Knoxville Weekend Feature: Dogwood Arts

Video produced by Knoxville Weekend

Written by Susan Alexander

Sherry Jenkins on Dogwood Arts: where it is, where it’s heading

Sherry Jenkins laughed when asked what her first thought was when she woke up on the morning of April 1. As executive director of Dogwood Arts, she knows the month is about more than blossoms and balmy temps. 

But she didn’t claim wanting to pull the covers over her head. Her first thought, she said, was “we’ve got this.” And then the list of details to check and recheck started rolling through her brain. 

Jenkins credits her team with making her ease possible. “All of us are fairly new to the organization, but we were able to gel well. We’re really capable as a small team. One of us picks up where the other leaves off in terms of experience, ability and skills.”

 Chalk Walk drew crowds to Market Square last weekend, and more festivities are yet to come, including the Dogwood Arts Festival on Market Square April 26-28 and Rhythm N’ Blooms in the Old City May 17-19. Here’s the complete calendar of Dogwood Arts activities.

Jenkins talked about the organization, its impact on downtown and where it’s heading. Here’s what she had to say: 

Have you introduced new programs or events this spring? 

“We’ve embraced some existing programs to try to grow them. I’m really proud of how we’ve grown our  guitar design contest. It had always been a side thing with Rhythm N’ Blooms. Now middle and high school students in schools from here to Chattanooga can submit their designs. We received about 100 entries. Fifteen designs will be selected to be painted on Epiphone guitars and displayed at the Songbirds Guitar Museumin Chattanooga. Then they’ll be auctioned online. We hope to connect with Songbirds’ and Epiphone’s tens of thousands of guitar lovers. 

Art in Public Places– we added two locations in Oak Ridge: Jackson Square and the American Museum of Science and Energy. We’re also embarking on a mural campaign, starting with Strong Alley. The City has asked us how to inject some new energy and encourage new artists, so we’re trying to offer stipends to cover materials. We hope to replicate Strong Alley’s success in other artist alleys around town. We want to connect artists with opportunities.

“When you arrive at a downtown with outdoor sculptures and artwork, it speaks to a quality of life there.”

There are three aspects to Dogwood Arts, the arts activities, music and the springtime gardens. How do you see them growing or changing in the future? 

“Having just been to the Dogwood Luncheon for the opening of the dogwood trails, I’ve witnessed firsthand the breadth of investment committed to the trails program, and I’m excited by the great energy there. We have volunteers who have worked for more than 30 years, and they’re really excited about connecting to new people moving into the community and sharing the history of Dogwood Arts -- what those pink lines are all about. 

“The art and music grew out of the original trails movement. The art programwe do is amazing. Kate Creason is amazing at juggling all the different elements. We want to focus on opportunities for up-and-coming artists and helping them see how they could work professionally at some point. 

Rhythm N’ Bloomsis really exciting this year; ticket sales are going strong. It feels like it’s poised for really great things. And we hope to have some more dollars to invest in other, smaller opportunities for musicians. There’s a lot of opportunity for Dogwood to provide small intermediate spaces so musicians can learn how to go from playing birthday parties to how to do a stage performance and establish a following. We’re interested in being able to encourage musicians and give them opportunities they don’t have yet.” 

Knoxville has evolved as a city in the last 10-15 years. How has that evolution impacted Dogwood, or vice versa?

“The city is flourishing and blossoming, but I’m not sure how to differentiate which came first. Dogwood got people downtown and got them comfortable; it was safe and comfortable in the downtown area. So in that way we’ve contributed to downtown’s growth. Dogwood is a small part of a rich arts and culture environment, an environment that only will increase as our city grows. I hope we all rise together.”