Genma Speaks

Entrepreneur/ Writer/ Radio-Host

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Conversation with Frist Center's CEO Susan Edwards: Art, Culture, and Community

On Sunday, September 12, I said “so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye” to The Golden Age of Couture exhibit at the Frist Center. As many of you know from my blogging, Twitter and Facebook postings, I spent my entire summer at the museum in my self-appointed role as Chairperson of the Committee of One. I am determined to make this the “best year yet” for the city’s iconic building that is fast becoming the epicenter for art in the South. The Frist Center's summer exhibits included Chihuly, the photographs of Tokihiro Sato, and the wildly popular Victoria and Albert Museum’s The Golden Age of Couture, an exhibition in which history and fashion are woven together with intricate and gorgeous precision.

After the outpouring of encouragement from readers of the Tribune in response to the lifestyle fashion section that was produced to show the positive influences of the exhibit on young ladies in our community, I reached out to Ms. Edwards for more details about the exhibit, the museum and to go more in-depth with you about by my adventures at the Frist Center. We heard from hundreds who wanted to know how Nashville was chosen to host the collection that influenced Paris and London designers during 1947-1957. My meeting with Ms. Edwards felt more like two lifelong friends chatting about relatives from back home. I was armed with questions and wanted to learn firsthand about the museum’s mission to integrate art, culture, and community together in ways that have the potential to impact our region and possibly the nation. Ms. Edwards graciously spent Sunday morning sharing with me her life, her passionate love of the arts and the future plans for the Frist Center.

There were common bonds that were recognized right away by learning of our shared heritage of being from small towns with mothers who insisted that dressing in your Sunday’s best was not limited to Sundays. Although her education was not part of our conversation, Ms. Edwards is an Adjunct Professor at Vanderbilt. She is a graduate of City University of New York. Ms. Edwards has a Ph.D. in Modern and Contemporary Art and Photography. She has been the CEO of the Frist Center for over six years.

Our conversation started out with both of us admiring several vintage pieces of clothing loaned to me from Joyce Searcy. In my possession was Joyce’s mother’s black Sunday suit and the opera coat worn by Joyce to the Schermerhorn Symphony’s Inaugural celebrations. As we both admired the pieces, I told Ms. Edwards that my words to Joyce at that time were that her regal dress and coat were worthy of being in a museum because she looked so stunning. Who knew that four years later, I would have her clothes photographed in a museum! That info was an icebreaker as we started thumbing through the pages of Sunday’s top seller, The Golden Age of Couture catalog from the exhibition. From there Ms. Edwards took me into her world as leader of the Frist Center.

Ms. Edwards said, “This year was a perfect storm of bringing many unique art shows together at once. The year started out with the Heroes exhibit during which we worked with the Parthenon and the Chihuly exhibit with us working with Cheekwood.”

I have enjoyed each exhibit but the one that has been dear to my heart was the couture show. The most asked question after the photo shoot was how did the Frist Center obtain the collection? Ms. Edwards said, “It was always the goal of the Frist center to bring a fashion show to the museum.”

The staff began researching the possibility of the Victoria and Albert exhibit nearly three years ago. A show as intricate as the couture show was a feat that could not be done on a short notice.

“We are always mediating mediums, culture, time periods, and of course budgets when we are considering bringing an exhibit to the museum,” Ms. Edward stated. The only time the couture show could come to Nashville was this summer. Since the exhibit was already in North America in Canada, bringing it Nashville helped lower the international shipping costs.

Ms. Edwards explained that the couture exhibit involved months of design planning and installation details. The mannequins were custom built for each piece of clothing and all of the cases were specially designed to hold such rare and fragile works of art. The mannequins and cases were already made and loan to the Frist Center which was another cost saving measure. Even the exhibition guide took untold hours to design to help bring the show to life. Years of planning were unveiled on June 18, 2010 and visitors filled the galleries of all the exhibition halls.

I personally hosted socials events and educational tours at the Frist Center. Women group like Les Gemmes’ and Brentwood Woman’s Club, to name a few, brought friends and family to the show. On August 7, 'Cocktails and Couture" was held at the Frist Center. The social event brought out the faithful, the curious, and the fashionably chic crowds to support the museum. Nashville Parent magazine sponsored Family Day a week later and nearly 4500 spent the afternoon marveling over the unique and different collections. With all the excitement, we could only build on the success of the summer shows for an incredible fall exhibit with the Birth of Impressionism.

