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VIProfile: Jason Hardy

By Gay Lyons

Connection. Empathy. Storytelling. Spend any time talking with Jason Hardy, and he’ll likely use those three words more than once. Since July 2020, Hardy has--thanks to covid--been working interim/remote/parttime with Knoxville Opera. Starting July 2022, he will be General Director and CEO.

He comes to Knoxville from Opera Memphis, where he was Chief Advancement Officer, and Opera Delaware, where he was Managing Director. Before that, he spent 18 years on the road as an opera singer. This was not the career path the Tallahassee, Florida, native envisioned when he entered Emory University with a double major in business and music.

“I had my sights set on Wall Street,” he said. “I had always been involved in music in some way, but I’d never thought about making a living with music.”

Singing–and attending his fi rst opera as a sophomore in college–opened his eyes to “new opportunities.” He attended graduate school at the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins, studying vocal performance. “At that point, I took the oath of poverty and decided on a career in the arts,” he said. Based in Atlanta, “because it had a big airport,” Hardy said his career took him to “41 states from New York to San Francisco and everywhere in between.”

He met his wife, Carrie, in Cleveland, Ohio, when both were singing in “The Marriage of Figaro.” “We were two singers who had vowed never to date another singer,” Hardy said. The couple has two children, Parker, 8, and Dorothy, 6.

The family has settled into Knoxville, which Hardy described as a “welcoming community.” “The friendliness draws you in,” he said. “Even in the midst of covid, our family has been so warmly welcomed.”

When he interviewed with Knoxville Opera, Hardy had been looking at larger markets. “Knoxville was not on my radar,” he said. “But I came here and was intrigued for many reasons. There’s a great quality of life. It’s a good place to raise our family and do meaningful work.”

“I’m also inheriting something with so many areas of potential growth, experimentation and innovation,” he continued. “Knoxville has a rich arts and culture ecosystem, and I want to be part of it.”

“The most important civic resource of our time is empathy,” he explained. “We need to focus on storytelling and on building connection. We can bring art and beauty into every corner of our city and break down the barriers–or perceived barriers. The arts can heal communities, especially important during covid.”

Hardy is preparing for “The Big Reveal” at Knoxville Opera’s annual meeting at 6 pm, June 16 at the Crowne Plaza. The meeting, which is open to the community, includes a buff et dinner ($25) and the presentation, which will also be streamed.

“The company will be completely rebranded,” explained Hardy. “We are reimagining our business model, revising our mission statement and rearticulating our mission, vision and values.” He offers some hints about what we can expect from the rebranded Knoxville Opera: a variety of venues, the return of a masterpiece not seen in nearly 20 years in collaboration with the Medal of Honor Convention, collaboration with UT Opera Studio and new works and ventures into contemporary opera.

“We’ll still do classical performances at The Tennessee Theatre,” he said. “Basically we’re going to be expanding our ‘product line.’ The Rossini Festival on April 30 will look familiar this year, but conversations are underway with community members and stakeholders to see what the future might look like.”

Hardy said the rebranding includes digitally-produced opera for schools in Knox County and beyond and the expansion of the Neighborhood Choir program under the direction of UT music professor, Dr. Loneka Battiste, a collaboration among Knoxville Opera, UT and Knox County schools.

The Neighborhood Choir program, being piloted at Sarah Moore Greene Elementary School, will ultimately expand to all elementary schools. “It’s not a onetime passive experience,” Hardy explained. “It’s performance-based and provides an opportunity to connect with art weekly. We’re starting small, and we’ll grow. I hope this will lead to a year-end collaborative community performance.”

“The arts and storytelling are so important,” he continued. “The arts focus on what unites us rather than divides us. When I hear someone else’s story, it humanizes them.”

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