Oxford mayor to be honored with Medal for the Arts

Published 11:34 am Monday, April 8, 2024

By Tina H. Hahn

University communications

The University of Mississippi’s Institute for the Arts is honoring Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill with the university’s highest award recognizing excellence in the arts and arts advocacy.

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The institute will present Tannehill with the Medal for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. on April 22 in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts. The ceremony and concert is produced by the university’s Living Music Resource.

Tannehill created the Double Decker Arts Festival, which showcases Oxford as a town that supports the arts, in 1996. As then-director of the Oxford Tourism Council, she grew the festival through ingenuity, perseverance and grassroots efforts with community partners to promote music, food and art.

“Robyn Tannehill has been instrumental in the transformation of the city of Oxford into an arts scene, placing Oxford and the state of Mississippi on a national scale,” said Nancy Maria Balach, chair of the Department of Music and director of the Institute for the Arts and the LMR. “She is responsible for so much of the growth and visibility of Oxford.

“Not only is Robyn incredibly successful in her career, but she also incorporates the creative into so many city components. The arts lift our community, but they also have an economic impact, and you can see that through Robyn’s work.”

The second-term mayor is a graduate of the UM Department of Art and Art History, with a major in interior design. She acknowledged Oxford’s rich cultural history as a valuable asset.

“Investing in art and culture is an investment in the creativity of the city itself,” Tannehill said. “I believe our decisions regarding local development at all levels and by all sectors should be based on an understanding of cultural – not just economic and environmental – impact.

“Public art is a powerful tool for building better cities. Here, it’s led to increased levels of community engagement and social cohesion. From ‘the Shelter Show,’ which invited local artists to create works of art that were placed on our public transportation bus stop shelters during COVID, to large-scale outdoor murals and sculptures, art lures people to a spot and increases business.”

The Double Decker Arts Festival draws some 70,000 people to downtown Oxford over two days, earning the city a spot on many regional and national arts calendars.

“Arts and culture brought Oxford to the table in the early 1990s,” the mayor said. “It is my job to remember and embrace that culture moving forward, and I take that job personally.”

Designed along the lines of the Kennedy Center Honors, which selects honorees for lifetime artistic achievements, the Medal for the Arts program will feature musical performances by Ole Miss faculty and students, installations of art and a short film on Tannehill’s life.

Tannehill’s love of art and creativity started as a young child painting with her grandfather, who was a talented oil painter.

“During stressful times as a child, a teen and even as an adult, my greatest comfort and relief comes from being creative,” Tannehill said. “I have always appreciated art and have found it to be a great equalizer.

“My career has always incorporated art and creativity, from founding the Double Decker Arts Festival to utilizing graphic design as an advertising executive to teaching art as a volunteer in my children’s third grade classrooms and now as the person in charge of creating a vision for our growing community.

The mayor is the third recipient of the Medal for the Arts. The inaugural award in 2022 was given posthumously to Jim Weatherly, of Brentwood, Tennessee, renowned songwriter and Ole Miss alumnus. The 2023 award went to alumnus Glen Ballard, of Hollywood, California, a songwriter, lyricist and record producer.

“Presenting the Medal for the Arts to Robyn is a wonderful way to celebrate the partnership between the university and Oxford because they would not exist without each other,” said Brady Bramlett, director of development, executive managing director of LMR and co-creator of the Medal for the Arts with Balach. “Ole Miss has a deep legacy of producing successful artists who have begun their journeys here or who have touched this university in some shape or form.”

Tickets to the ceremony and concert are $20 for the general public and $5 for Ole Miss faculty, staff and students. They can be purchased at the UM Box Office in the Ford Center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; by calling 662-915-7411; or online by clicking here.