Diversity and Democracy at its Best

In order to ensure that the arts are for all in Chattanooga, equity of opportunity will be an explicit goal in activities and in funding policies. There will also be efforts to recognize and encourage the many unique cultures and cultural expressions that make the community a special place.

Many people in Chattanooga realize that its diversity is one of its strengths – the difference in backgrounds and life situations contribute to a richer mix of points of view. The challenge is harnessing this for the good of the community.

“Chattanooga has become one of the most livable and vibrant cities in the country.”
Bob McNulty, President
Partners for Livable Communities

“The unique partnerships between city and citizenry, public and private entities, to improve local quality of life have transformed Chattanooga into a national mode of sustainable growth and regional prosperity. Despite this ringing endorsement, Chattanooga – for its future well-being – must dedicate itself to finding ways to ensure that all its citizens fully participate in and enjoy the fruits of the city’s prosperity.”
Lillie Wills and Jim Hill
Co-Chairs, Diversity Committee, Imagine Chattanooga 20/20

The popular slogan in Chattanooga is “the arts are for all.” There have been many efforts locally to make arts and cultural activities, facilities, and funding truly “for all.” But despite these efforts at inclusiveness, much more could be done to serve diverse communities and neighborhoods in the region and to celebrate the local arts that originate there. Part of the challenge may be a lack of awareness on the part of traditional arts and cultural providers and funders. But part may also be a natural outgrowth of the fact that the region is geographically spread out and there are some outlying communities that want to develop amenities and activities closer to home. Transportation can be a major challenge, both for them and for underserved populations in local Chattanooga neighborhoods.

To reach diverse communities, it is important to make connections with people who are connected to the neighborhood institutions that are trusted by those who live there. For example, churches can be a launching point for important musical programs and connecting with the leaders of these programs is highly desirable. In other cases, the appropriate strategy is finding people who speak the native language of potential participants – especially Spanish in the case of many Latino families. An emphasis on working with such contact people and equipping them with multi-language materials about programs can be a useful strategy. With respect to funding, there is only one non-white organization among the funded partners of Allied Arts. Perhaps a funding category modeled on the City’s Neighborhood Services Grant program could be a successful way of providing funds to underserved individuals.


  • Make equity of opportunity an explicit goal in program development and funding, realizing that ethnic, geographic, economic, and age considerations are all factors in reaching deep into the community.
  • Place continued emphasis on diverse representation on boards of arts and cultural organizations as well as among staff and audiences. When ad hoc planning groups are assembled for arts and cultural issues, ethnic and geographic diversity must always be a primary concern.
  • The arts and cultural education initiative recommended in section I of the cultural plan must reach all children in the community. In addition, life-long and multi-generational learning initiatives should be pursued that bring a broader range of culturally appropriate arts and cultural experiences to under-served communities.
  • To ensure that neighborhoods and underserved communities are better served, a special neighborhood arts and culture program should be developed that provides small grants for neighborhood and community cultural initiatives, similar to the existing Neighborhood Services Grant program. Consideration should be given to grants peer panels made up primarily of those representing these neighborhoods.
  • In addition, traditional arts and cultural institutions should be supported for activities that explicitly are intended to reach new audiences and have a proven track record in doing so. Transportation to encourage access should be an allowable cost in such funding.
  • Develop a list of contact people who are involved in youth and cultural programming at area churches as a way to improve communication.
  • Ensure that information on regional cultural activities is included in the planned web- based communications initiative and that multi-lingual material is included.
  • Use existing Chattanooga area cultural assets, including the Bessie Smith Cultural Center and the City’s legacy of blues musicianship, to promote the city regionally and nationally and encourage cultural and ethnic tourism.