The Arts Building opens as new ‘cultural hub’ downtown
ArtsBuild President Dan Bowers was having a meeting with then-Times Free Press President Jason Taylor. Taylor, who also sat on the steering committee for Arts Build’s “Imagine Chattanooga 20/20” initiative, stared meditatively out the window at the 1920s building at 301 E. 11th St. “We’re going to give that building to ArtsBuild,” Taylor revealed. “We’ve been wanting to use it for the community.”
Since “building a cultural hub” was one of the key consensus items to come out of Imagine 20/20, Bowers accepted with alacrity. And now, beginning Labor Day 2015, the building’s top floor will house not only ArtsBuild (moving from their rented digs on Frazier Ave.), but the Southern Literature Alliance and Sound Corps. The second floor will be the new home of Townsend Atelier, while the basement will be occupied by the Chattanooga Film Festival, which will also open its eagerly anticipated independent screening space there (see story on page 62). There’s also a 600-square-foot rooftop deck that will be used for events and rentals. The entire structure has been given the simple name “The Arts Building.”
“I do see this as a ‘coming of age’ for us at ArtsBuild,” says Bowers. “Although we’ve been around for 46 years, we’ve rented space the whole time. Now we have our own space, right in the heart of the white-hot Innovation District.” He sees the location as the perfect opportunity to continue growing partnerships between the arts and tech communities in Chattanooga.
The checkered history of the building’s site stretches back many years. Owned by the Central Land Co. in the late 1800s, with railroad tracks crossing the central portion of the site, by 1917 it was housing both the American Bakers Co. and the Stock & Poultry Remedy Factory (the last possibly making “patent medicines” for farm animals). A wholesale hardware store may have been a tenant around 1929, then the Arrow Trans and Stor Furniture Warehouse, Densler Electronic Supply Co., Dixie Portland Flour Mill Warehouse, Dover Elevator Co., and finally, EMI Sales and Distributors. The building was vacant from 2000 up until this renovation.
Response to the move from ArtsBuild’s donors and current 13 cultural partners has been uniformly positive, Bowers says. “We will be spending no more [money] for this building than we are in our current headquarters,” he says, noting that both the Benwood and Lyndhurst Foundations have provided generous support for the renovation. “This location will offer all kinds of opportunities we don’t have here on Frazier.”
For one thing, the ArtsBuild floor has been created with what he describes as “glass garage doors,” which can be opened to provide meeting and event space, courtesy of contractor Strauss, architect Jay Caughman, and designer Barrie Elizabeth Ryan. (The building’s sign is being built by local sculptor Isaac Duncan.)
Bowers agrees that this move forward for ArtsBuild is yet another indication that Chattanooga is “on the verge” of greatness as an arts city.
“We have reached the tipping point,” he says. “We’ve been pushing in that direction for a long time. You can feel it tipping. Some would say it’s already tipped.
“We’ve had a strong base for many years, but it’s broadening and becoming even more vibrant. This new space will perhaps speak to the point that the arts are now an integral part of the community.”
ArtsBuild will host an open house for anyone interested to view The Arts Building sometime later this fall. Visit artsbuild.com or facebook.com/alliedartschattanooga for more information about this event as it becomes available.
Illustration courtesy Arts Build