The Arts & Heritage Development Council was created following a yearlong study on the status of culture in the Clarksville-Montgomery County area. This study was initiated by Dr. Allan Henderson, then chair of Austin Peay State University’s Department of Music, and funded by grants from the City of Clarksville, Austin Peay State University, and the National Endowment for the Arts’ ArtReach program.

A Community Cultural Plan was developed in 2000, and the main recommendation was to hire a full-time staff member in order to implement the goals and objectives of this plan. Up to this point, out of the ten largest cities in Tennessee, Clarksville was the only one without such an individual on staff.

In July of 2000, the City of Clarksville agreed to provide the funding, and Austin Peay State University agreed to provide the administrative assistance necessary to create the AHDC. In 2002, our first executive director was hired. A governing board was established, nonprofit status was achieved, and a strategic plan was developed in September of that year.

The executive director forged connections with the Tennessee Arts Commission and arts alliances from Knoxville, Nashville, Chattanooga and Jackson and also attended regional conferences in order to continue to develop the structure of the organization. In 2004, the AHDC began our partnership with the Tennessee Arts Commission in the administration of the Arts Build Communities and Student Ticket Subsidies grant programs for a five-county area surrounding Clarksville, making this city a hub of culture.

On the local level, the AHDC began linking with arts groups and the historical community, eventually developing a comprehensive Cultural Inventory through a grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission. In 2002, we hosted a board development workshop for local nonprofit groups, presented by the Center for Nonprofit Management, which assisted with the involvement of a broad range of cultural groups in the first Rivers & Spires Festival. In addition, we helped to organize the first Riverfest Art Exhibit, for which we now annually host the Riverfest Tour d’Art competition.

In AHDC’s early years, we hosted a joint Farmers Market Celebration and Dixon Park grand opening, helped Historic Collinsville in applying for a Mission Assessment grant, and organized a Victorian Tea Party at the L&N Train Station, resulting in enough funds to pay design and printing costs for a brochure to help promote the city-owned historic treasure. A more recent fundraising event, our Antique Appraisal Luncheon, raised $1,500 to support restoration of the Doughboy statue on Legion Street.

The AHDC was the major funding source for the Clarksville Youth Chorus and Youth Orchestra from 2005 to 2007, and we worked with art students in area public schools to create a Student Art Gallery, in cooperation with the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center.

In 2007, we teamed with community groups including Mt. Olive Cemetery Historical Preservation Society on a Make-A-Difference Day project which helped 28 people achieve their GEDs and earned a $10,000 grant award from Paul Newman.

In 2005, the AHDC founded the first and highly successful Clarksville Writers Conference, the brainchild of Patricia Winn. In the years since, the conference has offered budding authors workshops in writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, newspaper articles and memoirs; finding an agent and publisher; and promoting published work. It has brought such well-known authors as John Seigenthaler, William Gay, Alanna Nash, Will Campbell, Tom Franklin, William R. Ferris, Jeanne Ray, Sonny Brewer and Robert Hicks to the Clarksville area. In connection with the Clarksville Writers Conference, organizers have offered guided tours of local writers’ homes and places connected to the cultural heritage of the county, including 2009’s Tobacco Heritage Tour, featuring Victorian homes and the history of Clarksville at its most prosperous period, and 2010’s two-day Architectural Heritage Tour which celebrated the city’s rich heritage and culture through its unique architecture.

Through touring grants and private funding, we have been able to provide cultural presentations, at little or no cost to attendees, for Black History Month and Women’s History Month, bringing in such well-respected artists as storyteller Minton Sparks and Appalachian vocalist Carol Ponder. Through our Lifetime Achievement Awards program and museum plaque, the AHDC annually honors Montgomery County residents who have made significant contributions to the arts or heritage of the community.

Over the relatively brief existence of the Clarksville Arts & Heritage Development Council, all of our efforts, both past and future, are guided by several principles. We believe that our mission is to help arts and heritage groups succeed, thereby making Clarksville a better place to live, work, and play. Our role is to create a web of support for such groups, thereby strengthening their capacity to entertain, inform, and bring arts and heritage to life in the community. As all great civilizations throughout time possessed a history of culture, we feel strongly that vibrant culture in any community is a contributing factor in economic development and the overall quality of life.