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Oxford’s Mayor Tannehill to receive UM award at April 22 arts extravaganza
Robyn Tannehill, now mayor of Oxford, brought together community partners to found the immensely popular Double Decker Arts Festival, now in its 28th year. The event, which promotes Oxford’s music, food and art, now draws 70,000 people.
Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill

Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill will be honored April 22 with the highest award the University of Mississippi gives to recognize excellence in the arts and arts advocacy.

At the 7:30 p.m. ceremony and concert in the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts, the Medal for the Arts will be presented to the second-term mayor and the founder of the immensely popular Double Decker Arts Festival by UM’s Institute for the Arts, with the program produced by the Living Music Resource (LMR).

In its 28th year, the Double Decker Arts Festival, which showcases Oxford as a town that supports the arts, thrives as a top-tier annual event, drawing a crowd of 70,000 over two days. As then-director of the Oxford Tourism Council (now called Visit Oxford), in 1996, Tannehill 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,” Balach said.

In October 2023, the City Hall Pocket Park was opened in Oxford, another example of Robyn Tannehill’s support of green spaces and public art. Artist Tom Corbin’s Aurora VII statue is a feature of the City Hall Pocket Park.

The Medal for the Arts winner is a graduate of UM’s Department of Art and Art History, with a major in interior design. Tannehill acknowledged Oxford is a city with a rich cultural history.

“Investing in art and culture is an investment in the creativity of the city itself. 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,” the mayor said.

“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. Public art offers a free experience that can be viewed alone or in groups; it’s inclusive and accessible.

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

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.

“The evening is going to be a spectacular extravaganza,” Balach said, adding that it will be especially inspirational to UM students. “It will celebrate Robyn Tannehill, the city of Oxford, the University of Mississippi, the positive impact occurring in our state because of Robyn and the things happening in our very special community that are rippling outward.”

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

In April 2021, the “Greetings from Oxford” mural was painted in the parking lot behind City Hall. It’s another example of public art being part of the fabric of Oxford. The artwork was possible through a grant from the Mississippi Hills Heritage Alliance to Visit Oxford.

“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.

“These roles have reinforced what I’ve always believed to be true – the arts bring people together and break down barriers. I am passionate about leaving things better than I found them and art has been a vehicle to do that. I am passionate about creative problem-solving that results in solutions that honor the arts.”

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. 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. We have intentionally showcased that and cultivated these relationships and conversations,” said Brady Bramlett — director of development, executive managing director of LMR, co-creator of the Medal for the Arts and partner with Balach.

The UM Institute for the Arts comprises the departments of Music, Theatre and Film, and Art and Art History. To support the institute, mail a check with the fund noted on the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, MS 38655; or give online here.

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

By Tina H. Hahn/UM Development


About Living Music Resource (LMR)

The Living Music Resource is an innovative music and arts education program housed at the university. LMR gives Ole Miss students enriching experiences outside the classroom to help them become more marketable in today’s varied music industries and professions. LMR initiatives include the production of LMR Live, a popular interactive web talk show series, as well as master classes, full productions and concerts, commissioning of new works of music, intensive workshops and mentored research opportunities for music majors.


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.