WHO WE ARE
THE MISSION OF BIG EARS—AN INDEPENDENT 501(C)3 NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION—IS TO COLLABORATE WITH ARTISTS, AUDIENCES, AND COMMUNITIES TO CREATE JOYFUL, MEANINGFUL, AND TRANSCENDENT CULTURAL EXPERIENCES THAT DEFY BOUNDARIES, FUEL CURIOSITY, IGNITE THE SPIRIT, AND NOURISH THE SOUL.
Described as “one of the most quietly earth-shattering, subtly luminous festivals the world over” by the Oxford American and “one of the world’s greatest music bashes” by The New York Times, the Big Ears Festival—the flagship program of the organization—has established itself over the past decade as one of the most exciting and imaginative cultural gatherings anywhere. The festival brings a Who’s Who of acclaimed iconoclasts, innovators, and luminaries together with inspired younger artists making fresh and new creative work.
The Big Ears Festival takes place throughout downtown Knoxville in more than a dozen venues: historic theaters, intimate clubs, majestic churches, pocket parks, galleries, and repurposed industrial spaces. As one journalist wrote after attending, “Knoxville has the most venues with good sound within walking distance of any place in America.” Performance locations are interspersed among a vibrant collection of restaurants, bars, and shops, offering an unparalleled festival experience for artists and audiences alike.
There’s much to explore and discover over the course of the four-day festival: more than 100 boundary-crossing performances, as well as discussions, interactive workshops, installations, and surprise collaborations. “Contained within a walkable radius of historic downtown Knoxville … [Big Ears] creates its own atmospheric climate, along with a center of gravity,” wrote NPR Music. “From its first iteration in 2009, the festival has been a locus of expedition, defined more by a go-anywhere ethos than by any style or genre allegiance.”
Big Ears draws robust contingents of both intrepid Tennessee residents and visitors from around the world who come together to form a shared community energized by joy, discovery, and engagement. To add context and promote access, Big Ears programs an array of community events during the festival that bring world-class artists into collaborations with Knoxville’s diverse creative community.
Amidst the pandemic Big Ears produced more than two dozen original streaming programs and has recently begun presenting year-round programming, offering unique and large-scale performing arts events free to the Knoxville community, as well as the presentation of ticketed concerts by exceptional artists who would be unlikely to visit Knoxville if not under the aegis of Big Ears.
Big Ears receives substantial investment from donors and sponsors in the Knoxville community, as well as from private foundations, government agencies, and dedicated supporters across the country for whom the festival has become an annual pilgrimage. Explore our list of generous partners or join the ranks of our supporters.
BIG EARS BOARD OF DIRECTORS
John T. Winemiller, Chair
Katharine Pearson Criss, Vice-Chair
Richard Stair, Treasurer
Paul Parris, Secretary
Lauren Sampson Bowman
John Lynch Sanders