Chattanooga Tourism Co. gives grant funding to 26 local arts and culture groups

Jul. 30—The arts, culture and heritage of Chattanooga help make the Scenic City distinctive and appealing to both residents and visitors.

So when the Chattanooga Tourism Co. developed a new strategic plan two years ago about how to attract more tourists to Chattanooga, support for the arts and culture of the community was identified as one of the new missions of the tourism promotion agency.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed back the effort for a year, but the Chattanooga Tourism Co. has now awarded its first 26 grants to local artists and cultural and historic programs which the agency plans to do annually with a portion of its hotel tax collections.

“The arts and culture of our community are a vital part of what makes our community unique, special and attractive and we are trying to collaborate with and offer support for our local artists and cultural groups and the events and exhibits they create that help draw visitors to Chattanooga,” said Barry White, CEO of the Chattanooga Tourism Co. “Every community needs to compete with every other community for their share of the world’s attention, customers, ideas, and investment. New and innovative experiences result in new opportunities for our residents and help keep our product fresh and our destination top of mind for visitors.”

The tourism agency is using a portion of the local hotel/motel tax that support its operations to offer $302,500 for the first of its grants for arts, culture and heritage programs. White said he hopes to double the grant total next year in the next round of such grants.

The grants were initially pushed in 2018 by Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, who has been critical of the tourism agency receiving all of the 4% hotel room tax in Hamilton County and urged the Chattanooga Tourism Co., formerly the Convention and Visitors Bureau, to allocate a portion of its tax money to support artists and local arts and cultural events.

The Chattanooga Tourism Co. has about an $8.5 million a year budget, most of which comes from the hotel room collections paid by visitors in local hotels. The tourism company is the only non-government agency funded by a dedicated tax for its operations.

The tourism agency argues that the tax method ties its funding to its success in marketing, but Boyd has been critical in the past of the growing size of the agency’s budget and the lack of scrutiny of the tax-funded agency.

Last year, hotel tax revenues shrunk about 30% during the coronavirus pandemic, but White hotel tax collections are bouncing back as leisure travel rebounds and business and conventions slowly return as the pandemic eases.

With the extra funding, the tourism agency gave funding to 26 of 45 requested programs and allocated about 20% of what was requested from the applicants, White said.

The initial grants from the Chattanooga Tourism Co. — the first ever for the agency — were awarded to Adventure Sports Innovation, Art 120, the Association for Visual Arts, Barking Legs Theater, Bessie Smith Cultural Center, Chatt Taste Food Tour, Chattanooga Ballet, Inc., Chattanooga Theatre Centre, Chattanooga Zoo, Creative Discovery Museum, Friends of the Festival, Inc., Houston Museum of Decorative Arts, Hunter Museum of American Art, National Park Partners, Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center, River City Company, Sculpture Fields at Montague Park, Songbirds Foundation, Stove Works, Tennessee Aquarium, the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera Association, the Chattery, the Ed Johnson Project, the Tivoli Theatre Foundation, the Townsend Atelier and WanderLinger Brewing Company.

Organizations were able to request up to 10% of their total operating budget, with a maximum of $50,000 per recipient. In awarding funds, greatest consideration was given to a project/program’s ability to attract diverse audiences, create economic impact, encourage visitors to travel to or extend their stay in Hamilton County,White said.

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or at 423-757-6340

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