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Meet AVA: Association for Visual Arts. From its humble beginnings as the first visual arts organization dedicated to local artists to its nationally renowned fine arts festival, AVA has been a catalyst for creativity and community spirit in Chattanooga since 1987.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with the team at AVA to learn more about their organization. In this blog, we will introduce you to their dedicated team and show how you, even if you’re not an artist, can support AVA’s mission to uplift the local art community.

MEET AVA

Q: First, can you tell us a little about AVA?

First things first, AVA stands for Association for Visual Arts and we’ve been a part of Chattanooga arts community since 1987. We were the first visual arts organization in Chattanooga whose focus was specific to local artists. Additionally, we were the first to establish a fine arts festival in the Tennessee Valley, which is now nationally renowned. 

Our mission is to strengthen and promote the artistic ecosystem of Chattanooga’s visual artists, art enthusiasts, and arts-based institutions. We are a non-profit located on Frazier Ave in the heart of Chattanooga’s North Shore. Our gallery exhibitions rotate every 6-8 weeks with different themes, and ideas, or in partnership with local and regional organizations. Our gallery space is divided into two sections, the Main Gallery and The Landis Education Gallery. The Landis is dedicated solely to displaying art created by local students or other nonprofit art organizations.

Q: What roles do you fulfill inside the organization? 

We have a small but mighty staff of four! Jen Lewis, our Executive Director, Tim Goldsmith, our Curator and Education Director, Sarah Moore, our Director of Festivals, and Mason Elmore, our Programs Associate.

Q: What unique ways does AVA lift up the Art Community in Chattanooga? 

AVA offers programs such as monthly critique groups, artists talks, member socials, various workshops, emerging artists opportunities, and exhibition receptions. We ensure at least four exhibitions each year showcase our diverse membership artists. Earlier In 2023, our Curator Tim Goldsmith launched a new emerging artist mentorship program in partnership with the Hamilton County BDC called AVA at the INCubator. This program provides additional exhibit opportunities, support with core documents, specific professional goals, and practice presenting one’s work through different formats and audiences. The INCubator program is just one of many ways AVA aims to uplift Chattanooga’s artist community.

AVA is in a unique position to support not only local artists themselves, but Chattanooga’s art institutions and businesses as a whole. We have over a dozen local partners from retail stores/galleries to professional art services like printing, framing, and reproduction companies. Our members are offered discounts through these partnerships, increasing the revenue and reach of these local businesses.

Q: What makes Chattanooga’s art community special?

Firstly, for a city our size we have a very diverse and vibrant arts community. Being positioned geographically between two larger cities (ATL and NASH) brings in artists from all walks of life and creates access to a multitude of resources and opportunities. Conversely, unlike bigger cities that run on competition, Chattanooga has a palpable sense of collaboration and support that seems to happen naturally through the organizational frameworks it has in place. There’s a sense of mutual respect here creating an atmosphere of camaraderie and connection. We see this firsthand every last Tuesday of the month during our Artist Critique group.

Q: Art, cities, and communities are constantly evolving. How has AVA seen Chattanooga evolve since COVID?

Chattanooga had an established arts community before Covid, but we have only seen it grow in the last few years. It’s no secret covid created a domestic migration of people fleeing more populated regions. This created an influx of talent from larger cities into the Chattanooga area. Additionally, many people turned to art as a way to pass the time during lockdown, creating a surge of self-taught artists exploring their newfound talent or revisiting a forgotten one.

Q: How is AVA evolving to match the needs of the city?

AVA’s Board of Directors, which includes a Programs Committee, meets every other month to discuss current programs, their pros, cons, and their impact on our community.  Our board proudly includes a handful of rotating AVA artist members to ensure we have diverse perspectives as our community continues to evolve.

Additionally, as a staple within Chattanooga’s arts scene, we partner with numerous businesses and organizations in the area allowing us to have a good pulse on new opportunities and resources that arise for our artists.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about AVA’s current exhibit?

Our current exhibit features the long-time local artists, Judith Mogul and Tom Farnam. Mogul has overseen the arts program at Chattanooga’s AIM Center for many years. This exhibit entitled OUTSIDE | INSIDE brings together large-scale paintings, drawings, and multimedia works from this husband-wife duo. Working side by side for the last 35 years in artistry and marriage,  their work has striking harmonies. At the same time, each artist has their unique style and approach. While Mogul is drawn to the landscape and natural world (OUTSIDE), Farnam turns to the internal landscape of his own psyche and formal concerns of painting (INSIDE). This exhibit will be on display from  January 10th – February 23rd, 2024.

Q: What upcoming events should the community know about?

The weekend of April 19th – 21st is our annual, nationally recognized Four Bridges Arts Festival (4BAF). The highly-anticipated 4BAF is a juried art show that attracts visual artists from across the US and has been ranked in the top 40 fine art festivals in the country.  The festival showcases 145 top artists in 13 media categories and offers $20,000+ in cash awards. 4BAF also has an Emerging Artists program designed to nurture and advance the careers of local talent by providing exhibition space to individuals who have limited experience showing their work at art festivals or in galleries.

Q: Why should artists in Chattanooga be part of AVA?

AVA provides a plethora of benefits to its members including but not limited to, monthly critique groups, artist talks, workshops, consulting, portfolio reviews, a white-room to photograph their art, emerging artists programs, art festivals, and exhibits. One benefit that is maybe less outwardly spoken about is the opportunity these artists have for evolution and inspiration. Becoming an AVA member opens doors for connection and collaboration with other artists, plugging them into a vast network of creatives and opportunities. With art largely being a solo activity,  it can often become isolating. AVA changes this for its members and reminds them they are not alone, they have a community right here at home.

Q: Who can be involved with AVA? How do they become involved?

AVA consists of visual artists from all walks of life and mediums. We welcome students, hobbyists, seasoned professionals, and everyone in between. To become a member, one can sign up online via our website, or by stopping into the Gallery during our business hours: Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday 12-5 pm. Friday and Saturday 12 – 6m. Currently, a single Artist membership is $50, but in 2024 this annual membership fee will increase to $60.

Q: How does someone support AVA if they are not artists but looking to lift up the local art community?

There are many ways someone who is not an artist but wants to support the arts community can get involved. You don’t have to be an artist to volunteer your time. We are always looking for volunteers to greet guests at our gallery space on Frazier Ave.  Another way to support the arts is through donations. Individuals and organizations alike can donate to AVA directly through our website. As of this year, donors can also sponsor an Artist membership by donating to a special fund that goes to artists who couldn’t afford a membership otherwise. You can even show your support by purchasing a specialty license plate in the State of TN! The TN Specialty License Plate Program was created in the 1980s to provide a dedicated revenue source for arts and cultural activities across our state.  This program along with the Tennessee Arts Commission (TAC) and Tennesseans for the Arts (TFTA) actively supports local arts organizations just like ours! Go to www.TN4Arts.org to learn more.

Walnut Street Publishing is a Chattanooga-based independent publisher that specializes in amplifying stories from new and experienced authors and artists. We build a bridge for authors and artists to their audience around the world. We do this by creating avenues for talented individuals to publish their work. We believe in working together to help bring stories to life. We specialize in helping new authors find their voice and assist them in the publishing process while also being a solution to experienced authors who want a more personal publisher.

Emily Quinn

Emily Quinn

Emily Quinn is a Chattanoogan that dabbles in many different art forms, from music and writing to digital art and watercolors. She is the Social Media Manager for Walnut Street Publishing and a volunteer with Reach One Teach One UCA. Emily is a proud cat mom of 3, but most notably, she is the lucky wife of the talented writer, Aaron Quinn.