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Changing Chattanooga One Dance At A Time

City artist Jules Downum discuses the Pop-up Project and her hopes for Chattanooga's public arts

One of the most underrated segments of the Chattanooga art scene is its dance and choreography. While many in the area may only know of it from local dance academies and theater productions, there is actually a thriving dance community here in Chattanooga and that community is only growing. This growth is largely thanks to the help of Jules Downum and the Pop-up Project.

Jules Downum has been involved in dance since her early 20’s. Though she is a Chattanooga native, she moved to San Diego to dance professionally and to earn her Master’s degree in Applied Cultural Anthropology. In 2013 she moved back to Chattanooga where she reconnected with her old friend Mattie Waters, who is a professional actress, comedian, and producer. While Jules creates the choreography for her productions, she is also heavily involved with the creation of stories and themes.

“I sometimes feel more like an anthropologist than a dancer,” Jules said.

In 2016, Jules and Mattie partnered up to create the Pop-up Project. Pop-up is a nonprofit company that creates productions in the Chattanooga area involving dance. In just 4 years of operation, it has created films, hosted live events, provided dance programs at local schools, and began hosting dance classes.

“Our vision is to create a vibrant, diverse, and sustainable arts community. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

As part of new initiatives by the city to create new opportunities for artists in Chattanooga, Jules has become employed as Chattanooga’s City Artist. She said that she is ecstatic to be in this position and hopes to utilize it as a way to bring art to needy neighborhoods in the Chattanooga area.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, many of the Public Art Chattanooga plans have had to have been postponed and Jules has had to focus much of her time on revamping ideas. As the City Artist, her position allows her to work with members of the Chattanooga Department of Transportation and Public Art Chattanooga to find areas of interest within the city and create art based projects there.

“It’s all very anthropological,” Jules said. “This honestly feels like the perfect fit of a job for me with how it merges the arts and social sciences.”

While many of the cities plans for public arts have been put on hold, Jules assures us that we will continue to see local arts organizations be active, but in new ways. If anything, she thinks that will become a time of innovation as artists find new ways to stay engaged with the community.

Keep up with local art projects by making sure to visit Public Art Chattanooga and the Pop-up Project online. You can also follow Jules and Pop-up Project on Instagram to see her latest creations!

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