ARTS LEADERSHIP RECIPIENT, 2017 GOVERNOR’S ARTS AWARDS
Jim and Janet Ayers have a long history of community leadership and philanthropy throughout the state of Tennessee. When FirstBank shifted its executive leadership from Lexington to Nashville in 2011, it sparked an expansion of the Ayers’ giving and leadership in the Nashville arts sector. The Ayers’ presence in the Nashville community is underscored by the basic philosophy of their company—local people are the key to relationships and community. They have lived this motto while extending their leadership to the arts world.
Originally from Parsons, TN, Jim Ayers made his early business career running a network of nursing homes. He bought a small bank in Scotts Hill, Tennessee, in 1984 and grew it into FirstBank. As chairman and sole owner of FirstBank, he has grown assets from $14 million to $2.3 billion, making it Tennessee’s third-largest bank. Janet Ayers, previously a health care administrator and the former head of the Tennessee Health Care Association, is the president of the Ayers Foundation. Launched in 1999, the Ayers Foundation focuses its philanthropic efforts on college scholarships, children’s medical services and pre-cancer research. To date, the Ayers Foundation has awarded more than 4,200 scholarships to graduating high school seniors. Since its inception, graduation rates in Decatur, Henderson and Perry counties have exceeded the state average.
In 2011 the Ayers began to assemble a corporate art collection that included works in a variety of different media and styles from artists who had lasting ties to Tennessee. The Ayers partnered with Anne Brown, owner of the Arts Company, who helped organize and curate the collection to become one of the largest private collections of Tennessee artists. It features over 200 works including artists such as Red Grooms, Sylvia Hyman, Ron Porter and Andrew Saftel. The collection is open to the community, and the Ayers frequently organize community receptions and private tours. In 2012 local art curators and historians Celia Walker and Susan Knowles were engaged to create a collection catalog, The Art of Community, the Janet & Jim Ayers Collection. Book proceeds have supported Humanities Tennessee and their programming.
This connection to working artists inspired additional engagement in arts education. In 2012 the Ayers Foundation provided funding to support “Art Smart,” a monthly feature section in Nashville Arts Magazine that highlights arts educators, student artists, and those in the business of learning and the arts. This sponsorship bridges their deep commitment to public education and their newfound love of art and artists. Additionally, the Ayers have immersed themselves in the Nashville Symphony and continue to play an ongoing leadership role with the Nashville Symphony board and its public programming.
Special thanks to Anne Brown and The Arts Company. Still photographs by John Schweikert.
Videography by The Moving Picture Boys; Editing by Christie Caldwell; Directed by Suzanne Lynch