Watkins College of Art - Bob Bernstein

Nashville Entrepreneur Bob Bernstein To Deliver Watkins Commencement Address

May 10, 2017

Ceremony will take place on May 20, 2017 at 10 a.m. at the college.

On Saturday, May 20, 2017, Nashville entrepreneur and CEO of Bongo Productions, Bob Bernstein, will address Watkins College of Art’s Class of 2017. The ceremony will take place beneath the tent on Watkins’s campus, beside its new Art Walk.

Bernstein has had a highly creative and fascinating journey to his current post as CEO of Bongo Productions, which oversees such Music City hotspots as Bongo Java, Fido, Fetch, Fenwick’s, and Grins. After initially attending three universities where he was reluctant to commit to a major, Bernstein decided to combine his interests in writing and politics and received his master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He moved to Nashville from Chicago in 1988 to work for the Nashville Business Journal. In 1991, a month shy of his 30th birthday, Bernstein quit journalism with the goal of opening a coffeehouse. In the 24 years since Bongo Java opened, he has grown his company into a $10-million restaurant group that owns seven cafes, two wholesale businesses, several licensed locations, as well as real estate property.

“I’m excited to share my story and to be part of the Watkins community,” says Bernstein. “I admire and am a bit envious that these students are pursuing their passions and exploring their talents. I’ve been a closeted writer since I quit journalism to open a coffeehouse. I enjoy what I do, but I also wonder what I could have done if I allowed myself to pursue different creative challenges.”

In addition to his businesses, Bernstein has been a founding board member of Hands on Nashville, Nashville Prep, Cooperative Coffees, and Nashville Independent Business Alliance. He is married to Irma Paz-Bernstein (co-owner of Las Paletas) and together they have two sons (Max, 11, and Alex, 8). He has written a children’s coloring book and a five-year weekly blog about his children.

Bernstein will speak to more than 40 emerging artists at the 2017 Commencement; these students will receive their degrees in graphic design, interior design, film, fine art, photography, or art.

“There is a profound connection between the thriving of a nation’s artists and the thriving of its collective society,” says Watkins President J. Kline. “We couldn’t be prouder to have been the incubator for this graduating class, who are now poised to become the creatives driving the creative economy in Music City and beyond. And we couldn’t be more pleased that the man who will speak to them about the joys, challenges, and the necessity of the artistic life has used his own creative abilities to enhance the city we all call home.”

The mission of Watkins College of Art is to challenge individuals to deepen their talent, refine their creative practice, and dedicate their lives to advancing culture through the illuminating power of art. The college boasts a high employment rate of students who work in the creative areas they studied (87 percent). Indeed, throughout its 132 years, Watkins has been a pioneer in connecting individuals to their highest potential. Begun by Samuel Watkins in 1885 with the goal of teaching the “business of life,” the college has mobilized to meet the needs of an ever-changing population, particularly those who may have struggled to gain their footholds, such as immigrants in the early 20th century, women as they joined the workforce in the 1930s and 40s, and servicemen upon their return from World War II.

This year, Watkins—which offers a 65,000-square-foot facility, state-of-the-art silo studios, and modern residence halls—initiated an ambitious effort to rebrand itself and will be unveiling over the next year more plans that seek to further its reputation as one of the finest arts conservatories in the country.