If you’ve flown out of Chattanooga Airport lately, you will have noticed the CHA Art Space

Photo Contributed by Carrie Pendergrass / Paintings displayed during a show in the CHA Art Space at the Chattanooga Airport.
Photo Contributed by Carrie Pendergrass / Paintings displayed during a show in the CHA Art Space at the Chattanooga Airport.

5 fast facts

—  CHA Art Space is named for the Chattanooga Airport's identification code, CHA.

—  The gallery is mobile. Ongoing renovations at the airport mean the gallery sometimes moves. For now, it's on the main floor in ticketing, in front of Allegiant Air. Visitors do not have to go through a security checkpoint to view the works.

—  Shows are open to artists living within 500 miles of Chattanooga who can easily drop off or ship works.

—  Artists pay a submission fee of $15 for one work, $25 for two and $35 for three. The fee goes directly toward exhibit costs, such as insurance.

—  All of the art is for sale. Contact curator Carrie Pendergrass at sewntothesea.com/cha-art-space.

As the Chattanooga Airport continues a $28 million terminal renovation and expansion, a regularly refreshed art gallery is adding tranquility and color to the indoor construction zone.

CHA Art Space, named for the airport's identification code, debuted beneath the building's signature dome in July of 2021. Originally near the escalators, the gallery has moved to the ticketing area while renovations are underway. The art hangs on several mobile displays, which can accommodate up to 30 pieces, depending on their size and placement.

Curator Carrie Pendergrass says her main goal for the gallery was to provide local artists a venue with plenty of foot traffic, but showing works at the travel hub doubles as a gesture of hospitality. Whether the viewers are residents or visitors, the exhibits give a sense of the city's cultural flavor — and hopefully pique interest in the local arts scene.

"Art is one of the aspects of our tourism," Pendergrass says. "It makes sense to greet people with art."

Pendergrass says the idea for CHA Art Space had long been niggling in the back of her mind, mostly from seeing artwork in other airports and participating in juried shows at Knoxville's McGhee Tyson Airport.

"It started me thinking, 'Hey, maybe that's something we could have in Chattanooga,'" she says. "I started thinking about it in a more tangible way when ArtsBuild released the Artists Work Grants in response to COVID."

Those grants, first offered in 2020 by ArtsBuild, Public Art Chattanooga and the Southeast Tennessee Development District, were designed as "an economic stimulus that benefits both the creative sector and the public realm" by providing "much-needed work and project funding for artists," according to an ArtsBuild news release. Funding was provided by the city of Chattanooga, Lyndhurst Foundation, Benwood Foundation and the Footprint Foundation.

Pendergrass says potential partners for the artists' collaborations were already earmarked in the grant applications. The airport wasn't on the list. She contacted airport officials to see if they'd be interested. They were.

"I've only been working at the airport since late 2015, so this is the only real large art display I have been involved with," says Blake Poole, vice president of air service and economic development for the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority. "We've had some single pieces in here, but nothing this big."

The first round of grants awarded $271,853 for 23 projects in two categories: Exhibition & Performance, ranging from $2,500 to $25,000; and Public Art, ranging from $25,000 to $75,000. Pendergrass says she received about $12,000 for her proposal, an exhibition themed "Into the Blue: Abstraction at the Airport."

The grant provided funding for a single show, an invitational that Pendergrass set up to pay a stipend to each participating artist, including herself. The rest of the funding went toward expenses such as insurance and setting up the space, which included refurbishing several modular display walls airport officials located in storage and adding casters so they could be easily moved.

Since then, she has produced another four shows via open calls to artists, as well as a quilt show at the request of the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts, which provided eight antique quilts from the original collection of founder Anna Safley Houston (1876-1951). That exhibit closed in March.

Pam Reed, who became operations director at the Houston in August of 2022, says she reached out to Pendergrass after seeing a call for artists in ArtsBuild's weekly ArtsWire email.

"One of the goals of the museum, when they hired me, was to get the word out about the museum," she says. "We've been around since the 1960s, and they wanted assistance with collaborating more with other arts organizations, etc."

Rather than adding a quilt among the canvases, Reed says she and Pendergrass agreed to a solo exhibition of quilts that would allow more time for artists to prepare for the next exhibition of paintings. That show, "Emergence," opened in mid-March and will run through June.

Reed describes the airport quilt show as "a wonderful experience for the museum."

"We've gotten great press as well as feedback from people in the community and also have visitors come to the museum who saw the exhibit at the airport," she says.

Poole estimates that roughly 1.3 million passengers — arriving and departing — have passed through the airport since the first show almost two years ago. The makeover is expected to last several more months, but once construction is complete, the exhibitions can reclaim the busier space in the rotunda.

Pendergrass says she's been surprised to hear from people who've discovered the gallery "at weird times — like they got in at midnight and wandered through the artwork."

That's also part of its mission, she says. "It's a respite from the stress that can be associated with travel."

  photo  Mixed media art by Amber Droste / "Diminished Returns" will be on display at the CHA Art Space.

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