- “Mickey Watcher,” a powder coated aluminum and steel sculpture by Jim Collins, made an appearance at the River Gallery Sculpture Garden as part of the artist’s solo show.
When joggers and bicyclists complained that the River Walk in Chattanooga, Tenn., did not have distance markers, the city didn’t just install signs. It commissioned artist Jim Collins to create colorful sheet metal sculptures—depicting a mother pushing a baby carriage, joggers and bicyclists, among other subjects—to mark the miles.
Chattanooga supports artists and appreciates the ways they enhance the area’s quality of life. Its annual celebration of the arts, the “4 Bridges Arts Festival,” held April 18-19 this year, attracts creators and patrons from around the country.
It wasn’t always so. The thriving manufacturing center, known as the “Dynamo of Dixie,” fell victim to urban blight. By the middle of the 20th century, foreign competition forced the closing of foundries and factories in Chattanooga. High unemployment and racial tension followed. Air pollution was so bad that in 1969 Walter Cronkite called Chattanooga “the dirtiest city in America” on the CBS Evening News.
Forty years later, the comment still rankles Chattanoogans. It also spurred them to action. Private foundations and public agencies reinvented the city together. Allied Arts, a private association, was formed in 1969 to promote the arts. A big boost came in 1985, when the city launched a 20-year plan to reclaim 22 miles along the Tennessee River. The city also committed $100,000 a year for public art. Now contemporary sculptures accent the cityscape.
“The transformation is amazing,” says Mayor Ron Littlefield. He credits artists who moved into gritty neighborhoods with playing a key role in the renaissance.
For more of “City Arts: Chattanooga,” pick up the June 2009 issue of AmericanStyle today!