I left in the middle of the last week because of a family emergency but promised everyone I would return for the final curtain call for The Golden Age of Couture exhibit. I had barely put my luggage down when emails from members of the community asking about the judge’s ruling in regard to Fisk University’s Stieglitz art collection and involvement of the Frist Center. After reading a few more emails that left me confused, I called the Frist Center to let them know my family was okay and asked if our interview for Sunday was still on.

While waiting for our interview on Sunday, I watched the storylines about Fisk University’s Stieglitz Collection that is awaiting a judge’s ruling if it can be sold or not to help school financially, go from one scenario to another. Since my meeting was already scheduled, I contacted Ms. Edwards to make sure we could address the Frist Center’s involvement in the new turn of events with the Stieglitz Collection on Fisk’s campus. Here is our exchange about the Fisk University and the Frist Center.

Genma: "As we were wrapping up the summer and I was looking forward to this great weekend I had planned with tours booked back to back. I think it is important that if I am asking someone to come to the Frist Center, I need to be at the door to greet them when they come in. That is my way of giving back and showing the wonderful things we have at the Frist Center. On Friday I received an email wanting to know what is happening with the Frist Center and Fisk. I was thinking “I don’t know let me make sure I find out.”

Ms. Edwards: “First, let me say we believe the Stieglitz Collection should remain at Fisk University in the Van Vechten Gallery as Georgia O’Keeffe intended when she gave the art to the school.

The Frist Center and Fisk University have shared an institutional partnership since before the Frist Center opened in 2001. We have worked over the past 10 years in productive collaboration in many ways, including lectures, discussions, presentations, tours of the campus and being asked by the university to store the Stieglitz Collection from 2005 until 2008 during the renovation of the Van Vechten Gallery where it’s currently on view.

What is at issue here in the court case is Georgia O’Keeffe’s intent when she gave this collection to Fisk University. She gave it – 101 works in 1949 -- to Fisk for the specific benefit of Nashville and the South. There were several terms attached to the gift: that it never be sold, that it must be shown in its entirety on white walls, that it not travel, that it be shown in the way she laid it out to be seen.

“This art is valuable. Very valuable. As times have become difficult economically, it’s tempting to look to the sale of the art to raise funds, and this has happened on other college campuses. It’s a difficult place to be, but what the state is looking at is… ‘What did the donor intend to do with the gift?’

“The attorney general is charged to protect donors wishes when it comes to gifts to colleges, museums, foundations, religious organizations and other recipients of gifts and bequests, and it is on these grounds that this issue has ended up in court.

“The attorney general of the State of Tennessee was asked by the Chancery Court to offer a proposal that would keep the Stieglitz Collection in Nashville and on view, as O’Keeffe wished, and asked the Frist Center if we would be willing to temporarily place the works on view, should the Chancery Court look favorably on the proposal. Our Board of Trustees discussed the matter at great length and determined that should the court select the attorney general’s proposal, we would agree to temporarily place the works on exhibition and make the collection available to all visitors free of charge until such time as the court determined it should be returned to the Fisk University campus.

“There may be some who might think the Frist Center wants the Stieglitz Collection. We do not. The Frist Center was conceived as, and remains, a non-collecting institution. The intent of the Frist Center is NOT to have a permanent collection of art.”

As our conversation transitioned from Georgia O’Keeffe's Gift to Fisk University to the upcoming Birth of Impressionism, Ms. Edwards’s eyes beamed vibrantly. She spoke excitedly about the upcoming exhibit. As thrilled as I was about The Golden Age of Couture collection, I could feel her love for this period of art history. Her passion for this period of art history encouraged me to become an official docent tour guide. So long, farewell to my chairperson of the committee of one title! More than ever, I am committed to bringing as many members of the community to the Frist Center.

“The vision of the Frist Center is to inspire people through art to look at their world in new ways.” I was inspired this summer to look at the world around me with a fresh perspective. My spirit as a volunteer was renewed. I saw the value of my community like never before. The friendships that were built by many of us coming together for our community to have the best year yet, will always be with me. I am hoping that as we move through next few weeks that everyone in the community will work for the greater good for all our wonderful institutions that we have in Music City. Rather it is a museum that is in an old post office or an institution of higher learning whose main goal is to educate students to become productive members of society. Art can inspire us to look at our world in new ways.

Photos credit: Photographer *Filmmaker

P.S. I met David at the Frist Center one evening in August...enjoying music, art, and the wonderful exhibit.

