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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.