published Friday, June 21st, 2013

Snake charmers, jugglers and mimes — oh my!: Chattanooga group seeks street artists

Jonathan Jackson  takes a deep breath to blow out a flaming torch after performing for a crowd along Main Street.
Jonathan Jackson takes a deep breath to blow out a flaming torch after performing for a crowd along Main Street.
Photo by Staff File Photo.

GET INVOLVED

Performers interested in applying for the program must do so by July 2. Artists should send a link with a display of their work to Jonathan Susman at jonathan@chattanoogapresents.com or mail a press kit to Chattanooga Presents offices at 400 E. Main St., Chattanooga, TN 37408.

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Downtown sidewalks will become more interesting places to be next month when backers of a new program hope you'll see everything from fire jugglers, human statues and sword swallowers showcasing their talents in designated areas of the Scenic City.

Chattanooga Presents has announced the implementation of a busking program to help inject artistic energy into several downtown spaces. The program, which will run from July 5 through Sept. 8, is being organized with support from the River City Co. and the McKenzie Foundation.

It will "provide a variety of performers, or 'buskers,' with the opportunity to showcase their talents and entertain the public," according to a news release.

"This type of performance is the same thing as public art -- it is public art," said program mastermind and Chattanooga Presents media coordinator Jonathan Susman, who initially approached the Tennessee Aquarium and River City with the idea.

"It's a great way to animate public spaces," he added.

Busking is a tradition that dates back centuries and is an all-inclusive term for many types of public performance, including acrobatics, musical performance, juggling, street magic and more.

The program will designate four high-traffic locations as performance spaces, including Miller Plaza, Center Park in the 700 block of Market Street, the area in front of Carmike Majestic 12 and the Aquarium's IMAX Theater. Artists selected as buskers will be assigned designated spots and times, with some locations only open during weekdays and others on weekends.

Chattanooga Presents Executive Director Carla Pritchard said introducing busking will increase urban artistic diversity, but she prefers to see the program as opening up new ways for local performers to reach audiences rather than just another bullet on the list of downtown diversions.

"We're trying to create more opportunities for our local talent," she said. "This will help create a more vibrant inner city, and everyone will benefit from that."

Performers will earn a stipend from the program and will accept tips from their sidewalk audiences, Susman said.

Creating an organized program simplifies a sometimes-bureaucratic process for the artist, Pritchard said.

"We've been trying for years to get this to occur without being too formal or complicated in its programming," she said. "That's what's held it back in other cities."

In cities such as Montreal and New Orleans, the presence of street performers has become an integral part of the urban tableau. The hope, Pritchard says, is that the local busking program will help to showcase Chattanooga's burgeoning arts scene.

"Obviously, we've seen what it has done for other cities and want to capitalize on that," she said. "Our music scene now is very different than it was even several years ago when we started thinking about this program."

The two-month performance period will serve as a pilot program to work out kinks and test public reception, with the potential to expand the number of locations and schedule in the future, Pritchard said.

Chattanooga Presents will accept artists of all stripes, but their suitability will be judged on a case-by-case basis, Pritchard says.

"We're not limiting it. It will be a judgment call if they don't fit one of those more typical categories," she said, laughing. "We're not trying to shut the door on any of these options."

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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