Clifton Center executive director John Harris joins me to discuss their annual benefit to end homelessness, which will be held on Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. Live music will come from Tim Oâ€™Brien, Appalatin, The Bibelhauser Brothers with Michael Cleveland and more, plus food from numerous leading chefs. Ticket sales go to the Coalition for the Homeless Louisville, whose executive director is Harrisâ€™ wife Natalie.
The Voice-Tribune: Why did you decide to raise funds for this cause in this way?
John Harris: It was pretty simple, really. My wife Natalie and I just realized we had a unique opportunity. Natalieâ€™s organization was doing some really exciting work with their Rx:Housing project, and I was lucky enough to be in a position with the Clifton Center to be able to bring together the ingredients needed to pull off an event like the â€œGive-A-Jamâ€ that could help. When the Clifton Center transformed itself in 2010, part of the vision was to serve the community in this way, so it was a natural outgrowth of our programming. The most important part, though, was that I had gotten to know some incredibly wonderful musicians and other partners of the Clifton Center who I knew would jump at the chance to do something positive for their town. Louisville is very lucky to have these folks here. I should also say that for years Iâ€™ve had a policy of never asking musicians to play for free. We really need to honor the work they do and respect their profession. But I now allow myself to break that rule once a year, and I always make sure to acknowledge that to all those generous people that participate.
V-T: How do you pick the artists and chefs who will be donating their talents?
HARRIS: It seems to be getting tougher and tougher! There are so many talented people that want to help, and we only have so much time to fit them in. But I tend to ask musicians who Iâ€™ve worked with before. Most have performed at the Clifton Center at one time or another, and all are really outstanding musicians. As always, thatâ€™s crucial for me. Even though itâ€™s a benefit, we take quality very seriously at the Clifton Center, so we want everything we do to be of a very high level. Weâ€™re just incredibly fortunate to have so many great (and generous) musicians in town. As for the restaurants, weâ€™re lucky to have lots of generous restaurant owners and great chefs in Louisville, as well. Some we ask because they are area restaurants weâ€™ve worked with before for the Taste of Frankfort Avenue or one of the Coalitionâ€™s events, and some are simply restaurants we like a lot. We also try not to ask the same ones every year because we know itâ€™s a big contribution theyâ€™re making. Theyâ€™re buying all of the ingredients and using their staffâ€™s time to prepare the soup, all while trying to run a successful restaurant. So we know itâ€™s a big sacrifice for them, and we try to honor that sacrifice by not asking them over and over every year.
V-T: Do you think 20-somethings today have the same sense of activism, social justice and giving to causes as people did in the recent past?
HARRIS: I do. I think the mechanisms may have changed and the means of expression are very different, but I think young people are as aware, if not more aware, of the need and injustice that surrounds them than my generation was, or the generation before mine. I believe most people want to do good in this world. Often, itâ€™s just a matter of figuring out how to express that desire to help. Thatâ€™s what we want the â€œGive-A-Jamâ€ to be: a mechanism for people that just want to perform a small act of charity that makes their town a better place and helps some people who really need it.
V-T: If someone buys a ticket, should they also buy you a Christmas present? Or are they good for another year?
HARRIS: You mean for me personally? A ticket purchase is definitely the best present for me. I already have plenty of beer.