$300,000 ArtPlace grant awarded to Glass House Collective for art-based revitalization in East Chattanooga

Authored By Mary Barnett

A $300,000 ArtPlace grant has been awarded to the newly formed Glass House Collective in East Chattanooga for a series of art-based projects to begin cleaning up and revitalizing the once-vibrant commercial corridor.

Paradise Gardens in Summerville, Ga., the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and the New Orleans Jazz Festival were among the other organizations in the region to be awarded this year. The inaugural grants were made possible by a new national collaboration between nearly a dozen foundations, banks and federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts.

Glass Collective’s will be used primarily to award individual artists a series of project grants this fall that will help the collective begin improvements to “visually define the area.” Working specifically with artists as change agents is at the core of the group’s short- and long-term goals, officials said.

Although specific details about the full scope of potential Glass Street art projects that will jump-start as a result of the new infusion of cash are still under discussion, communications manager Teal Thibaud said proposals from artists will be accepted later this summer for ideas, including the design and creation of handcrafted park benches, trash receptacles, streetlights and storefront signage.

According to NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman, the Glass House Collective is one of many groups in cities and towns across the country using the arts “to help shape their social, physical and economic characters.”

“The arts are a part of everyday life, and I am thrilled to see yet another example of an arts organization working with city, state and federal offices to help strengthen and revitalize their communities through the arts,” Landesman said in a prepared statement.

Only 47 projects were awarded funds from the $15.4 million available. Glass House Collective was one of the 2,200 requests received from organizations around the country seeking a slice of the pie this year.

Thibaud said although the grant was not the full $450,000 requested, she still hopes to be able to leverage future funding as a result of the attention brought to the neighborhood by the national grant.

The mostly vacant, 1920s-era buildings along Glass Street are distant reminders of a bustling era when activities, doctors’ offices, grocery stores and banks filled the block many decades ago. Today, more than 12,000 commuters pass through the area daily, according to a 2011 traffic study, but seldom stop.

Storefront enhancements will also receive boost
Thibaud said that in addition to ArtPlace money used for the local artist grants this year the remaining funds will be put toward storefront enhancements for a few existing businesses and that several temporary “pop-up” gallery or retail projects will open to the public as ignition to infuse life back into the block and inspire other investors to do the same.

A feasibility study about what types of businesses might fit best into the area is underway, according to Thibaud, but the temporary projects will help bring needed attention to the area’s potential.

“There hasn’t been a new business in this area [in a long time]. So we want to say, ‘Let’s activate this space, so it is actually being used, so then it is hopefully considered by a longer-term tenant or investor,” she said.

Justine Jones has owned the Glass Street building where her business, Ashanti’s Hair Designs, has been for 18 years. She said she is encouraged to hear of the new grant award and to see the collective in action on her street.

Jones may be the group’s first target for storefront enhancements, and Jones said she is ready.

“Any little bit is a start, and maybe it will help motivate the people who live around the neighborhood, especially if we help others to want to come to the area. We have to start with the cleanup,” Jones said.

Jones said she hopes efforts to improve neighboring buildings will improve her business as well while attracting new businesses to Glass Street.

Jones’ building already has a long list of exterior needs, including new windows, roof and siding.

Although exactly what Jones and the collective will work on together has yet to be determined, Jones said she has several ideas for the large second floor of the building that was a former furniture store.

“When I first bought the building, I was thinking condos upstairs. Now, maybe something for the community, maybe with kids’ programs. It is so big and has so much potential. I just need a little help,” Jones said.

Updated @ 12:24 p.m. on 06/12/12 to add a list of/hyperlink to other grant recipients.