Memphis Makes a Bet on Unlikely Philanthropists—Millennials

How a Tennessee nonprofit is leveraging the financial and social influence of young professionals to boost the Memphis arts community.
April 24, 2017, 7:53pm

This article originally appeared on Creators.

As part of 50 States of Art, Creators is inviting artists to contribute first person accounts of what it is like to live and create in their communities. Whitney Hardy is the Founder & Executive Director of Young Arts Patrons, a non-profit that collectively pools the financial and social influences of local young professionals in support of Memphis' arts community.


When I moved back to Memphis from Atlanta, I reentered a community bursting with gifted people and a deep, complex history. Memphis is a one-of-a-kind city settled between Chicago, St. Louis, and New Orleans, and its geographical influences were evident in the creatives that called the city home. These creatives drew inspiration from our city's unique mix of historical tension and contemporary oppressions; this inspiration eventually became masterpieces on stage, canvas, and composition. But even as I watched these talented artists in awe, I noticed a problem: Memphis was facing a brain drain. It's community of young professionals were migrating to bigger cities—cities that embraced diversity and prioritized creative placemaking.

These young professionals were tired of navigating the decades-old racial tension that had persisted since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. They were tired of tiptoeing around conversations with the conservative power structure, a system riddled with personalities with "white savior" complexes. They were tired of polarizing views of sexuality and feminism. What I saw in the Memphis that I had returned to was an opportunity to put two struggling communities together and change the narrative through young thought leaders, artists, and arts patrons.

Whitney Hardy, Founder and Executive Director of Young Arts Patrons. Photo Credit: Justin Fox Burks

Let's begin here: I'm not an artist, but I'm inspired by them. I have a Masters degree in Accounting and have had a safe career in that field working in public accounting and for startups. My understanding of economics and my admiration of artists led me to found Young Arts Patrons in 2015, because:

  • I understood the importance of arts and culture in economic development and talent retention.
  • I felt passionate and ambitious about fostering an environment in which artistic talent can be identified, inspired, nurtured, and celebrated.


This isn't the conversation that leads at your local Chamber meeting when people ask, "How do we retain talent in the city?" However, this was the light bulb that went off in my head when I returned to Memphis and surrounded myself with the glory of its pork barbecue and basked in the talents of its creatives.

Attendees view a work by 2017 Emerging Artist, Brandon Donahue at the 2017 Young Collectors Contemporary. Donahue was 1 of 22 selected artists from 9 USA Cities the second edition of the art fair. Photo Credit: Yasmine Omari

Young Arts Patrons (YAP) is a volunteer based non-profit organization that collectively pools the financial and social influences of Memphis' young professionals in support of the local arts community. We do this by collective donations, hosting educational programs in various neighborhoods, and working with arts organizations. YAP burst onto Memphis' arts scene through its programs like the Young Collectors Contemporary and our Art Classes, public sessions that focus on the innovative and influential impact of contemporary artists, initiatives, organizations, and projects.

Young Arts Patrons recently hosted the second edition of the Young Collectors Contemporary, an art fair designed to support the sustainability of the contemporary visual arts by providing a marketplace for emerging artists and collectors. The art fair serves as a connection to meet and support emerging artists, become educated on collecting, and collect the most compelling contemporary art being produced.

Musician Aaron James performs at the 2017 Young Collectors Contemporary.

Over the past few years, we can verify that young philanthropists and patrons are key to arts and culture sustainability and are a virtually untapped donor population. Most of YAP's members are under 40 and work in a variety of industries. We are looking to authentically engage with the arts. This generation of donors understands an underfunded arts ecosystem is to the detriment of Memphis' economic development. Memphis' arts industry creates over 3,800 full time equivalent jobs in Memphis and generates over $10 million in local and state government revenue.

As we look at the retirement of baby boomers and the recently proposed National Endowment for the Arts cuts as an eye-opener, we've realized that building a younger demographic of philanthropy is essential. Memphis leads in this, as Young Arts Patrons members are collectively organizing, curating, and producing events with creatives, arts institutions, and arts organizations including: The Brooks Museum, Ballet Memphis, The Metal Museum, IRIS Orchestra, Crosstown Arts, Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Memphis Slim Collaboratory, and LeBonHeur Children's Research Hospital. We see the overall importance of cultivating this demographic for the overall economic benefit of Memphis.

Chief Curator of Contemporary Art Marina Pacini of The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art leads Young Arts Patrons members on a tour of the Hassan Hajjaj My Rockstars Exhibit. YAP hosted Art Class 02: Impact of Globalization on Culture which featured university professors, a fashion designer, and classically trained cellist. Photo Credit Lauren Turner

Dorian Spears Merriweather and Memphis visual artists Lester Merriweather pose in front of a Kehinde Wiley's triptych, Triple Portrait of Charles I during Young Arts Patrons trip to Arkansas Art Center for the 30 Americans Exhibition. Photo Credit Elle Perry

To learn more about Young Arts Patrons, visit their website.

All year, we're highlighting 50 States of Art projects around the United States. This month, we're covering Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Tennessee, and Delaware. To learn more, click here.


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