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Guest column by ArtsMemphis' Uhlhorn and Wigginton: Memphis' audience is growing internationally

Memphis Business Journal - By Kathy Gale Uhlhorn and Russ Wigginton – Board members, ArtsMemphis

Around this time of year, it is customary to reflect upon the challenges, changes, and successes we’ve experienced as we look to the new year.

But little is customary in 2021. This year was quickly labeled a year of continuity with negative connotations, including continued racial disparities and the challenges of COVID variants.

However, even with its serious societal and personal impacts, 2021 also marks the continuity of progress by our artists and arts organizations. They excelled in their thinking, innovations, and creations. It was a year of escalating creativity coupled with great generosity and ingenuity.

ArtsMemphis elevated its role as convener and connector for the arts sector by helping arts organizations maintain their missions while reworking business plans, creating virtual formats, and developing reopening protocols. While these organizations’ narratives may have shifted in tone or format, they are continuing to deliver exquisite work and recognized results for themselves and for Memphis.

In case you missed it, let us remind you of just a few national and international audiences that are recognizing Memphis’ artists and creators — all ArtsMemphis partners.

In the past six weeks alone:

The New York Times featured the new Brooks Museum of Art in the context of a reimagined Downtown Memphis and riverfront.

Yancy Villa was honored for her work as a Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow — one of just seven artists across the country.

Victoria Jones, founder of Tone and partner in the redevelopment of Orange Mound Tower with James Dukes, received the 2021 Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize. Victoria’s and James’ vision for Orange Mound Tower landed a New York Times feature and Memphis magazine Memphians of the Year honor.

Students and faculty of Stax Music Academy just returned from Paris, France, for the world premiere of “Soul Kids,” a documentary film featuring Memphis’ music students who are continuing the legacy of soul music.

Indeed, Memphis’ audiences are growing.

ArtsMemphis invested $2.2 million in 64 arts groups and hundreds of artists in 2021 — including the artists and arts organizations already mentioned in this piece — and was just announced as a recommended recipient of a $500,000 American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to continue this recovery work.

The arts sector was the first to close the curtain and arguably will be the last to fully reopen or recover. Nonetheless, we have grown our audiences and are receiving national attention for our city and our unique arts culture.

Behind Memphis’ world-renowned cultural vitality stands a vast array of contributors to the arts. From on stage to behind the scenes, from the drawing board to the boardroom, from the classroom to the greenroom, there is a role for everyone. We all thank you for the role you play as a contributor in creating pride in our city’s authentic cultural assets and experiences.


Kathy Gale Uhlhorn is board chair of ArtsMemphis. Russ Wigginton, Ph.D., is president of the National Civil Rights Museum and vice chair of ArtsMemphis’ board.

Posted by Intern ArtsMemphis at 10:28
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