published Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Marilyn Harrison's moment

Chattanooga's arts community has a goodly share of unsung stalwarts in the cause of nurturing arts and cultural organizations in Chattanooga and across the southeast Tennessee region. A special few have had the combination of opportunity and vision, leadership and skills, to help knit together and marshal support for the myriad groups of visual and performing artists, heritage crafts and artisans whose work enriches the fabric and aesthetic appeal of our community. Among these leaders, Marilyn J. Harrison stands out.

There's a good reason Harrison will be honored at a special reception at the Tivoli Theater tonight. It's the occasion of her retirement, and a moment to pay tribute to her accomplishments and leadership in behalf of Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga since she and her husband moved back here in 2000.

Harrison is too modest to note the scope of her work, but others are glad to laud the achievements of this soft-spoken force, who has done much to build the linkages, networks, financial base and audiences for the diverse arts, cultural organizations and individuals who merit support, funding and recognition.

As vice president of Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga, Harrison's strengths found purpose in strategic vision, organization and fund-raising. She managed the community grant programs and the allocations process for funding organizations and recipients under the Allied Arts umbrella and, seeing broader needs, she developed a grant program for individual artists. She also led the creation of the Holmberg Arts Leadership Institute, which has produced 200 graduates over the past seven years.

Allied Arts leaders credit Harrison for securing four significant grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a grant from the prestigious Kresge Foundation. The latter enabled Allied Arts to undertake a cultural planning effort, which put Imagine Chattanooga 20/20 in motion. This community-wide plan makes visual and performing arts available in many forums across the broad community, including public schools.

Similarly, Harrison represented Allied Arts in a partnership with Public Art Chattanooga and the Lyndhurst Foundation to secure a $250,000 "Our Town" grant from the NEA. It will help fund the coming "Main Terrain" park, a neighborhood-building greenspace in the South side, off East Main Street, that will enthrall visitors with uniquely interactive monumental art.

As an advocate of the connection between artistic endeavors, quality of life and economic progress, Harrison was a natural to collaborate in two national research projects by Americans for the Arts -- one to build a "Local Arts Index," the other for the "Arts and Economics and Prosperity Report IV." Indeed, she honed her affinity for promoting the value of arts in community life in Raleigh, N.C., where she helped establish the United Arts Council before returning to Chattanooga, her childhood home.

Harrison, to be sure, would simply credit other people for helping advance Allied Arts' focus in recent years on intertwining art and cultural organizations and their activities and vital role in public life. Never mind; we wish her well. Her retirement is ample reason to recognize Allied Arts' staff and members, and the legion of advocates who support the region's arts and cultural organizations, and work collaboratively in that cause. To see how broad that network has become, go online to http://alliedartschattanooga.org/

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