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Donors support art in Southern Foodways Alliance programming
Lyon Hill and Kimi Maeda present Barbecue Puppet Theater at the 2012 SFA Symposium. Photo by Brandall Atkinson.

While food nourishes the body, art nourishes the soul.

The Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) at the University of Mississippi expertly blends both into programming, and supporters believe the two will continue to pair well together for years to come.

Impressed by the SFA’s use of art to enhance the presentation of Southern food culture, two donors recently committed to major gifts in support of performing and visual arts at the Southern Foodways Alliance’s annual symposium.

“We showcase artistic expression in ways that encourage annual Symposium attendees to engage with issues like environment, identity, gender, class and race in new and challenging ways,” said SFA Director John T Edge. “We are thrilled that these two donors have recognized our efforts and have chosen to align themselves with us through their support of our programs.”

The 21c Museum Hotel group first participated in the SFA symposium in 2007.

“After a weekend of enlightening discussion, food and drink we left feeling a renewed kinship to the South,” said Sarah Robbins, chief hospitality officer. “We’ve returned each year with our growing family of chefs. We always depart with a full belly and a better understanding of the responsibility and fortune of being a part of the region.”

The brainchild of contemporary art collectors and preservationists Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, 21c was founded in Louisville, KY with the mission of making contemporary art accessible to the public. The result was a boutique hotel combined with a contemporary art museum open free of charge to the public and restaurant Proof on Main. Today the company operates five properties, each one a place where contemporary art challenges, amuses and provokes new ideas. The group’s gift will sustain annual art installations exhibited during the SFA’s symposium.

“We hope this gift will help expose a new audience to innovative art and ideas, providing a visual context for the important discussions happening at the Symposium and beyond,” Robbins said.

“At 21c Museum Hotel, we engage our team, our guests and the community through contemporary art, cultural programming and food. These are all opportunities to discover and to spark conversation around topical ideas,” she continued. “Through these communal experiences of discovery, ideas are born and spread. SFA’s mission to address complex cultural issues is complementary to ours and we are thrilled to partner with them on this important initiative.”

In addition to the annual art installations, the SFA has staged Sunday morning performances at its symposium for the past seven years. From ballet to street theatre, from a puppet show to an oratorio, such performances will now be supported by a major gift to the SFA’s performing arts fund.

The additional contribution from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous will ensure that artists are paid well and programming reaches a larger audience through the restaging and distribution of interpretive materials. Additionally, the funding will drive new creative relationships with artists, amplify existing relationships, and facilitate SFA-led collaborations across disciplines. The 2016 Sunday performance will feature Appalachian artists Silas House, novelist, and Sam Gleaves, musician.

“Through these performances, the SFA shares stories inspired by the South and by Southern experiences,” Edge said. “In the now crowded marketplace of food ideas, these stories spark honest reflection and foster genuine progress while offering new ways to address complex Southern issues with national implications.”

Individuals and organizations can make gifts to support the Southern Foodways Alliance or the Center for the Study of Southern Culture by mailing a check (with SFA or CSSC noted in the memo line) to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Avenue, Oxford, MS 38655; visiting or contacting Nikki Neely Davis, development officer for the CSSC at 662-915-6678 or

By Bill Dabney


Online gifts for the 2024 calendar year should be made no later than noon on December 31, 2024.  Checks by mail will need to be postmarked by December 31 to be counted in the 2024 calendar year.