KINGSPORT — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen supports East Tennessee State University offering arts classes in downtown Kingsport. It’s just not willing to help pay for it.
In May, the Downtown Kingsport Association and ETSU began working on a plan to bring arts classes to downtown Kingsport. Last month, the plan came to fruition with ETSU offering five such classes in downtown Kingsport — 2-D Design, Acting 1, Applied Strings Level 1, Bluegrass (formal course and individual instruction), and Contemporary Dance.
ETSU plans to offer additional courses in the spring and according to Mark Freeman, who helped spearhead this effort, the ultimate goal is to create a main arts village downtown, which calls for space in multiple buildings where people can take art courses, rent studio space and perform their trade on the streets.
Freeman has said he envisions such things as practice rooms, performance areas for plays, concerts, dance recitals, galleries for students and local artists as well as residential units over these spaces. People would be able to witness and engage in music, dance, painting and sculpture.
Because the program began in such a short time frame, the DKA requested $25,600 to cover eight months of lease payments for the courses until more permanent locations are found; $10,000 for industrial-sized sinks and $15,000 for a moveable dance floor for the Kingsport Ballet.
After a lengthy discussion on the matter last week, the BMA decided not to give the DKA any of the money, but did pass a resolution in support of the courses.
During a work session last week, Vice Mayor Ben Mallicote asked why the city is being asked to provide these funds?
“What is it about this that instead of receiving rent we’re paying rent on behalf of someone else?” Mallicote said. “I’m not insisting (the courses) go in the higher education center and I’m not saying I’m not supportive. It just seems like this is 180 degrees from the way we’re treating other higher education vendors in downtown Kingsport.”
Alderman Larry Munsey said for him, the DKA request is not a lot different from the city agreeing to build a $12 million higher education center and a $4.8 million allied health building in downtown Kingsport.
“The arts are considered an integral part of the revitalization of downtown Kingsport since we began talking about it. This is not something new and has been a part of the vision since the very beginning,” Munsey said. “(Colleges and universities) are willing to come and pay operating expenses, so we’re building a building for them. This is a similar situation and they will pay some rent.”
“Why are we subsidizing ETSU?” Alderman Ken Marsh said.
“Why are we subsidizing higher education and allied health?” Munsey said.
Alderwoman Valerie Joh said she sees the request as the same type of investment the city made with the Twilight Alive concerts.
“You can’t put a dollar mark on it. We’re trying to get synergy downtown. This is seed money that needs to start now because there is interest now,” Joh said.
Mallicote and Mayor Dennis Phillips made comments in support of the program and said if improvements were going to be made to accommodate the programs, they needed to be made in city-owned buildings.
“If we already have space, why do we spend $10,000 on someone else’s building?” Phillips said.
“We have facilities for these courses to be housed. We could make facilities available at some fair market rate,” Mallicote said.
Munsey agreed with the suggestion that the course be held in city-owned buildings and said the programs could be done this year without spending any of the $50,600.
“Because of the timing (ETSU) can’t do that and still offer the classes this fall. This is a stop-gap thing,” Munsey said. “We ought to do it in our buildings. The reason it was not done that way was (ETSU) wanted to get started this fall.”
In the end, the BMA voted on a resolution in support of the program, but choose not to offer any financial support at this time.
“I think it sends the wrong message to ETSU if we say we’re not willing to support this,” Mallicote said.