Official Name of Public Space

The Lawn at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center

Site Address

200 East M. L. King Blvd., Chattanooga, Tennessee

How will your Levitt AMP [Your City] Music Series reflect the essence of the Levitt AMP Grant Awards?

Our series will reflect the Levitt AMP values and accomplish its three main goals by: 1) Amplifying community pride: The location will take place at the lawn of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, located in Chattanooga’s historical MLK district. MLK Blvd., formally known as the “Big Nine,” was once a live music hub for African American communities in the Southeast. This music series will reinforce the neighborhood’s unique identity as an entertainment landmark, shining a light on its musical heritage, but also its bright future. The BSCC, located downtown, has ample parking and is easily accessible to the city’s bus line and bike share. 2) Enriching lives through free, live music: This series will create a new opportunity for people to relax and enjoy their leisure time. The outside lawn at the BSCC is ideal for people to bring blankets and chairs and easily interact with friends and strangers, creating a sense of neighborliness. Since the series is free and will feature a variety of genres, it will engage people of all backgrounds and ages. It will also enhance the local work force through the hiring of local artists and event producers. 3) Illustrating the importance of vibrant public places: This series will create a vibrant third place for Chattanoogans outside of work and home life. Through free, live music, the BSCC lawn can be activated into a site of celebration and inclusivity. The underused space will become a thriving destination for social engagement and play.

How will your town or city benefit from the Levitt AMP [Your City] Music Series?

Chattanooga will benefit from the Levitt AMP Music Series in two important ways: 1) Immersion and community development through art & entertainment: Chattanooga remains a city that is segregated both by income and geography, and the socioeconomic divisions that exist today underline enduring divides along racial lines. By offering a music series that is intentionally free with diverse types of music and other artistic entertainment, we hope to break down the barriers that prevent people from mixing in social settings and more deeply integrate the people of our city to promote mutual understanding and furthering relationships. This series provides an opportunity for people of all backgrounds to meet friends and interact with strangers in an inclusive and safe setting. 2) Activation of historically & symbolically significant public space: The MLK area, formally known as the “Big Nine,” once served as a mecca for black music and entertainment. However, this cultural hub started to disappear after desegregation in the late 60’s. Today, only decaying facades of former nightclubs remain. Animating the lawn at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center will help draw the public and tourists once again to the neighborhood to experience live music and learn about the cultural heritage of the Big Nine. It will also drive community engagement with today’s MLK businesses, sparking economic growth. We aim for this series to have a continuing impact, creating long-term patrons of the MLK area.

Describe the site where the free concerts will be held. Explain how the Levitt AMP [Your City] Music Series will play a role in enlivening the selected public space and surrounding areas.

The lawn at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center is located in the historic MLK district. MLK Blvd., formerly known as the “Big Nine,” was once a cultural hub in the Southeast. From the early 20th century into the 1970s, the Big Nine was a mecca for black music and entertainment. Chattanooga, the birthplace of Bessie Smith, served as a haven for famous African American entertainers like Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, Willie Mays and more. The Big Nine reflects over 100 years of Chattanooga’s history, commerce and entertainment. After Chattanooga’s desegregation in the late ’60s, the Big Nine began to disappear. Today, the community aspires to revitalize this historic landmark. This series will help reclaim this area, changing the perception of the neighborhood, allowing people to consider it a safe community to live, work and play. The outside lawn at the BSCC is a perfect location for a music series. There is no fixed seating, allowing people to easily interact with each other. It is centrally located downtown in an urban district that is highly accessible by many diverse communities and the UTC campus. The location has parking, electricity and an inside stage in the event of rain. This series will help rebrand MLK. Blvd. as a cultural destination for arts and entertainment, aiding a larger community effort that is currently underway. An ongoing series with a variety of live, free music would assist in further promoting greater interest in the ongoing revitalization of the MLK area.