Governor and First Lady Haslam Honor Ten recipients of the 2017 Governor’s Arts Awards

2017 Governor Arts Awards Recipients
Top Row L to R: Stephanie Silverman, The Belcourt Theatre; Bob Fulcher; Kallen Esperian; Jim Clayton. Middle Row L to R: Allan Benton, Jim Ayers, John Doyle, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. Bottom Row L to R: Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Governor Bill Haslam, First Lady Crissy Haslam, Janet Ayers, Celia Garduño

By Anne B. Pope, Executive Director –

In an award ceremony held in Conservation Hall at the Executive Residence the evening of March 7, 2017, Governor and First Lady Haslam honored ten recipients with the Tennessee Governor’s Arts Award. The recipients who represent the best in arts and culture in Tennessee join 225 others who have also received Tennessee’s highest honor in the arts since 1971.

“Tennessee’s artistic heritage and culture are among the richest in the nation, and across the globe we’re known for our music and creativity,” Governor Haslam said. “These ten outstanding recipients contribute to the breadth, depth and quality of arts and culture in our state. Crissy and I want to congratulate them on their contributions to Tennessee, and we are so glad they call this great state home.”.”

The ten recipients come from all walks of life and symbolize the tremendous diversity of the arts and culture of Tennessee.

“The evening was a celebration of the value that the arts bring to our communities, our schools and our lives,” said Lisa Bobango, chair of the Tennessee Arts Commission.

The Governor’s Arts Awards were first established in 1971 by the Tennessee Arts Commission to recognize those individuals and groups that have made outstanding contributions to the cultural life of Tennessee. The Governor’s Arts Awards are presented in three different categories — Folklife Heritage, Arts Leadership and Distinguished Artist.

The arts help build stronger communities by enhancing quality of life and the distinctive character of Tennessee places. The 2017 recipients of the Governor’s Arts Award have each contributed significantly in defining who we are as a state.

The 2017 recipients are:

Folklife Heritage Award: Allan Benton, Smoky Mountain Country Hams, Madisonville
Allan Benton is the owner of Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams. Benton has honed the dry curing of hams and bacon into a culinary art, catapulting the products from a simple breakfast mainstay into the world of gourmet cooking where they have been praised for their characteristic flavor.

Folklife Heritage Award: Celia Garduño, Chattanooga
Born in the town of Tierras Coloradas, Mexico, Celia Garduño arrived in Chattanooga in 1998 and continued to practice the traditional arts of her native region in her new home. She is a master of traditional Mexican needlework that includes cross-stitching, crochet and openwork.

Folklife Heritage Award: Bob Fulcher, Folklorist, Clinton
Bob Fulcher’s four decades of prolific folklife fieldwork are unrivaled in the state of Tennessee, and nearly so in the country. Fulcher’s fieldwork on the Cumberland Plateau, which began in the 1970s, led to the discovery of some of the most outstanding traditional artists ever known.

Arts Leadership Award: Jim and Janet Ayers, Nashville
Jim and Janet Ayers have a long history of community leadership and philanthropy throughout Tennessee. When FirstBank moved to Nashville in 2011, it sparked an expansion of the Ayers’ giving and leadership in the Nashville arts sector, including the creation of a remarkable art collection that only features Tennessee artists.

Arts Leadership Award: The Belcourt Theatre, Nashville
Nashville’s local non-profit cinema, The Belcourt Theatre is dedicated to presenting the best of independent, documentary, world, repertory and classic cinema for people of all ages to discover, explore and learn through the power of film.

Arts Leadership Award: Jim Clayton, Knoxville
James L. Clayton created the Clayton Family Foundation in 1990 for the benefit of present and future generations of Tennesseans. It is a vital source of support for cultural, education and human services programs in the region.

Arts Leadership Award: Memphis Rock n Soul Museum, Memphis
The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum offers a comprehensive Memphis music experience from the music of the field and farm workers of the 1930s, through Memphis’ musical heyday and the explosion of Sun, Stax and Hi Records in the 1970s, to its global musical influence.

Distinguished Artist Award: Kallan Esperian, Opera Singer, Memphis
Kallen Esperian is considered one of opera’s most acclaimed lyric sopranos. She has been paired with leading male opera vocalists including Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and Jose Carreras, and has held leading roles at every major opera house in the world.

Distinguished Artist Award: Vince Gill, Singer/Songwriter, Nashville
Vince Gill has recorded 18 studio albums, charted over 40 singles on the U.S. Billboard charts and sold more than 26 million albums. He has earned 18 CMA Awards, including two Entertainer of the Year trophies.

Distinguished Artist Award: Amy Grant, Singer/Songwriter, Nashville
Amy Grant is the first Contemporary Christian artist to have a platinum record, the first to reach Number One on the pop charts and the first to perform at the Grammy Awards. Having sold over 30 million units worldwide, Grant remains the best-selling contemporary Christian singer of all time.


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