VOL. 131 | NO. 101 | Friday, May 20, 2016
Hardy Makes Art Accessible for Millennials
By JOHN KLYCE MINERVINI
Memphis stands at the threshold of incredible possibility. In this series, we introduce innovative Memphians who are driving our city forward and forging its future success.
Whitney Hardy is a woman on the move. The day we meet, she’s supervising 200 tons of soybeans as they make their way from hopper trucks onto train cars. Then she’s off to the premier of “Genesis,” a collection of new works presented by Collage Dance Collective.
“It’s a beautiful production,” Hardy shouts, over the roar of the soybeans. “I’m excited to see such diversity and innovation becoming visible in Memphis’ artistic renaissance.”
Not that you’d ever guess from her stylish red loafers, but Hardy is the financial controller at Henderson Transloading, a Memphis company that moves agricultural and consumer goods from one mode of transport to another. It’s a dusty job, and it would be more than enough for most people.
Not Hardy. Since she came home to Memphis two years ago, she has launched LesBiFriends and Out901, two online resources for the local LGBTQ community. She currently co-directs OutFlix, the Memphis LGBTQ film festival. And in her copious spare time, she is the executive director of Young Arts Patrons, a nonprofit that connects young professionals with Memphis artists.
Because why settle for one job when you can excel at four or five?
“That’s what I love about Memphis,” she explains. “There’s really a chance for you to jump in and make a difference.”
Growing up in Germantown, Hardy attended plays, ballets and musicals; her parents considered them an integral part of her education. As a young woman, she took up piano and oil painting; she even flirted with a sculpture major in college. But earlier than most, she realized her relationship with art would be different.
“After a few false starts, I finally had to admit that I’m not an artist,” she recalls. “Still, I needed art to be a part of my world.”
Hardy earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in accounting from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, followed by a short stint at a CPA firm in Atlanta. Her first foray into community building came in 2014, when she founded LesBiFriends (“Let’s Be Friends”), a meetup group for Memphis lesbians.
From Hardy’s point of view, the problem was simple. Memphis had plenty of lesbians, but they didn’t know about each other.
“At the time, the visibility wasn’t there,” she recalls. “But it was nothing a few mimosas couldn’t solve.”
LesBiFriends began meeting once or twice a month for things like brunch, bowling and concerts. Then a funny thing happened. Organizations like Opera Memphis and the Orpheum started calling. They were hoping to reach a new audience, so they offered things like discounted tickets and memberships. That’s how Hardy got the idea for Young Arts Patrons (YAP).
“I realized millennials want to see the ballet,” she recalls. “They want to see the opera. But they’re intimidated. They need an introduction. Maybe more importantly, they need somebody to go with.”
Now in its second year, YAP offers a calendar of events designed to connect millennials with local artists. Over the past few months, for example, members have taken a private tour of the Le Bonheur art collection and participated in a workshop on art collecting – to say nothing of the many gallery shows and performances they attend en masse.
Perhaps the highlight of the YAP calendar is Young Collectors Memphis, an annual art fair. This year, the event featured 70 original works by 23 emerging artists from around the world. More than 200 young Memphians attended, and 25 percent of the art sold right there on the spot. For Hardy, it’s a vindication of her belief in the power of art to bring people together despite – or perhaps because of – what makes them different.
“Diversity used to be Power Rangers,” she explains. “There would be an Asian one, a white one, a black one, a Hispanic one. But now it goes so much deeper. It’s gay dads and transgender teens and an athlete in a wheelchair.”
“That’s what I love about art,” she continues. “The way it takes you to a different place, shows you things you normally wouldn’t experience. How it helps you get outside yourself and shows you what it’s like to live in somebody else’s skin.”
Whitney Hardy is a graduate of Embark at New Memphis. Learn more at newmemphis.org.