Update: In three months, the Frist Center had a record breaking 196,000 visitors! That attendance record beat all markets except one for visitors to a Museum!

Update:"Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle rejected the proposal Tuesday afternoon, saying Cooper had not come up with a "long-term solution to keep the collection in Nashville full-time."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mike Wherter's campaign needs prayers, keep your votes

Last week, President Clinton was in town campaigning for the Tennessee Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Mike McWherter. The fundraiser was billed as the Democratic event to attend this election season and was sure to unite the Tennessee Democrats. Old Bill without Hil was meant to electrify the diehard old-timers and to transfer Clinton's energy to McWherter's lifeless campaign. I was not in attendance but I was wired for updates. Clinton’s visit has me wondering, what is happening to Tennessee Democrats, especially, professional black voters in the party? When I look at the demographics of those that have been supporters of the party’s inclusiveness, I question if anyone is noticing the absence of men and women of color on the stage at fund-raising events.

Now, I know some folks maybe holding on to the nostalgic days of Governor McWherter but folks his son is not the same type of politician. Hearing Mr. McWherter speak has an anesthetizing dumbing down effect on me. His sentences usually start with “my diddy” and “Governor Bredesen”. After spouting those four words, little else is really understandable. I call him “Arizona lite” because he mentions Arizona more than he mentions Tennessee the few times I was able to translate a few of his stump speeches. I know that sounds harsh and cruel but many are noticing his lack of political savvy.

Prior to the election of the country's First Black President, President Obama, many black folks loved President Clinton dearly, even with his baggage. Remember when Clinton was called the first black President? My, how time flies. With that kind of love and affection known about the people of color for President Clinton, why would the Tennessee Democratic Party pull a Glenn Beck styled event with one person of color on the program? Instead of having Representative John Deberry of Memphis to share words of support for McWherter, he was asked to pray. With as many Tennessee mega churches with rock star preachers who can influence thousands with an “amen”, none graced the stage to bless the audience. While the Representative who has influence on thousands in a predominantly black district, was given the role that is usually designated for a preacher in the community. I hope Deberry was praying hard for McWherter, because he is going to need a legion of angels to help him get elected. By no means am I suggesting that there was something wrong with Deberry praying at the occasion, but the event was very telling about how McWherter's camp is out of touch with reaching out to all people.

McWherter’s part-time Democrat campaign lacks diversity that is craved by the usual Democratic base. McWherter is teetering close to Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer's ideology and her lack of ability to articulate her stance on issues. As I have stated before, it is easy to point the finger at Republicans who are seen as exclusive. But many must be willing to call a spade a spade when Democrats are guilty of the same actions. Tennessee Democrats are doing a lousy job of being inclusive and working very hard to include the fringed voices that are creeping into mainstream political conversations and debates daily. My grandfather often warned his grandchildren about not taking the right to vote for granted. He said that the faithful that vote early and often won’t be considered by any political party worthy of being courted or counted because of those who squandered their influence by not voting. Daddy was ahead of his time. In this mid-term campaigning season, black folks are being discounted in many Democratic campaigns, even right here in Tennessee. Remember Andrew Jackson Day? Black folks were included only if they bought a ticket and showed up. There was no representation of people of color who have long been considered the faithful base of the Democratic Party on stage. You think I am talking nonsense? Look at the line up for the highly promoted affair. Tributes were paid to outgoing Democratic leaders; Governor Phil Bredesen, Congressmen Bart Gordon and John Tanner. Scheduled remarks at the cheer-a-thon were made by Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester, Congressmen Jim Cooper and Lincoln Davis, State Senator and Congressional Candidate Roy Herron, Gubernatorial Candidate Mike McWherter, and Clinton’s VP, Al Gore. The keynote speaker was Vice President, Joe Biden. The lineup was all white males over fifty. No women, minorities, or young folks spoke on the program. Interesting. At Davidson County Democratic Unity Day, the stage was absence of color as well . Throw a rock and you might hit a black Democrat office holder in Davidson County. And folks are questioning me for writing about Mayor Haslam's visit to Jefferson Street. Kool aide alert!

