Whether you are a resident of Chattanooga or are just visiting, there is a strong chance that you have picked up on the incredible energy that exists all around us. It’s in the air, in the buildings, in the mountains, in the water, and without a doubt, in the people.
Chattanooga has become a magnet to the creative, energetic and passionate and serves as a platform for a variety of art forms. All the traditional genres are represented but there is also the bizarre and fantastic, which are just as prevalent and give credence to a popular local sticker “Keep Chattanooga Weird.”
Chattanooga Public Art Sculptures
For example, there are 125 public art sculptures in the area from North Chattanooga to the Sculpture Gardens. Many buildings are wrapped in colorful and intelligent murals thoughtfully crafted to bring joy and contemplation to passers-by. Even four downtown alleyways have been transformed into “public works of architecture.” You could be taking a stroll on Main or Frazier and literally bump into an extraordinary work of art whilst grabbing an artisan roasted coffee, served by an art student in a coffee shop displaying a variety of quality local art. It is a beautiful thing.
In addition to the many public space displays,, there are approximately 15 art galleries and more than 50 local artist studios housing everything from whimsical paper-mache constructions to traditional fine art paintings. This paired with the spectacular natural beauty of the area attracts visitors from all over the world, it is not surprising that Libby Santin, a local entrepreneur, was inspired to create the New South Tour Company to offer Art Tours for visitors and residents who want to take a closer look at what Chattanooga has to offer.
“When I visit other cities I love visiting museums and galleries and I also like getting a ‘behind the scenes’ view of things. I felt like Chattanooga was a perfect place to offer art tours because there is so much public art; a good number of working artists; and real support for the arts, of all types, across the city,” says Santin. Santin presently offers 2 tours a month on the 1st and 3rd Saturday. Tours generally last 2 1⁄2 – 3 hours with art stops lasting about 10 or 15 minutes. This allows for a variety of experiences within the tour that will give you a taste without overwhelming you with one particular type of art or artist. Each tour is meticulously prepped with bottled water and cookies at various locations for tour guests, as well as Uber drivers booked and ready to transport the group across town at no extra cost. You can expect a fair amount of walking but no more than 10 minutes at a time. Comfortable shoes are suggested. A typical tour will begin outside at the ℹ️ Hunter Museum of American Art in the ℹ️ Bluff View Art District of Chattanooga. Santin says she gives an introduction to the Museum but invites tour guests to take a dedicated afternoon to explore the exhibitions inside. She instead leads the tour to explore the beautiful and often surprising details of the sculptures on the bluff including a pregnant whale that may not at first be apparent!
The tour numbers are kept small so you can expect a feeling of camaraderie as the group continues on its art adventure by foot to the next stop. Currently, this is an eclectic local gallery that often has a visiting artist on hand to answer questions about his or her specific work. Outside your Uber awaits and you may then be chauffeured to the Cress Gallery, a lesser-known public gallery housed at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga Fine Arts Center. This is an academic gallery which means exhibitions are selected to demonstrate formal theory and concept, contemporary artistic practice and materials and excellence in craft and technique.
With 8-14 exhibitions a year, it is a great way to stretch your artistic boundaries and experience modern and creative innovation in a very tactile environment. These exhibitions include work by contemporary professional working artists and designers of regional, national, and international reputation. Annual UTC Department of Art Student BFA Thesis exhibitions, a yearly Juried Student exhibition and Feinstein Scholarship recipient’s exhibition, a biennial Art Faculty exhibition, and periodic exhibitions of work from the UTC Permanent Collection of Art are also included on the tour when visiting UTC. These are free to the public but visitors may leave a donation in support of the Fine Arts Center.
Typically you will then be taken to the newly renovated area of Southside. Everywhere you look, there is something to catch your eye. There is a palpable buzz of “cool” that permeates everything from the walkway up. There are a number of private artist studios in this area that Santin has made available to her guests, including those belonging to popular local artists Brett Weaver, Timur Akhriev and Brent Sanders.
If you are lucky enough to be on one of these tours you will be treated to a first-hand glimpse of what incredible artistic talent looks like through the process of creation. Santin chooses artists who have a diverse range of styles, which is designed not only to keep the tour interesting but also to increase the chance of you interacting with a style of art that is really meaningful to you. The studio spaces and personal stories are just as diverse and will offer you several perspectives on the journey to becoming a successful artist.
And for those who appreciate the esthetics of a well-curated gallery, Gallery 1401 may be just the way to end the day. Opened in 1998, it is one of Chattanooga’s older galleries, specializing in the exhibition and sale of fine art. With over 40 nationally and internationally acclaimed artists who represent styles encompassing contemporary realism, impressionism, and classical styles of works on paper, canvas, board, sculpture, and glass, it is a feast for the eyes.
Guests may then decide to continue the adventure by themselves or hop on one of the downtown free electric shuttle buses to their hotel or car. It is a great investment of an afternoon and is guaranteed to leave you inspired and creatively refreshed! Tours will change periodically to incorporate current exhibitions and allow for seasonal changes, but each excursion will bring you a bit closer to what makes Chattanooga such an extraordinary city.
Although this is a new venture, Santin says that spaces fill up fast. She encourages anyone who may be interested in booking to do so early by visiting her website www.newsouthtourco.com. Tickets are $45 and available for those 14 years and older.