MEMPHIS, TN (June 4, 2018) – Local muralist and community activist Gerard Harris is the recipient of the eighth annual Emmett O’Ryan Award for Artistic Inspiration. The award, known informally as "The Emmett," is given annually by Renasant Bank to a distinguished visual artist in Shelby County. It is named in honor of Emmett O'Ryan, a founding Board Member of Metropolitan Bank, which merged with Renasant last year.
Nominees for The Emmett are selected by a committee comprising artists, curators, and members of ArtsMemphis' Artist Advisory Council.
Each year, the nominees are presented to representatives of Renasant Bank and the O’Ryan family, who are responsible for making the final decision.
As the winner of this year's Emmett, Harris will receive a $10,000 cash award. ArtsMemphis President and CEO Elizabeth Rouse noted that “Mr. Harris was selected based on his service to Memphis – most notably through his murals, which inspire and beautify the community where he lives.”
Since its inception in 2010, the Emmett O’Ryan Award has recognized the contributions of eight artists to our community, through their art and their community service. The award has evolved over the years, honoring emerging and mid-career artists in the early years, late career artists in recent years, and on artists with a focus on community service this year.
Mr. Harris spent much of his career as a musician, but his current passion is public art. An accomplished guitarist and keyboardist, Mr. Harris toured with Kool & the Gang for eight years, and appeared on two of their albums. A graduate of the University of Memphis, he returned home and later taught music, piano, and choir at Middle College High School. He can still be found playing guitar at venues around Memphis.
Harris' path to the visual arts began when he noticed gang-related graffiti as he took his son to and from school in Memphis' Glenview neighborhood. He decided to paint murals on the tagged walls. The graffiti stopped. Mr. Harris is motivated by a desire for every child to live among people and in an environment that encourages and uplifts them, and this is his motivation. His murals are featured in several scenes in Tom Shadyac's forthcoming film,The Brian Banks Story.
The committee took particular interest in Mr. Harris’ focus on his community and his intention to use the award money to create job opportunities for youth to assist him with future murals.
“This award is a wonderful way to honor Emmett O’Ryan’s memory, his contributions to the bank and to the arts while supporting the work of an outstanding artist in our community." Phillip May, president, Memphis and West Tennessee, Renasant Bank. “We 're especially proud," May added, "to see how this program has grown over the past eight years to become one of the most significant awards for local visual artists in Memphis.”
The other two finalists for this year’s Emmett Award were:
Above right: 2018 Emmett O’Ryan Award Recipient Gerard Harris with Phillip May, President, Memphis and West Tennessee, Renasant Bank, along with Ruthie O'Ryan and Jay Robinson III. Photo by Angie & Ike. Above left: Gerard Harris speaks with panelists about his murals.