The Purpose

The Purpose

Behind We Are Nashville

You can call this story an act of self-discovery.

We Are Nashville is a multi-year exploration of the New Nashville

…designed to foster understanding of who we are, inspire conversations that help us get to know one other, and take simple but meaningful actions that preserve the special character of our city.

We wanted to know who we are as a city: Nashville. And this unprecedented work of photojournalism is how we chose to do it. It started like this:

A prominent businessman and philanthropist called and asked for a meeting. No topic, just a meeting. Intrigued, I said yes. We climbed the back stairs to a back room of a nondescript office building in Nashville. Doors closed. Handwritten notes came out (which I later discovered is his habit).

He said,

I’d like to do something for this city that’s never been done.

That was a compelling opening line, so I settled in to listen.

“Nashville has grown so big, we don’t know who we are, we don’t know each other,” he said. “People say we’re the next hot market, whatever. We have all this new prosperity and self-esteem…but not everyone is sharing in it. And until they do – until we take care of our own – and unless we protect what has drawn people here in the last several years…we’ll never be the city we have the potential to be. So, what do we do?”

We began looking for an answer to his question.

First, we approached the question like it needed an advertising campaign, PSA’s. These were false starts we didn’t pursue, and which the benefactor dubbed “too small.” He said, “This can’t be a campaign, it has to be a movement.”

He asked:

How do we inspire a movement?


You can call this story an act of self-discovery.

A movement wasn’t really in my playbook and I had a day job, so time lapsed. I started a new company. We got busy. Until one day my business partner said he had a friend who wanted to introduce us to someone. A photographer passing through Nashville who had just returned to the U.S. after years spent working mostly abroad. “Might be someone you could use someday.”

So we met. Turns out this was no ordinary photographer. He’s a well-known, award-winning photojournalist with a dogged approach to telling stories: “No agenda, tell it like it is or I don’t take the assignment.” He embeds with his subjects for months, and in some cases, years. Combat zones. Ghettos. Warlords and tribal shepherds. Then he lets the stories come to him. And he tells the world what he’s seen. After we met, I phoned the benefactor and said, “I think we have a solution for that movement.”


Photographer / Narrator

We presented the photographer with a proposal: Come live in Nashville and record who we are. No agenda. No format. Go any direction you deem necessary to make an honest, authentic record of who we are today–all the parts of us. North, South, East, West. Local. Immigrant. Young. Transient. Established. All colors. This would not be W. Eugene Smith’s “Pittsburg” project. In our case the photojournalist would have the liberty to see things as they really are and we would swallow this pill, good or bad or both.

And so we began: Code name: We Are Nashville. A philanthropist (who wanted to remain anonymous and cover the expense alone; no sponsors, brand associations or corporate money would be involved that might sully the objectivity, the authenticity of the project). A photojournalist (who, it turns out, was suffering from PTSD and in need of healing–a fact that would come to color his enormous record of Nashville and its people). And two business partners and friends with a cadre of co-conspiratorial volunteers who, along with the project’s benefactor, had little idea how incredible a journey we were all about to embark upon.

A journey we are now happy to share.

Take the journey:



“Hot chicken” is the right place to start discovering Nashville