There is something about a head split in two by the words “Chattanooga Happens Downtown” that Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd just doesn’t like.
Those words and images appear on banners up and down Market and Broad streets downtown and Ladd said this week, “They are horrible.”
“That’s what we paid for,” she added.
Ladd made her comments during a budget session Tuesday when the City Council was discussing money for city agencies in next fiscal year’s budget. There were some comments made about updating the city’s signs.
Ladd immediately remarked that the city paid more than $60,000 this year to River City Co. to help buy the promotional banners.
“I see what we got, and it’s horrible,” she said.
Joe Johnson, president of The Johnson Group, which created the banners, said it’s perfectly fine that the councilwoman doesn’t like them. It is art, and art is subjective, he said.
“We wanted it to be breakthrough and unique,” he said. “And everything you do breakthrough and unique, you make some people feel uncomfortable.”
Johnson said the firm tested the signs through several demographic groups across the city. He said the company got positive reactions overall, but he knows everyone has his own take on art.
“I respect everyone’s creative opinion,” he said.
The Johnson Group won first place in two categories of the American Advertising Federation Addy Awards last year for the banners and the overall advertising campaign.
The downtown banner program started in the mid-1990s, and the banners have changed throughout the years. Different banners have celebrated Volkswagen, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Lookouts.
Kim White, president of River City Co., said those involved in the campaign knew they were “pushing the envelope.”
The new banners are supposed to be permanent fixtures, she said, and more than 100 Chattanoogans were photographed for the facial images that appear on the signs.
She said she has heard different reactions from the public about the banners.
“We have people who love them; we have a lot of people who hate them,” she said.
River City Co. received $67,000 from the city for this year’s budget, she said, but not all of it went to the banners, she said. The cost of the banners was $77,000, she said.
Councilwoman Sally Robinson said she disagrees with Ladd. She said she helped put the banner program together in the first place and the idea was to put banners up that gave the city a feel of friendliness and promoted a festive spirit.
“Do I like every single banner they put up downtown?” she asked. “No. But I like the program.”
Cliff has worked for the Times Free Press for five years and covers Chattanooga city government. He previously covered Rhea County, as well as transportation and growth and development in Southeast Tennessee. A native of Maryville, Tenn., Cliff graduated in 2003 from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis on journalism. Before coming to Chattanooga, he was a crime reporter with Hernando Today, a supplement of The Tampa (Fla.) ...