We found one of the most interesting people in Memphis to talk to, but first you have to get her to stay in one place. As the founder of Young Arts Patrons and Out901.com, she is a proactive visionary leading her hometown to address some of its deepest needs. As Director of Entrepreneurial Programs for Epicenter Memphis, she connects other entrepreneurs to community partners and local resources. And as a board member of Memphis Delta Prep Charter School, she is already helping to guide the next generation of Memphians toward more successful futures. These formalized roles are just one portion of the ways that she is building a more inspired — and inspiring — city, but to hear the rest, you might have to get up at 4:30 a.m. like she does to find the time. Meet this week’s unstoppable FACE of Memphis, Whitney Hardy.
Where were you born and what was your upbringing like?
I was born in Memphis and raised in Germantown. My parents both have really big families. I spent my summers in Orange Mound and Whitehaven; wherever my cousins were is where I was. I don’t think I realized Germantown was so far away until I was an adult because I just grew up around Memphis and went to different things, so it just felt like the neighborhood that was next door to everything else.
What brought you back to Memphis?
I actually started my career in public accounting in Atlanta, and I got really plugged into the art scene, but the whole time I kept looking back at Memphis. I was seeing these opportunities that were showing up in the city, and it kind of called me back. It was just rapidly changing, and I wanted to be a part of it.
When did you realize that you were drawn to advocacy?
It was not a choice to get into advocacy. It was who I am and what my identity is, it’s that I have to do this because this is what Memphis is. We are a black city. I’m a black LGBT woman founder. There’s not an initiative that tells me to do it. It’s that my city has to do this in order to be successful. So I did it for all the communities I represent.
Coming into this arena with a background in accounting and then moving into the arts and social policy, how do you feel that your particular set of skills bridges those areas?
I am the unicorn in the room almost every time. It’s either heavy business people or it’s heavy creatives. And being able to navigate both of those worlds is fun, but it’s also really unique because I can hear and understand— I almost feel like a translator between the two. I understand the passion of both.
What was impetus for starting Young Arts Patrons?
The first thing I heard when I moved back from Atlanta was “How do you retain talent?” and there’s some great things that people did, but I said, you’ve just got to boost the arts up. Memphis is the Underestimated City of Artists. Let’s tap into that and I guarantee you we can retain talent on both sides. We have a creative side and workforce and then we have this professional, academic side that will stay because both of them are now supporting each other.
Your schedule seems beyond full. What keeps you motivated?
I have this belief and this slogan that I tell myself and the people I mentor— you have to train for this. You have to train like an entrepreneur. My day starts at 4:30 a.m. I exercise at least four or five times a week in cross training— running, hot yoga, a circuit training bootcamp, SHED Fitness and CycleBar. And then the rest of it is balancing between family, those that you love, making sure I spend time with my partner Denise and my chihuahua, who knows when I’m gone for too long and thinks that I’ve been kidnapped.
Creating a fair combination of art and commerce can be challenging. How do you encourage artists to understand the importance of making a living and how to ethically tap into the resources they deserve?
I never tell artists how much to charge people. It’s moreso a process, I think. You have to understand the business of it. Let’s start with the easy stuff: What’s the material? But that other part that fluctuates a lot is, what’s the intrinsic value of this? Not just what are the hours you put into it, but what is the value of this? And we can put that idea with almost anything. What’s the value of water when you don’t have it? For Flint, Michigan right now, it’s the most important thing they could have, right? For cities that don’t have art, you can tell they don’t have it. So it’s saying don’t undervalue your work because it’s valuable to where it is. It makes the cities.
How do your style and identity relate?
As a person that is a part of the LGBT community, I think it’s being able to own who I am and be proud of it, to be able to wear what I feel and express myself. If you know who you are, just rock it, rock whatever you’re going to do. Rock the hair color, rock the print, rock the leopard, do what you want to do.
What makes a look “Whitney?”
I know my glasses are very signature, but I think the main thing is just attitude and personality. If you topped it with that, nobody can be you.
Lenny Kravitz is one of my favorite musicians, designers and artists. People have tried to rock his style for forever, and no one can rock Lenny because it’s his whole aura. And so you have an aura as well. And that’s what makes us uniquely us. And that’s the best thing.
What do you think is the most Memphis place in Memphis?
South Memphis. If you are in South Memphis, you are going to get the food, the culture, the unapologetic blackness, the music of today and tomorrow. That is probably the most Memphis place you can be because you’ll get it all. Here’s Boo Mitchell walking down the street, and here’s all these great students of tomorrow coming in, and then here’s an artist walking into Memphis Slim House to go record their next album
What is your best advice?
If you have a dream, go after it strategically and with passion. It’s not always easy, but if you have those two things and a strong support system, you can do it.
What are three everyday things you can’t live without?
Ice cream – I have a problem with ice cream and desserts, which is also why I work out every day. Then music and just discovering music. And the arts, of course.
Thank you to Whitney Hardy for being today’s FACE of Memphis and to Elizabeth Looney for the beautiful photos of Whitney!
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