Martha Ingram Talks Arts In Nashville, Saving Symphony Center

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Martha Ingram Talks Arts In Nashville, Saving Symphony Center

CREATED May 16, 2014
by Chris Cannon

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Philanthropist and lover of the arts, Martha Ingram, spoke at the Barnes & Noble Vanderbilt Stronger Arts-Stronger Cities series on Thursday night.

Ingram has long been a vital supporter of the arts in Nashville. Many credit her drive and passion for bringing the fine arts to the city.

"It's been a struggle, it's really been a struggle," Ingram said. "If you had lived here 35 years ago, it was a very different city, arts wise"

The push for fine arts truly started in 1972 when Ingram spearheaded the eight-year campaign to build the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in downtown Nashville.

That project raised the curtain for many artistic endeavors.

"But we had to invent the opera, we had to invent the ballet, and we had to invent the professional theater," Ingram said.

It also gave the Nashville Symphony a proper place to perform, and over the years, it became a world class group of musicians, who needed a world class venue to perform.

"And nothing was going to be good enough, unless it was the best," said Ingram.

In the early 2000s, Ingram began a campaign to build a new symphony center. She and other supporters needed to raise nearly $125 million to construct the new facility.

"Some $5 million, some $10 million, that's how we got to $125 million," Ingram explained.

The Schermerhorn Symphony Center opened in 2005. But the organization met hard financial times after the recession and the May 2010 flood.

"And the last piece was the hall, it was going to be sold, and I just really couldn't stand it," Ingram remembered.

The bank was days away from foreclosing on the symphony center when Ingram stepped in and provided the money to save the facility from going on the auction block.

"It is an investment for me; they're paying me back over a period of time. Interest only right now," she said with a smile.

Ingram has served on many boards over the years, always with the goal of expanding the arts in Nashville. It was a desire decades ago because she thought her children should be exposed to the arts at an early age.

"I found that there were many other people, not enough initially, but there were some other people that also shared that, and that's how. You know, you never do anything by yourself, it's always the team," Ingram said.

All these years later, Ingram said Nashville is currently experiencing its "golden age" of fine arts right now and it has helped transform the city.

"The serious arts are alive and well, and the people are coming in droves now,” according to Ingram.

Ingram feels the next chapter in the Nashville arts will be the amphitheater the city is building on the west bank of the Cumberland River.

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