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Upfront Q&A: Dendy Jarrett of Gibson Gives

Christian Wissmuller • ArchivesMarch 2023Upfront Q&A • March 7, 2023

Gibson Gives, the philanthropic outreach program of Gibson Brands, Inc., is committed to growing the global community of music-makers and getting instruments in the hands of students of all ages. A group that has cast a very wide net that tackles a number of worthy issues and partners with other non-profits and programs to reach as wide an audience as possible, Gibson Gives is an active participant in expanding the reach of music initiatives that benefit all. MMR recently spoke with Dendy Jarrett, executive director of Gibson Gives, to learn more about the group’s history, current projects like TEMPO and the GoldTop Foundation, and upcoming plans.

What was that catalyst behind the launch Gibson Gives in 2002?

Gibson Foundation was started in 2002, but like many other corporate founded non-profits, it had lost much of its focus and intent. In 2019, we reimagined the Gibson Foundation to Gibson Gives. We created a new Mission and Vision primarily focused on supporting other music-centric non-profits and our own developing programs centered around music education and music wellness with the overall goal… To Change Lives Through Music … One Guitar At A Time.

And unlike many corporate founded non-profits that orbit a company and is leveraged when a “feel-good” moment is needed, Gibson Gives was pulled to the center of our brand portfolio, programs developed around each of the brands, for example: Gibson Gives, Epiphone Empowered, Mesa Mission, Kramer Kares, Maestro Mission, and KRK Kares, and our goal is to have a touch point in all of those programs each month.

Aside from yourself, how many are currently on-staff at Gibson Gives?

Great question. We are an efficient non-profit, but we have a ton of support. I like to think of it as “all of Gibson is Gibson Gives!” I’m the executive director, so I oversee all the working components, and programs (operations) and the only one with a full-time focus on our philanthropic programs. Erica Krusen recently joined us after a long career with MusiCares and while she is a senior director of our Cultural Influence team, she supports daily with Gibson Gives (Globally) and especially helps with partnerships and fundraising. Additionally, Beth Heidt, our VP of Cultural Influence is highly involved, Alex Tinker is our “Gibson Gives Guitar Whisperer” and supports on all product movement and ensuring that we’ve selected the correct guitar to match up to the event or artist(s). Christina Jewel, Gibson Brands treasury manager is the Gibson Gives financial officer. She makes sure all of our grants are allocated and keeps the books in order. And finally, our CEO, James “JC” Curleigh is deeply engaged with Gibson Gives. He truly helped shape the new vision and is constantly involved in programmatic operations with what Gibson Gives does to carry out our mission.

In the past 23 years, how has this philanthropic arm of Gibson Brands evolved in terms of size and scope?

That is an interesting question. The Gibson Foundation went through ups and downs under the previous company ownership and there were some really great wins with the foundation then, for example, Guitar Town was a highly successful initiative of the past and raised a lot of money. But the main change now is focus and heart. When you engage your entire company in giving initiatives, you start to have employees (or family) who start to see everything through the lens of a giving heart. And we’ve seen such a tremendous shift that direction amongst our team. From the factory (which we call “Craftory”) floor to the CEO chair, everyone’s on board to make sure we have a giving mentality in all we do. Creating focus is paramount in setting benchmarks and making a difference!

What are some of the defining moments or achievements of Gibson Gives thus far? Any key events, partnerships, donations, et cetera that really stick out?

Wow – so many! In 2019, we announce with the relaunch of the foundation to Gibson Gives, that we’d donate 1000 guitars in 1000 days. I was confident but challenged by the proclamation. I’m happy to report that this past May (2022), we hit that 1000 day mark and had donated over 3700 guitars to music education and music wellness programs! Fast forward to this past September … a few short months later, and we donated 2600 guitars in that month alone. The need is real, and we are stepping up to do our part to meet the need. While we have helped hundreds of programs over the last few years, we do have some very strategic partnerships with whom we’ve provided major lift: Women Who Rock, Musicians On Call, Save The Music, Music Will, Seacrest Foundation, Songbird Foundation, TI:ME, Country Music Hall of Fame, MusiCares, and Guitars For Vets to name a few. We also provide a major lift to our programs (some already mentioned) to include:

Play It Forward – where we meet an immediate need, for example – when Nashville was hit by a large tornado a few years ago, we replaced guitars for anyone who could show that they lost a guitar, or we replaced the guitars of musicians who lost their guitars in the bombing of Nashville Second Avenue on Christmas morning two years ago.

