by Jennifer Cole, Executive Director
Metro Nashville Arts Commission

Each year the NCAA orchestrates a miracle. Actually, it is a bit of madness, March Madness to be precise. This year, thousands of basketball fans from around the country will descend on downtown to experience the Women’s Final Four April 6–8. They’ll eat out, honky-tonk, and watch some amazing hoops. When the last whistle blows, the Nashville Sports Council estimates that fans will have a 25-million-dollar economic impact.

But for years, the Local Organizing Committee and the Ohio Valley Conference have been focused on a different kind of impact. Each city that hosts a Final Four event is tasked with thousands of details, but perhaps the most important is the creation of a community legacy platform. In Nashville, the Legacy Programs include a women’s leadership luncheon, a Girl Scout badge, a sports journalism mentoring program, and more than 100 arts and cultural activities focused on engaging middle school youth. For the last two years, more than 30 area nonprofit arts and education organizations have collaborated to create a Student Legacy program that links Nashville students with art, music, and cultural literacy.

In January and February, more than 100 students at eight area middle schools worked with poets and songwriters in residence from the Country Music Hall of Fame™ and Museum and Southern Word to produce original works. Sixteen student works were chosen to be featured this month in the Metro Arts/Metro Transit Authority Poetry in Motion® program that features the work in 150 buses during National Poetry Month (and the tournament).

Starting in February, every branch library in the city unveiled basketball-based literacy programming, from making your own jersey to film screenings to story times featuring women in sports. Olympic swimmer turned children’s author Amanda Beard led a book signing and reading on March 19, and on Friday, April 4, at 6:30 p.m., Parnassus Books will showcase an evening with photographer/author Robin Layton about her book hoop: the american dream. To get in the game, go to www.bit.ly/1fILh0S.

Finally, the Belcourt Theatre will finish out the community programs by offering educational middle school screenings and public screenings of films that showcase the power of women’s athletics. Films like David Fine’s 2011 documentary Salaam Dunk or Angela Gorsica Alford’s Grannies Got Game. Check out their website www.belcourt.org for show times and details.

From the beginning the Local Organizing Committee thought it was critical to show how central creativity is to our city and particularly our young people. As Elizabeth DeBauche, Commissioner of the Ohio Valley Conference, puts it, “The beauty of the Women’s Final Four is it not only provides an opportunity for the participants to create cherished memories that will last a lifetime, but through the Legacy Program it allows for many young people to ignite their passions and develop dreams that will shape their future lives.” We’ve set the bar high for future Final Four locations, and I hope we have shown the power of linking art and sport. As Nashville contemplates more major bids for sporting events like the FIFA World Cup, NCAA tournaments, or maybe, just maybe, a Super Bowl bid, I hope this programming paves the way to continually linking sports and arts together in a way that connects kids to their own creativity and uniquely tells the story of our great city.  

To see more about this programming please go to www.ncaa.com/womensfinalfour.

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