When I began writing this column last year one of the first people who reached out to me was Ginna Foster Cannon.
She was the director of cultural and heritage tourism at the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and chair of the barely two-year-old Rutherford Arts Alliance, a nonprofit created by painter Ginny Togrye, poet Kory Wells, and Murfreesboro resident and co-chair of the Tennnessee Arts Commission Andrea Loughry, to foster connection and collaboration between local artists.
After lots of tagging and messaging on social media, Cannon and I met in person to talk about how we could help families find more fun things to do in Rutherford County.
Barely two months after I met the ingenius, enthusiastic Cannon, she passed away suddenly in December. It was hard to think that someone who was connecting the many cultural assets in the county was now gone.
I wondered where RAA would go without its leader, and I was glad to see its members moving forward with a number of innovative plans for the year; plans to encourage creativity and collaboration not only in traditional art circles, but also in the surrounding community.
I wanted to bring attention to RAA in part because of Cannon’s legacy, and also because I’m excited about RAA’s collaborative multi-age, multi-discipline and multi-application approach to the arts, meaning anyone can get be a part of its mission. I can’t help but think of the many creative parents and youths who are just looking for ways to be involved in the community, and, well, here's your chance!
Here are 7 reasons to get creative with RAA this year.
1. We Need the Arts and Creativity for the Economy
In 2017 an economic study by Americans for the Arts estimated that around $31.2 million dollars come to the county annually through arts-related events and attractions. It makes sense when you think about it—where do you want to take your family for travel? Places where there are things to do and interesting places to see, and much of that is fostered by artistic and creative entities. The county’s historical, cultural, and family-centered attractions fall under this description, along with others, so when these are doing well the community at large benefits.
2. We Need Collaborations
While RAA isn’t a production company it does seek to encourage collaborations among local creatives and citizens. Its Facebook group “Creative Connector for Rutherford Arts Alliance” is open to the public and provides a forum for creatives to connect—whether a parent seeking art lessons for their children, a publication needing photographers, or poets seeking collaborators. Its official Facebook page provides notices for upcoming meetings, events, and opportunities. A third resource is the Artists Profiles on the Convention and Visitors Bureau website. Artists and creatives can create a free account on the page to display their area of expertise.
Among the RAA's physical collaborative endeavors have been the inaugural Community Mural Festival in October 2019 where citizens, teens, professional artists, and local government worked together to design and paint the Vine Street mural in Murfreesboro. Later this year past-chair Ginny Togrye will create a new sculpture for the Breezeway at Gateway Island with individual hearts created by 25 noted local artists including Joe Brown, Lisa Sims, Norris Hall, Lewis and Eric Snyder, and Dawn Magliacano. This summer RAA’s largest project will debut-- a new play created by local theater groups and playwrites that features influential women in Rutherford County’s history.
These collaborations and resources mean that my kids and I won’t have to struggle to find lessons, exhibits, or experiences that I might otherwise feel I need to look outside the county for. Thanks to their efforts I-- and we-- can more easily tap into the wealth of education and experiences in our backyard.
3. We Needs Arts Policies
RAA members are working hard to foster creativity in the county while guiding best practices for aesthetic and value. As murals bloomed across the county last year, RAA members collaborated with city government to develop a document detailing best practices for creating public art. “The document will help business owners who want to have murals,” explains Togrye.
In short, RAA members are working to make our county more thoughtful and beautiful by making a plan for encouraging local art, including helpful parameters, and fueling ongoing discussion.
4. We Need Space for Creative Networking
The RAA’s monthly meet-ups are a perfect opportunity to learn more about the creative people and places within the county. While meetings are always held the second Tuesday of the month, it’s time and location vary. The idea is to include a broader range of people with different schedules and give members the opportunity to explore different businesses and organizations in the community.
Meeting locales have range from Linebaugh to the MTSU Science Building, with guests representing a range of disciplines and backgrounds. Attendees are encouraged to mingle and learn about one another’s areas and find new avenues to connection and collaboration. There’s no age limit, so it’s a great place for even teens and preteens (I’m thinking of homeschoolers, too!) to get an idea of how to be involved in an artistic community and create a more beautiful place to live.
5. We Need Citizen Involvement
While meetings are free, families and individuals can become RAA members to take advantage of free or discounted creative workshops and RAA events, as well as be able to vote on policies and projects. Professionals get priority for publicity spotlights on the website, social media, and at meetings. The inexpensive donation ($15 for students and seniors, $25 for individual, $40 for family) earns donors a spot in fostering creative projects and collaborations across the county.
6. We Need Mentors for the Next Generation
Maybe one of the most attractive aspects of RAA is the intent to create space for building up the next generation of creatives (this is a project in development this year). Members of its fledgling youth council were instrumental in the planning of the city’s collaborative mural downtown, and the group has plans for mentorships between young artists and professionals. In other words, it’s a good time to be an artsy kid in Rutherford County.
7. We are Already Involved (More than likely)
The seventh reason to get creative with RAA is that we probably already are and just don't know it yet. Members of the RAA were kind enough to send me a list of local groups and artists who have already collaborated together through RAA and I quickly realized that I was involved with most of them whether through enrichment programs for my children, myself, or some cultural event I've attended. It was exciting to realize that these organizations are working together, and I want to support that however I can. When they are doing well, I realize and my family only benefit. We all do.
Center for the Arts
Main Street Murfreesboro
Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce
Rutherford County Convention and Visitors Bureau
Boro Art Crawl
Patterson Park Community Center
Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation
Smyrna Parks and Recreation/Smyrna Outdoor Adventure Center
Boys and Girls Club of Rutherford County
Poetry in the Boro
Murfreesboro Art League
Smyrna Artist Cooperative
Read to Succeed
Smyrna Arts Commission
Studio Tour - Stones River Craft Association / Art Studio Tour
Sam Davis Home
Bradley Academy Museum and Cultural Center
Discovery Center and STEAM Festival
Want to experience RAA for yourself?
Make plans to attend their next public meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 10 at The Walnut House. The event will feature a presentation by Molly Leach Pratt, former chair of the Tennessee Arts Commission. As a member of the NASAA Board she designed strategies to work with Congress on behalf of the NEA (National Endowment of the Arts). As a captain for Americans For The Arts, she was particularly effective in ensuring coordinated state and federal advocacy efforts.