Kevin Bate - ArtistArtist Kevin Bate creates paint-by-numbers canvases imaging what used to be in the vacant buildings on Glass Street for the Glass House Live event to be held on April 22. Photo: Teal Thibaud.
What’s the saying about people who live in glass houses? Well, if throwing stones is out, how about throwing a party?
Glass House Collective—a new initiative founded by three staffers of the late, great CreateHere—is throwing a block party with a big agenda on Glass Street. On April 21 as part of the 10-day HATCH Chattanooga festival, Glass Street Live will be the coming-out party for Glass House Collective, a new effort to revitalize the neglected Glass Farms area of East Chattanooga.
The day-long block party begins at Hardy Elementary with “Touch a Truck,” where kids can get up close and personal with fire trucks, recycling trucks and other large vehicles. Storefronts on Glass Street that are empty (for now anyway) will be covered by paint-by-number sketches by artist Kevin Bate, whose portraits of technology pioneers adorn a wall on Frazier Avenue, and colored by Hardy Elementary students. Other activities at and around the intersection of Glass Street and North Chamberlain include a rooftop DJ, crafts, youth basketball, gardening demos, food and health vendors, Civil War walking tours and historic train rides with the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
Glass House Collective’s mission—“to bring life back to Glass Street and bring Glass Street back to life”—sprang from the work of CreateHere. First, a 2010 brainstorming charrette looking at how to connect Chattanooga’s downtown with the high-growth area around the new Volkswagen plant brought attention to Glass Street because it lies directly on the route from downtown to Enterprise South. Then, as CreateHere’s community visioning initiative was shifting from surveying the community to creating action plans, the future founders of Glass House Collective tried to develop a small creative place-making initiative on Glass Street. The idea was to work with school children to put temporary activities in vacant storefronts.
“We found out the community is tired of having folks come in and do a project and then leave,” said Teal Thibaud, communications and outreach coordinator for Glass House Collective. “The more we talked to residents and the neighborhood association and started building those relationships, we were more committed than we ever thought we would be. At that point we all turned to each other and said all right we need a flag in the ground and we need to prove to this community that we are committed. And that means setting up shop there. Who are we to come in and say we want to help and then not even be there.”
The idea for Glass House Collective developed quickly, receiving start-up funding at the end of 2011 and opening its doors on Jan. 1, following CreateHere’s planned sun-setting that it called “supernova” on Dec. 31.
“We are committed for the long term. That’s why we have that building,” said Katherine Currin, executive director of Glass House Collective.
The third founding team member is Garth Brown, an architect who serves as design/build coordinator. The group is renovating a two-story building at 2523 Glass St. to serve as its headquarters and as a hub for coordinating residents and community service agencies working in the area.
Glass Street Live is just the first step in their planned community revitalization. As with CreateHere’s revitalization activities on Main Street, the arts are seen as a way to make tangible changes quickly and to bring people together.
“We’re trying to connect all these organizations that are focused on East Chattanooga,” said Currin. “That’s why the party on April 21 is huge, because it really does communicate a lot of what we are trying to do.”
The group is a finalist for a $450,000 “creative place-making” grant from ArtPlace America, which it plans to use to commission artists to create light fixtures, benches and trash receptacles, as well as signage for businesses, facade enhancements for buildings, temporary animations and further renovations on their headquarters building.
Beyond using artists’ work to enliven the area, Glass House wants to engage the artists themselves to participate in community-based problem solving.
“We believe that creativity is a resource to bring people together, to help them approach the challenges in a new way, to help broaden their thinking about the assets that surround them,” said Currin. “Artist are experts in repurposing assets, shedding light on what they can be in a creative way. So we’re asking individuals and organizations we’re partnering with to put artists at the center of the work they’re doing, so that creativity is embedded in this process because we know it is powerful.”
Later this year, Glass House is partnering with Launch and East Chattanooga Improvement to offer a series of business planning courses for residents and an economic development roundtable “to help build a road map of the types of businesses that would benefit the community but also be sustained here,” according to Currin.
What ties everything together—engaging people, working with artists, economic development—is a focus on place, said Currin. “We’re working to bring life back to the street because it’s something that keeps coming up in our conversations with residents. They want to see Glass Street brought back to life.”
(Editors note: 0n 4-13-12, this article was edited to correct the date originaly given for the Glass Street Live event)