One of the more important books about Memphis and the arts isn’t available in bookstores. You can’t buy it online either. Distribution is narrowly targeted by the creators who assembled the slender, handsomely bound volume for two reasons. First, they wanted to honor the lives of Jeniam Foundation founders Andrew and Carole Clarkson. They also want to use it to catch angels.
“Angel” is the word arts organizations use to describe their most extraordinary financial supporters. In Memphis, no halos shine brighter than those worn by the Clarksons. Their extraordinary contributions to arts groups in the Mid-South have been colorfully but concisely chronicled in Learn, Earn, and Return: 25 Years of the Jeniam Foundation Giving Back to Memphis.
Learn, Earn, and Return was conceived by Playhouse on the Square’s founding executive, Jackie Nichols. “I woke up one morning about a year ago, and I realized that nobody’s done anything for [Andrew Clarkson],” Nichols says. “He’s given something like $10 million to the city, and nobody’s done anything for him. So I decided to put this book together.”
For funding, Nichols went to many of the organizations that have benefited as a direct result of the Jeniam Foundation’s calculated largesse.
“I had 20 sponsors who basically contributed $500 each,” Nichols says. Each of the sponsors received five of the 500 printed copies. The Clarksons received a dozen copies, and with the help of ArtsMemphis and the Community Foundation, the remaining books are being sent to people with the potential to follow in their generous footsteps.
Andrew Clarkson, formerly the CFO for AutoZone, has given a perfectly logical reason for committing himself to the arts after retirement. “I’m a terrible golfer,” he’s been quoted as saying. That’s got to be a tough admission for a man with a lilting Scottish accent and an Anderson plaid kilt that he breaks out for formal occasions. But instead of investing in his swing, Clarkson’s turned his troubles on the links into a sustaining and nurturing force for the Memphis arts community. His generosity has made a difference in the growth and development of ArtsMemphis, the Indie Memphis film festival, the Brooks Museum of Art, the Hattiloo Theatre, the Dixon Gallery & Gardens, and Beale Street Caravan. And that’s just a short list.
Without the Jeniam Foundation, TheatreWorks — Midtown’s performing arts incubator — wouldn’t be there. Without the Clarksons, Playhouse on the Square couldn’t have built a new state-of-the-art performance center on the northeast corner of Cooper and Union. The development of these multi-use spaces launched a domino effect leading to the revitalization of Overton Square.
“And the new building doesn’t just benefit us,” Nichols says. “Having it there benefits Indie Memphis and Opera Memphis and Ballet Memphis, the Symphony, and a lot of other groups. Andrew Clarkson is a very generous man. He could’ve just taken his money and run, but instead he chose to create this foundation that has meant so much to the city.”
“Maybe I’ll start hanging around some golf courses and look for the guys who aren’t doing too good,” Nichols jokes. When he finds them, he’s certainly got the right tool for convincing them to redirect their energies. In 50 photo-laden pages Learn, Earn, and Return shows how the Clarksons’ investment in the arts has paid dividends to the city. It’s a genuinely inspiring addition to the coffee table collection.
Too bad it’s only available in such limited quantities.