Let us go deeper. Look at the women of color that are elected state officials. Are any of them active with McWherter’s campaign? Think. But McWherter trots out Mayor Dean, former Congressman Tanner, and Governor Bredesen to talk about the wonderful things his father did as Governor. If he is elected, none of these men will be able to help push his legislative agenda. Hello, anyone home? I attended a McWherter event to hear a stump speech. Within ten minutes, I was calling out to Baby Jesus for him to stop rambling. I was begging for the event to end. Begging! I could barely tweet as I struggled with remarks that were borderline condescending in many ways. “Y’all know my diddy was good to y’all” can only get you so far with young folks. But by the looks on the faces of some of the mature voters in the room, they were struggling with the remarks too. I could not nibble on the beautiful bounty on my plate because I was fighting back vomit. Yuk. I asked a few questions that he did not have answers too and he made a snide comment about bloggers. I am a blogger with a syndicated column. Not good.

McWherter is not only the one overlooking folks. Everyone is testing the “you don’t count cause you don’t vote anyway” thinking that was brought on the community by folks not going to the polls to vote. Look at political new comer and cute as a button state senate candidate, Jeff Yarbro. Yarbo could have beaten the snot out of Douglas Henry if he had stepped up his game in the black and the Hispanic community. One thing we know at the Tribune; in local races, old folks vote while young folks eat your food, pose for pictures and shout “change”. He ran a campaign that even the old heads admired but he did not include the Tennessee Tribune in his campaign budget. Opps! His competitor was inclusive in his marketing and met with several ethnic newspapers. Who do you think Tribune readers voted for? Right or wrong for the job, voters want to know their politicians know they exist. When you lose an election by less than twenty votes, an ad or two in the most widely read black newspaper would have eliminated nightly tossing that Yarbro is probably enduring right now. You know he is wondering what the hell he could have done differently. But then again color folks were not courted. Don’t get me wrong, I really, really liked Yarbro and reached out to him several times to meet with the publisher but that is water for another bridge.

Y’all can keep looking at me sided eye because of my blog about Mayor Haslam. I only posted what he said. Do not let your vote be taken for granted; your vote is as important as you make it. In the meantime, I am headed to Knoxville this weekend. Folks up there know how to dialogue with a blogger from 1501 Jefferson Street!

Photo credit...I got off his website because this photo sums up exactly what I am thinking!


Holmes Pest Control was referred to a new customer this week. I drove over to East Nashville to meet the owners of a nursing home. They had bedbugs. It took all of thirty seconds to spot the creepy critters. I started asking them to remove items out the home immediately. Unlike other pest control companies, I will not treat mattresses; they are sent to the garbage dump immediately.

After inspecting the home, I sat on the porch to talk to the sweet couple about their business and mutual contacts. They were nice and I believe this will be a good account. They are well connected so I am looking forward to the referrals. On my way home, I felt a small twitch around ankle and instantly I thought "oh no"! As soon as I pulled in my drive way, I started disrobing on the spot. When I took off my shoes and socks, I saw three bedbugs waiting for me to bring them inside my home.

As simple as walking into another facility, you can bring bedbugs home with you. And they are not the easiest critters to get rid of. Because this is a nursing, this job will take us a minute to get things under control. I was told by the owner that one of the patients received a box from out of town three weeks ago and since that time they the patients have complained of intense itching at night. Below are pics of bedbugs. Boy,do they multiply quickly! If you are starting to itch at night check you around your mattress for spots and these little critters.

Photo credit: Louento

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Christian Protests That Produces Ungodly Behavior

Middle Tennessee is part of what is known as the Bible belt. “A church on every corner” is how we are depicted. For every church, there are five associate ministers waiting to hear “the call” to start their own church or begging God that main preacher will allow them to preach one Sunday. We have several national Christian organizations that are headquartered in Nashville: the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention, and the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church are just a few examples. Lifeway, RH Boyd, and the United Methodist Publishing House are Christian entities that produce church material for church folks to gain a better understanding and knowledge of God daily.

This area is home to several colleges that have Christian roots or missions: Belmont, David Lipscomb, Fisk, Meharry Medical College, Trevecca, and Vanderbilt are all titans in secondary education. These colleges have produced some of the most intelligent, nationally recognized folks who are highly respected throughout the world. Many national Christian conventions are held here as well. The National Religious Broadcaster (NRB) is one the most successful conventions held here annually. National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) is a non-partisan, international association of Christian communicators whose member organizations represent millions of listeners, viewers and readers. If you want to be on the television or radio and you want to call it a ministry, NRB is a conference you should attend. The Middle Tennessee area is also the number one region in the country for home school families. Many home school families cite religion as their primary reason for homeschooling. The number of private Christian schools in the area are too numerous to even begin to list.

