Big Arts Donation To be Announced Today at Rhodes

Private college on receiving end of national gift

By Andy Meek

PREP TIME: John Weeden, Rhodes College's assistant director of the Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts (CODA), prepares for today's kickoff of a national arts conference at the school, as CODA scholar Charlotte Ashford helps. -- Photo By Zachary Zoeller

He's the chairman of a Nashville record label, a former lieutenant governor of California, a mega-philanthropist and a self-made titan of the music industry.

And today, Mike Curb - who heads Nashville-based Curb Records - is announcing a large-scale investment in Memphis that likely will include a sizable donation to Rhodes College. Details of his project, which apparently will bring together educators, students, artists and more to promote Southern music, all will be unveiled today at a national conference on the arts hosted at Rhodes.

Curb's announcement will be made this morning by Rhodes College President William Troutt. And it's as good an example as any of the kind of big-league results that organizers hope will spring out of the free, two-day conference.

The title of the event is "Arts Leadership: New Directions."

Lectures, panel discussions, banquets and receptions all are on the bill, even opportunities to participate in local points of interest, such as time set aside on Friday for music-themed tours of the city.

Artistically speaking

The whole thing is national in scope, with artists, consultants and arts stakeholders from across the country descending on Memphis for the conference. The event was set up, in part, to connect local members of the arts community to national figures like Curb.

"We're shooting big here - this is a big endeavor," said John Weeden, assistant director for the school's Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts (CODA). "It's the first kind of conference of this sort in the Mid-South region. And we want this to be a public gathering - a gathering of minds and a gathering of passions."

Curb will speak at the conference under the banner of "Preserving the Tennessee Music Miracle."

Another national speaker will be Dr. Ann Daly, principal of Texas-based Ann Daly Arts Consulting LLC, who's a prolific writer, lecturer and arts consultant.

She's written three books and has been interviewed for The New York Times, New York's The Village Voice newspaper and National Public Radio's "Marketplace" program, among other media outlets. Her presentation will focus on how arts leaders can pump up the cultural sector.

"Arts Leadership: New Directions"
Oct. 5 - 6
A free symposium that will bring together artists, consultants and arts leaders from across the country.
Speakers include Dr. Ann Daly, a Texas consultant, and music mogul Mike Curb, who will be announcing a major investment in Memphis today.

"The cultural sector needs to look beyond institution-building," Daly said. "The era of big organizations is really very 20th century, and young artists are looking towards different models besides traditional 501(c)(3)s, which are very cumbersome."

Who's who, what's what

For his part, Curb brings an established music industry pedigree to the event. Among the list of awards on his resume, he's snapped up eight Grammys, had 121 Gold Albums certified by the Recording Industry Association of America and helped guide almost 3,000 recordings onto the Billboard music charts.

Curb's record label has scored big with new releases, especially soundtracks such as 2000's "Coyote Ugly." Examples of his label's successes that still pervade the airwaves include the Four Seasons' "December 1963 (Oh What a Night)."

He's also been active on a philanthropic level statewide. His family foundation, for example, provided the funding for a music business program at Belmont University in Nashville, a children's theater at the Nashville Library and a Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University, among other donations.

Closer to home, a foundation Curb set up earlier this year bought Elvis Presley's former home on Audubon Drive in Memphis.

Locally, the Rhodes arts conference will draw a veritable Who's Who in the Memphis arts community. Organizations that will be represented include the usual suspects: the UrbanArt Commission, Playhouse on the Square, Ballet Memphis and the Memphis College of Art, among others.

"I think it's a great event," said Carissa Hussong, executive director of the local UrbanArt Commission. She'll also be part of a panel on Friday looking at "Arts in Practice: Memphis Connections," which will include Rebecca Edwards, executive director of the Cultural Development Foundation of Memphis; Jackie Nichols, executive director of Playhouse on the Square; and Dorothy Gunther Pugh, founder of Ballet Memphis.

"It's great that Rhodes is taking this leadership role in looking at the arts and how you develop leadership in the arts," Hussong said. "Really what we'll be talking about is how arts organizations are critical to the formation of a vibrant and dynamic society."

Getting 'engaged'

The conference is being hosted by the CODA program at Rhodes, which started last fall with a $4.9 million grant from the Robert and Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust of Wichita Falls, Texas. For more information on CODA and its leadership, see our Dec. 23, 2005, Standout feature on John Weeden at

Among its busy slate of events, CODA will present its first Arts Leadership Award, which will be given to First Congregational Church in Midtown.

Nominations for the award were sought from the community and reviewed by a panel of local arts leaders. First Congo, as it's popularly known, stood out from the pack for its contribution to the arts, Rhodes officials said.

"We're recognizing them because of what they do," Weeden said. "They're not a wealthy congregation. But they've got a lot of space they provide to different groups - right now I think they have about eight nonprofit organizations in their space."

The conference, which Rhodes intends to try and duplicate regularly in some form, was born out of the same ideas that drive the operation of the CODA program. One could aptly be described as the motif for the department: How can academics, arts advocates, consultants, artists and publicly policy makers all be encouraged to do more toward elevating the role of the arts?

"We just wanted a forum to get people engaged in these issues," Weeden said.