The outside of the ArtsBuild building located on East 11th Street on Monday April 9th, 2018. (photo by Phillip Kiefer)

By Chelsea Bailey, Assistant Features Editor —

ArtsBuild has worked for nearly five decades after being founded in 1969 to invest in the integration of arts into Hamilton County.

Through several grant programs, ArtsBuild is able to fund various organizations and projects in the Chattanooga community, big and small.

“We have a history of giving that kind of support in town,” said ArtsBuild’s Director of Development, Kathryn Wroth. “All the way from the Hunter to Chattanooga Symphony, all the way to smaller ones like the Sculpture Fields.”

One grant program, Community Cultural Connections (CCC), gives small grants to more diverse neighborhoods, allowing ArtsBuild to “reach and serve people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, people with disabilities and seniors,” said Rodney Van Valkenburg, director of grants and initiatives at ArtsBuild.

This program has not only given opportunities to a variety of artists, but it has opened the eyes of the community and ArtsBuild itself.

“We’ve been meeting a lot of really talented black and Latino artists,” Van Valkenburg said. “It seemed they came out of the woodwork, or maybe we just became more conscious of more diverse artists in Chattanooga.”

Out of the success of CCC, Artsbuild collaborated with Benwood Foundation to create the Equity in the Arts grant program, which funds artists in the community based on individual project proposals.

“Part of it is helping the artist grow their work, and the other part is how these communities begin to perceive their work,” said Van Valkenburg. “Whether we like it or not, there are mainstream artists, and there are all these other folks. These black and Latino artists should be part of the mainstream, not just the ‘Oh, by the way,’ group.”

Van Valkenburg attributes the success of the Equity in the Arts program to increased representation of people color in leadership roles in the program.

“I think that’s lost sometimes, that you sit at your desk and just have the same ole people that usually sit on these committees,” said Van Valkenburg. “My lesson I’ve learned is you need leadership positions for the population you’re trying to serve, to make those decisions. That’s helped us immensely.”

ArtsBuild also provides Hamilton County students, from kindergarten to fourth grade, with free professional arts experiences with the Imagine program.

“We also help design a curriculum the teachers can use pre and post performance,” said Wroth. “The idea is to build on this and have it be almost a throughline, so kids have an experience in kindergarten, then every year and have the curriculum move through it so it’s kind of continuum arts learning.”

This past year, 100 percent of Hamilton County took advantage of this opportunity, with many taking several trips.

These children will have even more opportunity for personal arts development, as Superintendent Johnson has called for the hiring of 10 new visual arts teachers in elementary schools.

“For us, it’s like really exciting in the sense that it’s gone from, ‘We’d really like to do this,’ to now the jobs are actually posted,” said Van Valkenburg.

This is a significant upgrade. Before this, many schools did not have a visual arts teacher. Fortunately, hip-hop artist, Usher, stepped in to help with that issue.

“Usher gave some money for a visual artist teacher residency program so that we could hire and send artists into the second grade classrooms in schools where they don’t have an art teacher,” Wroth said. “Most of the schools don’t have an art teacher, and we’ve been able to put one teacher in second grade classroom all year long.”

To learn more about how ArtsBuild is working to integrate the arts into the area, visit

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