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VOL. 128 | NO. 21 | Thursday, January 31, 2013

Creative Space

Arts orgs, local artist setting up across from Sears Crosstown

By Sarah Baker

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By the time Crosstown Arts occupies space in the 1.5 million-square-foot Sears Crosstown building, it will have completed a solid test run of promoting arts-based community and economic development in Midtown.

Crosstown Arts is developing four new storefronts totaling several thousand square feet near the Sears Crosstown Building. The nonprofit arts organization is relocating to the space at 422 N. Cleveland St.  

(Photos: Lance Murphey)

That’s because the nonprofit arts organization will soon relocate to 422 N. Cleveland St. across from the Sears building. Crosstown Arts will have a 1,400-square-foot exhibition and gallery space to curate art shows for one month at a time in the front, with its offices in the back.

Crosstown Arts initially served as an incubator of ideas for repurposing the 85-year-old art deco Sears Crosstown building at 495 N. Watkins St. into a “vertical urban village” that includes art, education, health and wellness.

Crosstown Arts’ current 427 N. Watkins St. address will become the new home of the Sears development project – a team that involves more than 20 members and consultants like Kemmons Wilson’s McLean Wilson, LRK Inc.’s Frank Ricks and Universal Commercial Real Estate LLC’s Darrell Cobbins.

Artist Christopher Miner, who co-founded Crosstown Arts with Todd Richardson in 2009, said the Cleveland storefront is a small-scale example of what could be to come.

“We knew that we wanted to have a physical presence in the neighborhood while the Sears project was under way,” Miner said.

In the gallery, Crosstown Arts has committed to bringing shows from outside of Memphis and also putting on shows of local artists. Miner asked Jay Gorney, a longtime powerhouse in the New York art scene who runs Mitchell-Inness & Nash, to be on the board for Crosstown Arts and specifically provide support for the gallery space.

“Having him as a connection with different artists and galleries that we might want to have shows of, Jay is a great contact to have,” Miner said. “We know that we want there to be a gallery in the Sears building, and so this is kind of like the first incarnation of what that Crosstown gallery would be like.”

Electrician Clifton Davis works in one of four new storefronts being developed by Crosstown Arts near the Sears Crosstown Building. 

Next door at 430 N. Cleveland, Crosstown Arts is building out a multidisciplinary, community-programmed space for performances and exhibitions. Artist Yvonne Bobo’s new studio and Visible Community Music School will have storefronts on Cleveland as well.

Grinder, Taber Grinder Inc. is finishing the construction of the four 8,000-square-foot bays for an anticipated mid-February opening of all three users.

“With Yvonne Bobo’s studio being in the space, part of why that’s important to us is we want working artists in the neighborhood so that we can collaborate with them on workshops and classes for artists at different levels of expertise,” Miner said. “In the (Sears) building, that would take the shape of an artist residency program that would have local and non-local artists having studio space.”

If this phase of Cleveland storefronts goes well for Visible Community Music School, the nonprofit hopes to eventually have a spot in the Sears building as well. Founded in 2011, the Visible Music College entity provides private lessons, group lessons and after-school programs to about 75 kids per week.

“We try to take what happens as far as music training goes, what happens at the college, and make it accessible for the community,” said director Sawyer Schafbuch. “It’s mainly dealing with children and high schoolers with aspects of music such as teaching technique, theory and repertoire. Those three things combine into an education.”

Visible Community Music School currently rents space in Livelink Memphis in Cooper-Young and holds sessions and events at the Fogelman Downtown YMCA and The Neighborhood School in Binghampton. Schafbuch said the Cleveland storefront is a central location to all of the different satellite locations the group goes to.

“When you show up at our recitals, it’s just a total mix. We represent almost every demographic in Memphis, and a lot of those demographics can be represented in that Cleveland area,” he said. “It’s exciting for me because of all of the different types of people that connect there.”

“We know that we want there to be a gallery in the Sears building, and so this is kind of like the first incarnation of what that ... would look like.”

–Christopher Miner, Crosstown Arts co-founder

Additionally, Crosstown Arts will offer after-school tutoring programs that Visible Community Music School will be doing music projects in conjunction with. That could be music production where kids who are writing in an English language class can put that writing technique into a song, or putting music behind creative writing stories.

“Just really giving kids the idea of people rubbing off on each other and allowing other people to effect your art and what comes out of you,” Schafbuch said.

Visible Community Music School will also benefit from Crosstown’s performance space by getting “to see the youth in the area take off and a voice that’s accessible to them,” Schafbuch said.

And the idea for that performance space, Miner said, is that it costs nothing to the performer.

“The spirit of the place is that we’re trying to remove prohibitive barriers for performing and visual artists and musicians so that if you’re a band and you want to have a show, there’s nothing stopping you from having a show,” Miner said. “It’s not that it’s hard to get on somebody’s schedule or the shows only happen at midnight or you’re not cool enough. That’s at the heart of what we’re trying to do for the community.”

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