Thursday, March 11, 2010

Blues Foundation Talks of Building an Interpretative Center/



Foundation boosters believe blues followers from around the world deserve more than a nickel tour of a decent collection of memorabilia amid the trappings of a small nonprofit organization.

The leadership of executive director Jay Sieleman has re-energized the foundation's presence in Memphis.

They're not thinking museum or monument, but a visible, physical presence in the community: part school, part interpretive center, part executive office, part hangout for artists and fans.



They say the foundation is finally in position to pursue the dream, thanks to a rebuilding job overseen by executive director Jay Sieleman and activist board members.

Sieleman received a President's Award this winter for shepherding a foundation that was deep in debt and flirting with moving to Louisiana in 2002.

The International Blues Challenge drew 224 bands to Downtown and Beale Street. Newer events, like a FedEx-sponsored international showcase and a youth showcase, are helping to cement the blues' popularity in a growth market of young people and foreign audiences.

Board president Pat Morgan, retired California-Berkeley professor, changed planes in Denver on her way to the Blues Challenge Jan. 20-23.

"The plane was filled with bands and people coming to Memphis for the Blues Challenge, and half of them were kids. "We look forward to the day when we will have our own facility, a Blues Foundation interpretive center, with an educational component and a space dedicated to past award winners and Hall of Fame honorees," Kane said. Sieleman said when blues fans come looking for foundation headquarters, some are disappointed to find a decidedly businesslike office on Cotton Row.
"Memphis touts itself as the Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock and Roll," Sieleman said. "If there's currency or credibility in that, perhaps I'm biased, but I say it's in the Blues Foundation."

Kane said crucial to a building campaign are board members who combine love for the blues with expertise in business organization, finance, sponsorships, fund-raising and strategic planning.

Newcomers include Steve Bryson, who founded and runs credit card processing firm Global Electronic Technology Inc. in Cypress, Calif..; Craig Ray, a former Mississippi Development Authority tourism official; and Laurie Tucker, senior vice president of corporate marketing at FedEx. Simonsen, whose recent gigs include chief financial officer of Finland-based giant Nokia Siemens Networks, was volunteering backstage at a Scandinavian blues festival when he met Sieleman. Bryson bought a B.B. King guitar at foundation charity auction and owns a record label, I55 Productions. Ray worked on the Mississippi Blues Trail project to put historic markers in the Delta

Sieleman and board members are careful for the time being about how they characterize the building search. Simonsen, finance chairman, said, "I don't think there's a thought it's a museum. It's more of a destination place where people who love the blues can hang out and meet one another, where people can come do research and visit."

Bryson, who grew up in Memphi, believes the permanent home can create more appreciation of the blues in its hometown and serve as a vehicle to improve the lives of blues musicians.

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