2017 Governor’s Arts Awards, a great night for the Arts in Tennessee

2017 Governor's Arts Awards
Back Row L to R: Allen Benton, Amy Grant, James A. Clayton, Vince Gill, Governor Bill Haslam, First Lady Crissy Haslam. Front row L to R: Stephanie Silverman, Jim Ayers, Janet Ayers, Celia Garduño, Kallen Esperian, Bob Fulcher, John Doyle.

By Anne B. Pope, Executive Director –

Last week, the Governor Bill and First Lady Crissy Haslam hosted the 2017 Governor’s Arts Awards in Conservation Hall. The Tennessee Arts Commission is always honored and proud to present this event on their behalf. This year’s event was very successful with ten well-deserving recipients receiving Tennessee’s highest honor in the arts.

We are most grateful to Governor and First Lady Haslam for their tradition this year, their fourth and final time presenting the awards. Their commitment to honoring arts organizations, arts leaders and artists in this way is a testament to the important role that arts and culture have in defining who we are as a state.

I would like to acknowledge Lisa Bobango, Commission chair and Patsy White Camp, the chair of this year’s event, as well as other members of the Commission and the Commission staff who helped make this night possible.

I would also like to give a big thank you to the evening’s performers, the Amy LaVere Quartet, Austin Derryberry and Casy Meikle. Kallen Esperian was so gracious to treat us to an amazing performance with her accompanist, Gary Beard.

We were honored to have members of the General Assembly, state commissioners and other representatives from our state government in our audience, including Lt. Governor Randy McNally, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, and Chair of the Arts Caucus Senator Doug Overbey. On behalf of the arts and culture in Tennessee, we thank you for your support.

The 2017 Tennessee Governor’s Arts Awards recipients came from all walks of life and symbolize the tremendous diversity, depth, and quality of the arts and culture that we have here.

The recipients include:

• Allen Benton of Benton’s Country Hams (Madisonville), is a traditional country ham curer, fondly known as the “King of Bacon” and who is Tennessee’s first foodways recipient.

Celia Garduño (Chattanooga), is a master of traditional Mexican needlework whose art is always on point.

• Bob Fulcher (Clinton), is the Park Manager of the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail and public folklorist whose life’s  work has been to preserve Tennessee’s

voices. Bob is the first folklorist to receive Tennessee’s FolkLife Heritage Award.

• Jim and Janet Ayers (Nashville), have a long history of community leadership philanthropy throughout the state. The Ayers have assembled a corporate art collection that is one of the largest private collections of Tennessee artist.

• The Belcourt Theatre, Nashville’s local nonprofit film center has had a historical presence in the Hillsboro Village neighborhood for more than 90 years. The Belcourt is one of the state’s most vibrant arts organizations and is a national leader among the countries art houses.

• James A. Clayton (Knoxville), philanthropist and artist in his own right, who has long supported the arts in East Tennessee.

• The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, is dedicated to telling the story of music in Memphis and its place at the crossroads of American music.

• Kallen Esperian (Memphis), regarded as one of the greatest operatic sopranos, whose warmth, power and charm have wowed kings and queens and who has sung leading roles in every major opera house in the world. Giving to hospitals, charities and other organizations associated with children is at the core of Experian’s heart, including St. Jude Research Hospital and Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

• Vince Gill (Nashville), a country singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist he has earned 20 Grammy awards more than any country music artist and sold more than 26 million albums. Gill is a once-in-a-generation artist who defies category and who is today’s country music statesman forging a bridge between traditional and contemporary and has long been recognized for his community and charity involvement.

• Amy Grant (Nashville), is credited for putting the genre of Contemporary Christian music on the mainstream map. She is the first Contemporary Christian artist to have a platinum record, the first to reach No. 1on the Pop charts and the first to perform at the Grammy awards, and remains the bestselling Christian singer of all time. A long time and active Nashville resident, Grant is as well known for her philanthropy as her music.

Finally, I would like to especially thank the following for their contributions in making this year’s event a great success:

  • Liza Blair
  • Anne Brown, The Arts Company
  • David Butler
  • Hugh Howser, H Three Events
  • Knoxville Museum of Art
  • Memphis Opera
  • Jay Orr
  • Steven J. Ross
  • Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development
  • Tennessee Golf Foundation & The Vinny Invitational
  • The Tennessee Malt Beverage Association
  • The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

See photos from the event at the Governor’s Flickr page:

Visit our 2017 Award Winners webpage to the video of each recipient along with their bio.