April 21-23 brought a three-day festival to the former Harriet Tubman housing site, also known as Boone Heights. Where neighbors have gotten used to a locked gate and an empty grassy expanse where the projects once stood, the weekend brought local music, dance, many curious neighbors, and a sweep of activities to engage whole families throughout the weekend!
At the center of the event was “The Pool,” an interactive art installation by Jen Lewin, an artist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her 106 “pucks” are programmed to light up in a swirl of colors when festival attendees step, run, or dance across them.
GHC director, Teal Thibaud and Empower director, Dawn Hjelseth began plotting over a year ago about how to bring the light and energy-centric sculpture to Chattanooga, and rather than the central downtown area, they wanted to see the sculpture in the midst of neighborhoods, where folks could easily play and mingle together who may not otherwise do so. The 1900 block of Roanoke Ave. (just down the road, along the same stretch as Glass Street), in East Chattanooga was “The Pool’s” first stop, and as Dawn describes, “definitely the most challenging for setting up, due to the completely deserted nature of the site.”
Everything needed to create the East Chatt Highlight Festival had to be brought in with trucks from the outside, a feat made possible through collaboration and sponsorship. The City of Chattanooga owns the land the festival took place on, and were agreeable to help prep the area by mowing and unlocking the gates. Dozens of fire anthills dotted the chosen corner, so volunteers and staff spent time Wed. and Thurs. marking hills with pink flags and sprinkling poison to avoid any mishaps for innocent wanderers when the festival opened Friday evening. Following the press preview Thursday, everyone was beginning to feel pumped, seeing the lights come on and react to our steps. Several neighborhood kids wandered past, and we beckoned them in to test out the installation, and an off-duty CARTA driver stopped her car on the way home to come investigate. All were excited to come back for the main event.
The Lyrical Lights portion of the Festival took place as a Friday kick-off, and was a rousing success, with DJ Tony Dubs keeping the crowd dancing, spoken word, performances by Marley Fox, 2$ON, KG, and others, with yoga on “The Pool” led by Lululemon ambassador, Becky Byrns. Rondell Crier of Studio Everything facilitated free painting on a giant wooden “H” for “Highlight,” and other local artists like Briah Gober had work on display for enjoyment and/or purchase.
At the time, none of us realized Friday would provide our only dry weather for enjoying “The Pool” for the duration of the festival, but everyone truly did make the most of it! 4 Bridges Arts Festival attendees from downtown, eager to check out “The Pool” and perhaps explore a part of East Chattanooga new to them, came and mixed with neighbors and families from nearby, all dancing and sharing the experience together.
For Saturday, the 3rd Annual Gospel on Glass kicked off the continuation of the festival with a special free afternoon concert bringing together a range of phenomenally talented artists sharing their gifts in spite of intermittent showers. The evening portion of the day, meant to extend until 10:00PM had to be cut short due to a heavy downpour, but not before several attendees had a chance to play some on “The Pool,” and some friends stuck around to help secure the tents to withstand the drenching and wind during the night.
Sunday afternoon launched somewhat later than planned as well, because of heavy rain, but in the spirit of teamwork volunteers helped shovel mulch into muddy areas, straighten tents, repair and change out banners, and even move the ever-popular bounce-house closer in beside the colorful “Pool” area for a cozier set-up. DJ LV and DJ Tryezz set up camp under a protective tent and kept us all dancing even while damp.
LV shared during the afternoon set up that it was surreal spinning out on the old Boone Heights site. He grew up there, and hadn’t been back since, although he was sporting a “Straight Outta Boone Heights” t-shirt in anticipation of a coming reunion with other friends who have mixed-emotions about the area, and share curiosity about what may eventually get built here. “For now, it’s just good to meet people and share my music.”
New friendships, brilliant artwork, powerful music, and camaraderie in the face of challenging weather all helped the East Chatt Highlight Festival accomplish it’s original intention: to connect neighbors with the power of art, shining a light on the good happening in the East Chattanooga neighborhoods. Click HERE for our official event video on our YouTube channel.