MEMPHIS — Nykesha Cole grew up in the arts and culture.
One of his earliest memories is going to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater when he was eight years old. She remembers going to festivals with her parents, “sharing a general appreciation for arts and culture”.
And now, she plans to become a Shelby County arts and culture expert, advocating and educating about these organizations as the county’s premier arts and culture liaison.
“I think it will be very important that we have equity in the arts across the community, regardless of where you live in Shelby County, whether you are in the farthest reaches of the outskirts or in the heart of the Shelby County, we want to make sure that all communities, all people have access to arts and culture because, as you know, we have a lot of arts and culture communities that are unique and unique all over the world” , Cole said.
Cole began serving in the role in July after it was created at the suggestion of the Shelby County Nonprofit Committee, a committee created last year by Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris to bring together representatives from more of 150 nonprofit organizations to identify barriers to service and solutions to problems.
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She has a background in the nonprofit and public sectors, most recently working as the Executive Director of Mustard Seed Inc., a nonprofit social service organization. She also previously worked with the city and county in the Joint Planning and Development Division and with the Greater Memphis Chamber.
Cole holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Southern Methodist University and is a candidate for a master’s degree in public service from the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas.
In the new role, Cole hopes to raise awareness for Shelby County organizations locally and nationally. She began by meeting with organizations ranging from the Carpenter Art Garden to the New Ballet Ensemble.
“The next step is to create advocacy work around the importance of the arts in our community, taking that information and projecting it,” she said.
Janet Lo, community partnerships manager for the county, also works as a liaison for the nonprofit committee.
That committee spawned the idea of an arts and culture liaison after realizing that Memphis-Shelby County was the only metropolitan area in the country without such a person, Lo said.
“Arts and culture are really the heart and soul of the community,” Lo said. “We wanted to make sure that we were that rising tide that lifts all boats and that we really bring together the organizations that really support arts organizations, cultural organizations, artists. Our very big mission is also to ensure that residents are aware of their contributions and have equitable access to the incredible work they do.
Prior to the pandemic, in 2015, nonprofit arts and culture organizations had nearly $200 million in total industry spending in the Memphis area, which generated more than $22 million in revenue for States and local governments, according to a study conducted by Americans for the Arts.
But these industries have been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now Cole hopes to help rebuild those industries, but also inspire young people to pursue creative careers.
Under Harris, the county launched summer scholarships for young people and free trips to museums for students, which Cole points out as showing “to young people, there are career paths in art, (which) help develop the creative economy here”.
“I just want to see Memphis continue to position itself at the forefront of arts and culture, which it is, we just want to do even more to enrich and showcase what it is,” she said. declared.
Katherine Burgess covers county government and religion. She can be reached at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @kathsburgess.