Guitars For Peace – A program we developed to raise money for humanitarian needs in Ukraine refugee camps and to help re-establish music education once peace is restored to the area there.

TEMPO – all of our non-profit partners who are members of the Gibson Gives TEMPO program.

Speaking of TEMPO, sadly, nearly everyone – particularly many involved in the music industry – has friends, family members, coworkers, or bandmates who have struggled with, or succumbed to, opioid addiction. Can you talk about what led to the TEMPO initiative? What have been some milestone achievements thus far and are there any recent or upcoming developments of note you’d like to share with MMR’s readers?

Certainly, and what you say is true! TEMPO is Training and Empowering Musicians to Prevent Overdose. We are a program comprised of (currently) 15 like-minded non-profits (and growing) with the goal to train musicians, support staff, venue staff, rehearsal facility staff, bus drivers – anyone with a music touch point on the use of the life-saving drug Naloxone. Our hope is that being trained and armed with naloxone will keep you from finding yourself armed with life-saving knowledge should you encounter a band member, or even a fan who has succumbed to overdose. We engaged with many of our TEMPO members to provide training at major music festivals primarily backstage as well as to profit safe zones for artists who are in recovery. The TEMPO program and our efforts gained the attention of the pharmaceutical company, Hikma, makers of the 8mg dose of naloxone, Kloxxado® and they donated $1M of the product to our TEMPO program. We’ve since partnered with the manufacturers of ONEBox™ (a self-contained overdose emergency box that contains everything you’d need facing an overdose emergency including drop down screen that plays a video to walk you through the life-saving steps and removes the freak out amnesia that can overcome someone trying to save a life).  We recently announced that we were making these available to a little over 70 Live Music Venues in Nashville as part of our partnership. The program can be found at tempomission.org.

In the past few years, in particular, many have experienced employment and/or financial instability and challenges, so the notion of something like the GoldTop Foundation is sure to resonate with many. Can you briefly summarize why the foundation was launched and what the mission statement is?

We’ve done so many great things around music education and music wellness with Gibson Gives, but the one component that was missing in our arena of assistance was that of our Gibson Family – our employees. We created a separate 501(c)3 called GoldTop Foundation. Gibson has long been known for the GoldTop and this program was stimulated when we learned of a Gibson employee who had stumbled on hard times and was living in his car and had to sell his Gibson GoldTop to make ends meet. We knew we had to do something. GoldTop Foundation is a non-profit created specifically as a lifeline for our employees who find themselves in a financial emergency situation. We step in through some qualifying parameters and bridge the financial gap to see them on their feet again. We launched the program in 2022 and it is majority funded through individual employee support, and we’ve already assisted 10 percent of our employee base in 2022!

Any major events or initiatives lined up for the coming months in 2023 that you’d like to draw our readers’ attention to?

I’d encourage readers to stay connected to Gibson Gives through our website (GibsonGives.org) and to monitor us through @Gibson, #Gibson social coverage. We are constantly working through our programs to bring positive change and growth in the areas of music education and wellness. Gibson Gives also has a resource page for musicians who may be seeking assistance in hard times as well, and while we don’t make individual grants to musicians, there is a ton of great information and resource that musicians will have access to there.

Additionally, you should watch for upcoming developments as we work to expand Gibson Gives globally. This past year, we reached the 30-island chain of the Cook Islands (including the Kingdom of Tonga) to help develop music education programs there, we’ve reached Uganda, Rwanda, Johannesburg, SA, Spain, Canada, and Australia. And this year, you’ll see us reach some otherwise hard to reach places like sending 60 guitars to kids in need in Cuba, as well as in Ukraine refugee camps in Poland to help kids cope with their world being turned upside down, and to bring hope and healing through music.

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