published Thursday, May 9th, 2013

City Beat: When it comes to art, come off the hip

For almost 30 years, gauging the changes, trends, fads and pulse of the city has been a constant source of interest for me.

I vividly remember telling my visiting uncle years ago that "there is nothing to do in Chattanooga." He patted me on the head and said, "It's up to you to find things to do."

He was right, but comparatively speaking, so was I. Compared to today's Chattanooga, there was very little to do back in the day. At least it seemed that way. The mountains, creeks and river were still here, and we had organized events put together by schools, churches and even nonprofits, but I was hardly alone in my whining. It was pretty well documented that college-age Chattanoogans were leaving in droves.

Today, you are more likely to hear people saying something such as, "There is too much to do." People complain, or mildly lament, that they now have to choose between events. Having choices is always a good thing, so it's a nice problem to have.

One of the biggest complaints about attending any of the music festivals that take place around the country is that it's almost a guarantee that the two bands you really want to see will be on different stages at the same time. It's just part of the charm.

This year, for the first time in its 25 years, Nightfall will produce concerts on both Fridays during Riverbend. Both of these events were created, in part, to "animate" downtown. Organizers wanted to find something that would bring people back to the heart of the city in hopes they would stick around and find something else to do and spend their money on. Things like restaurants.

We now have all manner of events that animate downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods. The next challenge is to create a fan base that is willing to buy something, especially art. Foundations and sponsors help pay a big chunk of some of these events. In some cases, the vendors or artists we've come to see and be seen with donate their services under the guise of marketing or getting the word out that they exist. It feels cool and hip to attend some of these events. But if you leave with nothing, have you really supported the artist?

That pattern is changing but will take time. Opening day of the Chattanooga Market, now in its 13th year, saw record sales of about $126,000 among vendors. The average per vendor was $583. That is well up from previous years, but to be fair, food and beverages accounted for 25 percent of those numbers. Still, people are buying local.

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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