Art Works Blog

MICD Spotlight on the City of Memphis

Memphis, Tennessee

Renderings of the proposed facade of 477 S. Main, from Rebecca Conrad at Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects.

Memphis, Tennessee, incorporated in 1826, is known for its rich and vibrant culture. The city government has been focusing on leveraging and amplifying the city's arts and cultural assets, integrating the arts into the overall philosophy and plans of the city. We spoke with Kerry J. Hayes, special assistant to the mayor of Memphis, to learn more about Memphis?s MICD 25 project.

NEA: Please give a brief description of your project and what you hope it will bring to the residents of Memphis.

KERRY HAYES: Our MICD 25 grant is being used to fund pre-development work by ArtSpace, a nationally renowned nonprofit organization that develops affordable live/work space for artists. In Memphis, ArtSpace is primarily focusing on a large-scale rehabilitation of one of the warehouses or unused industrial spaces in our downtown South Main Arts District. Our intent for this project is to provide a world-class space where several dozen artists of varying disciplines can live and work alongside one another without fear of eventually being priced out of the neighborhood as it improves. South Main has made some tremendous strides in the last few decades, fueled primarily by an abundance of cultural amenities, art galleries, and new small businesses. An ArtSpace development in this area is one more terrific asset to guide the growth and success of this promising urban community.

NEA: Why is it important to have arts and culture at the table when planning community revitalization efforts?

HAYES: Simply put, artists make cities great, and a city with such a rich creative heritage like ours deserves assets and opportunities like these. Dense concentrations of artists have tremendously powerful restorative effects on neighborhoods. We can see this in our Cooper-Young and South Main Arts Districts, where artists have been responsible for stabilizing and increasing property values, inviting more local businesses and economic development, and renovating properties and homes that would be otherwise blighted. The new MCA Nesin Graduate Center is one of the more high profile examples of this. We?re starting to see some of that arts-driven rejuvenation in areas like Broad Avenue, Crosstown, and Soulsville. The City of Memphis is committed to doing a better job of supporting our creative class in any way we can. Working with a nationally regarded organization like ArtSpace to provide more affordable live/work space for artists who need it is something big that we hope will keep creative people living and working here.

Furthermore, through the research phase of this project, Memphis city government and the mayor?s office hope to gain a better understanding of our city?s unique creative community and its needs. Creativity and culture is in our city?s DNA, and yet a comprehensive arts and culture plan for the city has never been undertaken. As a result, we have strong pockets of artistic activity and residency, but no overarching strategy to guide the public and/or private investment in the kind of development that would connect these districts and make them even stronger. I believe that our work with ArtSpace can be the first step towards that kind of planning.

NEA: How important is MICD 25 funding for the success of your project?

HAYES: Absolutely critical. The eventual ArtSpace development in Memphis will obviously be tremendously valuable to our city?s creative class. Beyond this specific project, however, this process has opened up new connections between artists and new dialogues between art-makers and local government. We are working hard to develop more policies that will make Memphis more attractive to young, talented individuals and families, and the feedback from our community?s existing arts sector is critical to that work. Were it not for MICD 25, these conversations would not be happening.

NEA: Any last words?

HAYES: On behalf of Memphis? entire creative class, I want to again express my appreciation to the NEA and the Mayors? Institute on City Design for your support. The arts community of Memphis is stronger than ever, and we are working hard to leverage every opportunity for more and more success. This simply would not be possible without visionary leadership at the NEA, and we are so grateful for the opportunity to partner with you in this ambitious, vitally important project.

Interested in how other communities are using their MICD 25 grants? Just search the Art Works blog under ?MICD 25" and visit the MICD 25 page on our website.

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