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For more than forty years, the mission of the Memphis in May International Festival has been to promote and celebrate Memphis culture, foster economic growth, and enhance international awareness through education.  Fulfillment of this bold mission each year has contributed to the Festival winning nearly 200 Pinnacle Awards for excellence from the International Festival and Events Association, along with media recognition from across the country and around the world.  However, the fact that this work is done as a 501c(3) non-profit which receives no direct governmental funding has earned the respect of its sponsors, ticket buyers, and Memphians alike.

To accomplish its goals, Memphis in May International Festival celebrates the culture of the Bluff City with the internationally recognized Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest held at Tom Lee Park in downtown Memphis, on the banks of the Mississippi River.  Our events are exclusively Memphis: soul-satisfying food that brings together people from different cultures to find common ground around a meal, set to the soundtrack of our rich musical heritage spanning a broad range of genres, and celebrated with the backdrop of the majestic river that serves as the foundation for the city’s existence.

Our events are exclusively Memphis: soul-satisfying food...set to the soundtrack of our rich musical heritage...and celebrated with the backdrop of the majestic river...

While these events are the perennial media magnets each May, our education and cultural programs are quietly working outside the glare of the spotlights to spark the curiosity and broaden the horizons of the next generation of Memphians.  Bringing an international dance troupe to a local elementary school doesn’t have the media attraction of a pop star’s tour bus rolling into Tom Lee Park, but it may have a longer-lasting impact on the impressionable mind of a child who has never been outside Memphis.  Providing the opportunity for class field trips to see the cultural performances from another country played out on the stage of the Orpheum Theater will create lasting memories for our local youth.

One of the most important aspects of our mission is that of fostering economic growth.  Our festival draws thousands of visitors and tourists from around the world, positively affecting the city’s tourism industry.  More than that, the Memphis in May International Festival contributes almost $3 million in taxes to the city’s coffers.  In fact, a recent study found that the economic impact of our month-long Festival on the city of Memphis is over $111 million! 

However, our economic goals are greater than just one month.  Each year, a delegation from Memphis in May International Festival travels to Washington, DC to visit various embassies and meet foreign diplomats as part of the process to determine the next honored country.  Festival representatives, chamber members, and civic leaders will then travel overseas to the honored country, working to open doors and form partnerships between the business and government leaders of Memphis and the corporations and governments of that nation. This action leads to more jobs and increased investment on both sides of the partnership, and along the way, another part of the world learns more about Memphis, while Memphians are exposed to a little more of the world.

We hope you enjoy our civic celebration this year; from the Beale Street Music Festival and World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, to the cultural events showcasing our honored country, Colombia, to the Great American River Run and 901Fest.  

On behalf of the Board of Directors, staff, and community volunteers, thank you for your support of Memphis in May.  We look forward to seeing you!

Best regards,

James L. Holt

President & CEO

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