Imagine! That

By Rodney Van Valkenburg, ArtsBuild Director of Grants and Initiatives

Should arts exposure for elementary school students be by design or random luck of where they attend school?

ArtsBuild asked this question in 2009, and created the Imagine! Initiative the same year after a survey conducted in Hamilton County’s public elementary schools.

The survey revealed that:

  • 20 percent of Hamilton County elementary school students only experienced the arts through a 40-minute music class once a week
  • 52 percent had no more than three arts experiences during their entire elementary school career
  • the number of arts experiences varied widely from school to school within Hamilton County

A 2013 study also confirmed ArtsBuild’s guiding philosophy on arts education by demonstrating the lasting impact of arts field trips on students attending activities at the Walton Performing Arts Center and Crystal Bridge Art Museum in Fayetteville, Ark (EducationNext, Winter 2014).

Researchers Jay Greene, Daniel Bowen and Brian Kisida surveyed more than 2,000 students. Students who attend arts field trips read more, are more curious about the arts and are more tolerant, empathetic individuals, this study shows.

ArtsBuild’s Imagine! Initiative aims to enable all Hamilton County elementary students (available to first-graders through fourth-graders) to experience a series of high-quality concerts and performances by leading Chattanooga arts organizations. The strategically organized experiences increase exposure to the arts and enhance student learning. ArtsBuild covers students’ tickets and transportation costs and supplies support materials to maximize the presentations’ curriculum connections.

“We are very pleased by the reception for Imagine! from teachers, administrators, parents and students,” says Rodney Van Valkenburg, ArtsBuild’s Director of Grants and Initiatives. “The fact that so many schools participate is a testament to the quality of the presentations. The fact is: schools wouldn’t participate year after year unless they found educational value in these experiences.”

During the 2015-16 school year 41 of 43 Hamilton County elementary schools voluntarily participated in Imagine! Initiative performances. Each year, first-graders attend a youth theatre production at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre; second-graders attend Chattanooga Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”; third-graders attend the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera’s Young People’s Concert; and fourth-graders attend a professional theatre performance in collaboration with the Southern Lit Alliance and Theatre Express.

Many teachers attest that the Imagine! Initiative enhances student learning and creates a new generation of citizens who will engage in arts and culture.    

The Imagine! Initiative provides most students their first exposure to our community’s arts resources (e.g. the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera and the Tivoli Theatre). The Initiative constitutes an $80,000 annual investment by ArtsBuild in the cultural health of Chattanooga’s students. Studies show that children who participate in the arts before age 18 are four times more likely to participate as adults (National Endowment for the Arts, February 2015.)

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), new federal education legislation, lists music and art as curriculum areas for a well-rounded education, along with language arts, math, social studies and science —plus other subjects. ESSA champions the theory that well-rounded students will be workforce ready, productive 21st century citizens.

“I visited the ballet as an elementary school student. I was only in second grade, so I don't know who actually paid for that school field trip, but I do know that it was an inspirational and transformative event. I support ArtsBuild because the arts build dreams.”


Stratton Tingle, Executive Director
SoundCorps