With all Christ-centered organizations mentioned above, the behaviors of some church folks are keeping Middle Tennessee in the national spotlight. The spotlight seems to say we are church goers who are deeply devoted to our religious beliefs but are not practicing the tenets of loving our neighbors and Christ like acceptance of others. We are wearing hypocritical halos. I have received several calls from curious media friends from around the country asking what is happening in my beloved Volunteer state. My friends were stating that the many stories I have written about the Volunteer State’s generosity and philanthropy endeavors to those in need did not seem like the same state that is producing extreme ungodly behavior towards others who not of the Christians faith. It is a phenomenon that I am having a hard time trying to explain because I am perplexed as well.

Lately, there have been several protests against proposed Mosques in our area that have become very heated and have evoked fear in Christians that Islamic extremists are taking over. Really? With thousands of churches in the Middle Tennessee area that serves millions of Christians, three Mosques are a threat to the faith to Tennessee Christians? Hmm, let that soak for a minute. Protesters have gone from lawfully honking horns, signing petitions, and protesting Mosque locations at council meetings to someone crossing the line by burning construction equipment on the site of the property of the Murfreesboro’s Mosque, which is criminal. With the South’s ugly history of protests that have lead to the burning of property, the burning of the construction equipment was too close to numerous stories that I have heard from my parents and grandparents on the Civil Right battlefield. Many of the protests have been cloaked in biblical poetry and using constitutional sounding words that sound very unconstitutional. All of this protesting had me digging deep to separate fact from fear with a friend.

Since we debate political issues often for sport, I shared with her some of my concerns of where the protests can lead if voices of reasons do not speak up soon. Damaging property leads to harming individuals physically and neither are Godly behaviors. My concerns were deflected with her view that Islam was becoming the “new” religion of our country which she stated was founded on Judeo-Christian values. The discussion had us nursing our coffee cups for three hours.

For several weeks, her emails were sounding the alarm to take the country the back and the need for us to remember the constitution was founded by our Founding Fathers. I would reply that I refuse to live in fear. At our coffee summit, I gave her a copy of the Bill of Rights with the First Amendment highlighted. I asked her to read it out loud.

She read, “"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." After she read it, we both sat in silent for a moment. I could feel her becoming angry in her silence. I said to her, “Fear can provoke us into mayhem and madness.” The Constitution that my friend wants us to get back to gives us the freedom of religion, no matter who we worship; it gives us freedom of speech to say what we want no matter how sane or vile it may be; it gives us the right to read this blog weekly through the freedom of the press; it give us the right to the freedom of assembly so we can meet to protest or pray, and allows us to complain about our government because we have the right to petition the government. That is what separates us from countries like Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

“Try calling the leader of China a socialist and see where it gets you,” I said to her with a smile. After another pot of coffee, we realized that we were going to have differing views on the actions of burning the equipment at the Mosque site. I finally pleaded: how can we read our bible daily and allow the hate and fear of others to fester from our pores? ‘Isn’t that the opposite of being a Christian,” I asked sadly. “I don’t hate them,” she said quietly. I was not trying to change her mind on any issues, I only wanted to her understand and respect my family’s heritage of non violent protests that I strongly believe in today. I have friends from all different backgrounds. We have dialogued about the Mosques buildings that have the media swarming in Tennessee like termites.

Tennessee has become a haven for national corporations over the last decade or so. With trade and industry booms, diversity in ethnicity and religion has followed. As we have opened our arms to invite others to Tennessee for economic reasons, we have to accept with those invitations an influx of other cultures. Those cultures which at one time were in the background are more visible because of the growth in our population, the anti-Muslim political climate, and the ever present media hype without a purpose.

In this age of social media, it is easy to adopt a Twitter mindset of follow and unfollow the constitution depending on how we feel about a particular subject matter. But as Christians, folks are supposedly to think and act different, right? Since there are Christian groups and church folks as numerous as the stars above in the Middle Tennessee area, I would have thought a leader would have stepped forward from one of the many national Christian organizations that are based here and calmed the masses with words that would curtail violent behavior knowing our Southern heritage of protests followed by cruelty. We are in desperate need of leaders who preach the gospel to remind us to practice the words that printed in our area by the hour. Let me close with the verse that I closed my coffee session with my friend.

19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

As great as the constitution, it is has undergone several revision. However, God's word has stood the test of time.

Photo Credit:(John A. Gillis/DNJ)

Article first published as Christian Protests that Produce Ungodly Behavior on Blogcritics.
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