Reinvention of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center

A rendering of the future Bessie Smith Cultural Center | Image provided

This year has, no doubt, brought plenty of loss, heartache, and stress, but it has also brought growth + positive change. Among the positive change is the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, which is undergoing a major renovation while visitors aren’t allowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s the Bessie Smith Cultural Center?

The Bessie Smith Cultural Center, or “The Bessie,” is an African-American history museum + events center with a focus on civil rights, jazz, and local figures. It was founded in 1983 as the Chattanooga African American Museum, and was renamed in 2009 with the mission to preserve and celebrate African American history and culture in Chattanooga through art, education, research, and entertainment.

What changes are being made now?

Phase one: The leadership at The Bessie is currently in phase one of reinvention, which includes identifying partnerships and fundraising opportunities. The projected cost of phase one is about $30,000 and includes renovating the museum to better tell the story of African Americans in Chattanooga, beginning with slavery and ending with today + looking ahead to the future.

Phase two: This phase will see renovations to the Vilma Fields Atrium, an event venue, and add exhibits on other well-known African American entertainers from Chattanooga, such as Russell Goode, Roland Carter, Valaida Snow, The Impressions, Samuel L. Jackson, Usher, Roland Hayes + others. 

Reinvention: The big picture will look like new artifacts, virtual kiosks that guests may interact with, a children’s education corner, and additional information on African American history.

Can I help?

Yes — there are a couple ways you can help The Bessie out.

💰 Make a one-time donation or set up a monthly donation here.

🎟️ Become a member and enjoy unlimited access to the museum and advanced notice of activities + events.

🤝 Pick up the phone and inquire about volunteer opportunities — (423) 266-8658. 

👀 Once reopened, plan a visit and invite friends and family to join.

📲 Share this story with others and help spread the word.