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VOL. 122 | NO. 81 | Thursday, May 3, 2007

Art Student Galvanizes Others To Shore Up 'Broken Windows'

By Andy Meek

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ALL DOLLED UP: Artist Mel Spillman soon will begin displaying a collage of retro salon images in front of a former salon Downtown as part of a new storefront art project in the area. -- Photo By Andy Meek

More and more police departments around the country, including the one in Memphis, have begun subscribing to the "broken windows" theory of law enforcement.

A single broken window, the theory goes, might encourage vandals to break more windows until the building and surrounding area are overrun by a variety of criminal acts. In law enforcement or any other instance, small problems thus are confronted before they have a chance to metastasize.

Which helps explain why Lauren Kennedy, an art student who graduates from Rhodes College next year, is applying a version of the "broken windows" approach to the revitalization of Downtown Memphis.

It's all in the approach

She probably didn't have the specific concept in mind, but the principle still fits what she's trying to do - except she wants to involve the local arts community in patching up some metaphorical "broken windows."

Kennedy is a fellow at the Center for the Outreach and Development of the Arts (CODA) at Rhodes, and one of the requirements of the program is for enrollees to complete a Community Arts Project (CAP) in their senior year.

What Kennedy chose is actually a beautification effort that Downtown stakeholders such as the Center City Commission (CCC) have been kicking around for a few years.

By her count, about 25 windows are vacant at any given time between Adams and Union avenues. So Kennedy's plan is to collaborate with local artists to provide some window dressing, as it were, to the bare storefronts.

"It's going to hopefully bring some life back to this area and showcase some local talent that hasn't necessarily been down here before."
- Lauren Kennedy
Rhodes College art student

"It's going to hopefully bring some life back to this area and showcase some local talent that hasn't necessarily been down here before," said Kennedy, whose CAP project is the first to come out of the CODA program.

Window to new perspective

The program was started in 2005 with a $5 million grant CODA director Dr. Tim Sharp secured from the Robert and Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust of Wichita Falls, Texas.

The CAP project each senior completes is developed in phases during their tenure at Rhodes, and because Kennedy was a sophomore at the time CODA was founded, she hasn't enjoyed as much lead time as her classmates.

"But she has managed, through the force of her personality and the diligence of her dedication, to develop this project in a period of a few months, whereas it took professional folk, artists, businesspeople and property owners Downtown years prior to this," said John Weeden, CODA's assistant director.

Weeden also is the Rhodes instructor who was first approached by the CCC to consider incorporating into his arts program the need to splash some color on a drab spot of Downtown's canvas. He and others, in turn, thought it would make for a valuable learning experience for students.

Kennedy had planned to unveil the project in a formal way at today's "Inside Downtown" meeting the CCC is hosting beginning at 4:30 p.m. at Wang's Mandarin House, 113 S. Main St., but the installation has been delayed until "all kinks have been worked out."

A model for change

New Main formerly was known as the Downtown "Demonstration Block," a tag that signified what the CCC wanted to demonstrate was possible in terms of the redevelopment of entire blocks Downtown.

The storefronts and vacant windows Kennedy intends to transform fall generally within that New Main stretch of Downtown. The first art installation tentatively is scheduled to take place this week at 77 S. Main St. in front of the business formerly known as Debbie's Hair Affair.

Artist Melanie "Mel" Spillman's creation will embellish the former salon space with images from retro salons that form a series of vibrant collages. Displayed on wood panels, her collages draw from salon advertisements of the 1950s.

In addition to creating her own art, Spillman is project manager for the Memphis UrbanArt Commission. Some of her more modern work includes paintings of pop culture figures such as model Kate Moss.

"I wanted to get this up as soon as possible," Kennedy said of Spillman's creation, "to show people I intend to get something done" - and, of course, that she intends to fix those "broken windows." The dozens of threadbare windows, Weeden said, leave the impression that the area is struggling.

Nevertheless, another positive feature of Kennedy's senior project is that she's designing it to be self-sustaining; the artwork that's installed won't slowly disappear, for instance, just because the project's sponsor has moved on.

"I think this project has a lot of potential and could really go somewhere," Kennedy said.

For information on coming art installations, call Kennedy at 870-225-9388 or e-mail kenle@rhodes.edu.

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