readers out there have an idea for a project that will benefit Chattanooga, please take 10 minutes to apply for a grant on our website. On the flip side, if anyone reading this article is interested in getting involved in our organization to make great things happen around our city, please contact me:

If you'd simply like to follow what we're doing, check us out on Facebook:


Big Ben Garrison 230 days ago


Bravo, Mayor Berke. We appreciate your recognition of the arts in our city. They are its soul.

Lee Parham 230 days ago

Rock City

Could we obtain funding to get a giant "Hollywood" style sign built on the ridge? It would read "ROCK CITY" of course. This would define the town and highlight its most globally recognized attraction. Come on people. Lets make it happen. How much could 8 huge letters cost to install into the side of a mountain? Probably a lot. But it would pay for itself in tourist revenue and go a long way to establishing brand recognition. That is invaluable.

Skeleton Leprae 231 days ago


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