Some New Blood, Please 

When a public company’s earnings take a dive, or when its products become less reliable and less relevant to the marketplace, shareholders generally take action.

They bring in a new CEO, recruit fresh board members and scour around for new ideas. Even in less dire circumstances—in the face of simple stagnancy or just the desire to induce a boost—an overhaul of personalities is often in order.

But what does a city do? As our local leaders consider weighty issues like whether to spend nine figures on a new convention center, how to take some novel approaches to marketing Music City and the best way to put the skids on a tourism downturn, we find ourselves looking for new answers from old voices. We don’t consider broader input and fresh ideas. Instead, we just keep dipping into the same bucket of talent to make all the decisions.

For a case in point, look no further than this week’s appointments to the new and all-important Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) board. With all respect to those named to serve, they are, for the most part, the very people who’ve been dictating the direction of this city’s business, convention and tourism efforts for years. Twelve of the 16 appointees are past or current members of the chamber board, the Metro Tourism Commission, a mayoral task force or other similarly influential bodies that deal with casting this city’s image and peddling it for the betterment of us all.

The names are familiar: Sandra Fulton, Francis Guess, Ken Roberts, Marty Dickens and T.B. Boyd, among others. All of them have contributed a great deal and we don’t mean to diminish their accomplishments, but the chances of a new idea emerging from people who’ve had megaphones in their hands for years, if not decades, are slim. What’s more, many of these folks are already professional board members, heavy hitters relentlessly tapped to serve on this or that board or commission.

This predicament reaches beyond the CVB. Virtually all of Nashville’s major institutions or organizations tend to suffer from a creativity deficit, sometimes to the point of paralysis. It seems that, as a city, we have an unspoken default system that tends to rely on the same overcommitted and only marginally diverse roster of intelligentsia. This, even though the talent bench in Nashville is as deep as anyone could hope for in a city struggling to reach a more lofty status. And this despite Nashville’s growing ethnic communities, which are producing new leaders every day.

Our little metropolis is populated with all manner of entrepreneurial minds who not only have a stake in the city’s success but are also tested thinkers and leaders—even if they haven’t yet served on the chamber board. Given that the Scene is interested not just in whining about the stifling status quo but also in helping to contribute to a solution, we offer our own short list of Nashvillians to keep in mind next time Kitty Moon Emery’s name (God bless her) comes up for a major board appointment: Irma Paz, enterprising Popsicle magnate at Las Paletas; Janice Zeitlin, Zeitgeist gallery owner and a mover and shaker in the visual arts community; Mike Grimes, owner and founder of Slow Bar and Grimey’s record shop; attorneys John Goldberg and Julie Faber, a phenomenal husband-and-wife team who have much to contribute; Fred Grgich, independent restaurant mogul who helped found Family Wash and Chapel Bistro; Jenny Millard, general manager of the Nashville Chamber Orchestra; Mark Chalos, a young attorney at Neal & Harwell.

Obviously, this only scratches the surface. We could go on and on. In the meantime, Nashville should of course celebrate the successes that our mature and experienced citizenry have brought us, but if we’re reaching for something we’ve not yet attained, something more ambitious, and if we want to sustain and grow our crucial creative class—arguably the engine of any successful local economy—we should put some new players in the game. And soon.


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