Press Release: ArtsMemphis Announces 2018 Emmett O'Ryan Award Winner

For immediate release

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:

  • Veda Reed earned her BFA from Memphis College of Art, where she is currently Professor Emeritus. Her work has been exhibited throughout the country.  She has received numerous awards, including a Tennessee Governor’s Award in the Arts.
  • Mark Nowell is a sculptor who moved to Memphis from Jackson, MS in 1986 to attend Memphis College of Art.  Nowell has completed a number of  well-received public art installations in and around Memphis.  He currently leads The Rozelle Warehouse, a converted building-supply warehouse that serves as a low-cost studio space and exhibition gallery for student and emerging artists.

About Renasant Bank:
Renasant Bank started in 1904 as a $100,000 bank in a Lee County, Mississippi, bakery. Since then, it has grown to become one of the Southeast’s strongest financial institutions with approximately $10 billion in assets and more than 180 banking, lending, wealth management and financial services offices in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. All of Renasant’s success stems from its bankers’ commitment to investing in their communities as a way of better understanding the people they serve.  In 2017, Renasant merged with Metropolitan Bank.  For more information, visit
About ArtsMemphis:
For more than 50 years, ArtsMemphis has been sustaining Memphis's world-renowned cultural vitality.  ArtsMemphis achieves this mission by amplifying awareness, driving support, and building capacity and connections of artists and organizations through grants and services.  In 2017, ArtsMemphis awarded nearly $2.5 million in grants to 80 local arts groups and artists.  For more information, visit

For inquiries or additional information, please contact William Murray, Director of Development and Communications for ArtsMemphis, at 901-341-0401 or [email protected]

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.

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