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Public conversation with R.E.M. adviser Bertis Downs to be held in UGA Chapel

Bertis Downs

Athens, Ga. – Bertis Downs, an Athens entertainment lawyer and longtime adviser to Athens-based band R.E.M., will take part in a talk Feb. 18 at 4 p.m. in the University of Georgia Chapel.

Downs will join UGA’s Nicholas Allen, Franklin Professor of English and director of the Jane and Harry Willson Center for Humanities and Arts. The structured conversation on “Bertis Downs in Conversation: Don’t Get Me Started—On Athens, Music Lessons and, of course, Good Schools for All Kids” is part of the Willson Center’s Global Georgia Initiative.

Downs, a 1981 graduate of the UGA School of Law and a retired adjunct professor in the school, represented R.E.M. throughout the group’s 30-year career. He continues to serve as an adviser in R.E.M.’s ongoing business interests since the group disbanded in 2011. Downs has been an Athens resident since 1978 and has long been active in the town’s civic life.

Downs’ career with an internationally successful rock band that remained so closely associated with its hometown has placed him in a unique position to witness Athens’ interaction with the world, Allen said. “Few people can offer this kind of perspective, which is of enormous value to what we’re trying to achieve with Global Georgia.”

Downs also has an intimate perspective on an era of rapid change in the music industry, some of which he plans to share at the talk. For musicians trying to make a living with their art, “what’s the playbook now?” he asked. “It’s a lot trickier than it used to be.”

In recent years, Downs increasingly has turned his energy toward advocating for public education as government funding for schools has steadily decreased.

“Public schools do a lot better than they get credit for, even though they are constantly denigrated, underfunded and barraged with mandates to do more with less,” he said. “They continue, by and large, to do a good job. I try to support what anyone would agree needs to happen in every school—innovating and investing to enhance and improve the essential teaching and learning that goes on in every classroom and to make every school successful.”

A reception will be held in Demosthenian Hall following the event.

The Global Georgia Initiative is a series of lectures and conversations organized by the Willson Center. Its goal is to present global problems in local context by addressing pressing contemporary questions—including the economy, society and the environment—with a focus on how the arts and humanities can intervene.

The 2013 initiative will run through March 5. The remaining speakers in the series are Ntone Edjabe, writer, journalist, disc jockey and founding editor of the pan-African literary and political journal Chimurenga, and Valerie Babb, professor of English and African American Studies in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Institute for African American Studies at UGA.

For more information on the Global Georgia Initiative, see

Willson Center for Humanities and Arts
The Jane and Harry Willson Center for Humanities and Arts is a unit of the Office of the Vice President for Research at UGA. In the service of its mission to promote research and creativity in the humanities and arts, the Willson Center sponsors and participates in numerous public events on and off the UGA campus throughout the academic year. It supports faculty through research grants, lectures, symposia, publications, visiting scholars, visiting artists, collaborative instruction, public conferences, exhibitions and performances. For more information, see