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ArtsMemphis: Communicating All of the Memphis Story

Elizabeth Rouse evolved into the role of cheerleader for the Memphis arts community. As a transplant born in Mobile, Ala., her mother put her in ballet, but Rouse wanted to watch the graceful dance, not perform it. She moved to the Bluff City nine years ago for a job with ArtsMemphis, not expecting to stay forever. But she discovered a buffet of artistry here. She fell in love with the city and its talent.

Now Rouse, today ArtsMemphis president and CEO, fills her days and nights with the arts. Arts meetings. Arts fundraisers. Arts openings. No opportunity to cheer, to support, to promote the arts is too small. She told a ladies garden club recently, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you there’s nothing to do here. There’s constantly something happening in Memphis.”

ArtsMemphis, a nonprofit organization formerly known as Memphis Arts Council, has been an advocate for the arts 50 years. This year, ArtsMemphis awarded grants totaling $3 million to about 60 organizations and six individuals. It also mentors organizations and helps with business and fundraising plans.

Non-profit arts generated $125 million in annual spending in the Greater Memphis area, created 4,000 full-time jobs and generated $15 million in revenue for area governments, according to 2012 figures circulated by ArtsMemphis.

In a sentence, arts is big business. But its importance extends beyond economics. Art is the soul of a city, providing people a way to express and enjoy themselves. This quality of life element is understood by those who seek to do business in Memphis. “The question does come up, ‘What does Memphis offer?’” said Rouse, called on to provide businesses information on the city’s broad array of art options. “This is about communicating all of the Memphis story.”

The Memphis arts story often centers on music, mostly the blues and Elvis, but the city sparks with a variety of quality talent, and the nation is taking notice.

  • A national magazine cited Opera Memphis three times in an 18 month period for its artistic innovation in community outreach. This year, The National Endowment for the Arts granted $30,000 to Opera Memphis to boost 30 Days of Opera, pop-up performances to spark love for opera.
  • Ballet Memphis is taking its “Memphis Project” and “River Project” series to New York City this fall after three years of performances at Playhouse on the Square. It also performed in New York City in 2007.
  • The White House honored youth arts last year when New Ballet Ensemble, in a space once occupied by a pie factory on York Avenue, was awarded the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.
In addition to supporting these and others organizations, ArtsMemphis started granting funds to individual visual artists in 2013 through its ArtsAccelerator program. While $30,000 in grants have been awarded, officials hope to expand the grant amount in 2016. The program was designed in part, Rouse said, to shore up loss of talent to other cities that offer funding assistance to artists.
“For some artists it meant they could rent a bigger studio,” Rouse said. “For others, it meant they didn’t have to work three jobs.”

Maysey Craddock is a painter, art teacher and chairwoman of the ArtsMemphis Artist Advisory Council, which brainstormed the ArtsAccelerator program. While driving back to Memphis after a successful showing of her art in New York City, Craddock talked about the status of the arts in Memphis.

“I think Memphis is a really exciting place to be right now,” she said. “It’s kind of like the beginning of a Renaissance. There’s a lot of room to make things happen because there’s a lot of support for the arts. This is not the Memphis I grew up with. There’s a different kind of vibrancy now.”

The support of the business community is helping grow the arts. AutoZone is one of the city’s biggest supporters of the arts and of ArtsMemphis. Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education, will honor AutoZone as one of the best supportive businesses at a black tie event Oct. 6. Only ten businesses are honored annually.
“We couldn’t do this without the support locally,” said Rouse. “We have incredible corporate support.”

The arts adds value to communities all across the state and impacts economic development, tourism and education, said Anne B. Pope, executive director of the Tennessee Arts Commission. “The Tennessee Arts Commission has heard from local communities statewide that the arts are a vital tool for attraction and retention of businesses and creatives alike. Tennessee, and Memphis in particular, is rich in its arts and cultural assets and heritage, which helps to brand the community as a go-to place for the arts, culture, artists and the entire creative sector.”

Rouse also is grateful for the support of the Greater Memphis Chamber. She accepted an invitation in January to be on the Board of Directors. “Businesses must see the arts as a critical piece of attracting and retaining talent,” she said. “I am pleased to represent the arts community … and share the importance of the arts in enhancing and transforming our city and the lives of Memphians.”

Story by: Toni Lepeska
Photo by: Troy Glasgow
Posted: 1/20/2016 10:04:11 AM | with 0 comments
Filed under: Arts, ArtsMemphis, Attracting, Board, Director, Elizabeth, Memphis, of, Rouse, Talent

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The latest news from the Greater Memphis Chamber. For more information, contact Director of Communications Christina Meek at (901) 543-3504 ( or Communications Specialist Jenny C. Fish at (901) 543-3558 (