ArtsBuild president shares his reflections on the arts' economic and social impact on the greater Chattanooga area.
James McKissic is the president of ArtsBuild, whose mission is to build a stronger community through the arts. ArtsBuild was created in 1969 as a local arts fund to support some of Chattanooga’s large arts institutions.
Today, its focus revolves around arts access and funding about 30 Hamilton County arts organizations of all sizes, including individual artists and programs in arts education. Over the past five decades, ArtsBuild has invested more than $77 million in initiatives in Chattanooga and Hamilton County. In 2021, ArtsBuild directly infused $2.1 million into the local arts and culture sector.
McKissic shares his thoughts on why supporting the arts is important not only for cultural significance but for economic impact for the region.
What do the arts contribute to Greater Chattanooga?
Just look around, and you will begin to see all the ways that the local arts sector invigorates Chattanooga! The local arts, culture and creative sector of Chattanooga-Hamilton County supports more local full-time jobs than many of Chattanooga’s largest employers. Chattanooga continues to transform into an increasingly diverse city and is a hub of creative innovation, technology and the arts. The sector also attracts tourists and brings energy and vibrancy to our everyday lives. ArtsBuild’s role is to support the Chattanooga arts community for maximum community impact.
What kind of economic impact do the arts generate for Chattanooga?
The local nonprofit arts sector generates $172.5 million in economic impact and more than 6,300 full-time jobs annually, Americans for the Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 (AEP5) reports.
The arts are a significant economic driver, both in terms of actual economic impact and business competitiveness, growth and sustainability. The intersection of arts and economic development deals with ways to improve the financial well-being of both artists (individual and as a sector of the economy) and the communities in which they live and work.
In what ways have the arts-driven equity and inclusion in Chattanooga, and why is this important?
The arts scene is one of the few remaining places where people from all backgrounds still gather and fellowship together. We are happy to see more diverse arts programming in our city, but even more excited to see diverse leadership and governance in arts and culture organizations and spaces.
Arts participation helps to resolve conflicts and increase tolerance and cross-cultural understanding by bringing together people from different backgrounds and providing opportunities to recognize the contribution of many segments of the community.
People involved in the arts meet more people, and participatory arts projects make marginalized groups more visible and promote positive community connections. Communities in which residents socialize with and trust each other have higher livability scores than communities with lower social trust, and the arts are a driver in building that trust. In addition, cultural participation leads to wider community participation, increased volunteerism and increased tolerance.
If you’d like to learn more about the Greater Chattanooga area, check out the latest edition of Chattanooga Region Economic Development.