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VOL. 127 | NO. 102 | Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sounds of the City

Downtown Alive performance series kicks into high gear at Court Square

By Sarah Baker

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When Downtown Alive was launched in 2008, the lunchtime performance series picked up top honors for Special Events and Projects from the International Downtown Association.

Christopher Reyes of Live from Memphis pedals musician Brandon Bailey on the Mobile Music Machine down the Main Street Mall earlier this week. Live from Memphis is one of the organizations that brings entertainment to the Downtown Memphis Commission’s annual Downtown Alive performance series. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

Four years later, the Downtown Memphis Commission’s weekday interactive program designed to bring art, culture, music and creativity to Court Square along Main Street is living up to that national prestige.

Downtown Alive kicked off in mid-April and continues until mid-June. Each business day, locals and tourists alike are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and lunch, coworkers, friends and children to family-friendly events that run from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“It definitely enhances the Downtown experience, which is what we want,” said Dawn Vinson, director of marketing and special events for the DMC. “Not only for the people who work here, but for anybody that’s visiting Downtown for any reason that day. We just want to add something lively and fun to the landscape and just enhance their experience all together.”

Events run the gamut from Jimmy Ogle’s history tours and Zumba on Tuesdays to Memphis Music Thursdays, presented by the Memphis Music Foundation. A full schedule of events is available at the DMC website, www.downtownmemphis.com.

By partnering with organizations like Memphis Music Foundation, The Blues Foundation and Live from Memphis, Downtown Alive is able to bring resources and talent to the table. This cuts down on costs, since the DMC’s budget for the series is “not huge.”

“For example, Memphis Music Foundation is using it as an opportunity to help their interns and their musicians get experience in putting on productions,” Vinson said. “They actually take care of everything for us, they bring the sound and they set up the bands and they do the publicity and all of that. So that’s a learning opportunity for their group as well.”

Vinson watches for what is resonating with guests at each Downtown Alive event and makes sure those performers are invited back. One of the more well-received events last year was the Metal Museum’s bottle cap workshops.

“One of the things that really surprised us last year is that people really like to make things,” Vinson said. “It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, I think just being able to sit down and take 10 minutes to make a bracelet or a bottle cap magnet is something fun and pleasant, especially if there’s music going and they’re out anyway and it’s a nice day and they’ve got that 10 minutes to spare.”

Also new this year were tweaks to the physical fitness element of Downtown Alive. Events like Zumba, boot camp and yoga were being held during lunchtime and drew interest, but the DMC noticed hesitancy from those who were concerned about going back to work afterwards.

“What we did this year was we put those after work and we’ve gotten a lot better response,” Vinson said. “We just post a reminder on Facebook to remind everybody to bring their workout clothes. People enjoy having a free workout, but it also animates the street because we get a lot of observers, too. People sit in the park and listen to the music, or people will sit on the balcony of the hotel across from the park and watch. When the tourists come on the carriage rides, they like to watch too.”

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

And while the karaoke events have been a hit the past three years, the DMC made the decision to “give it a rest this year” in order to revamp it for 2013.

The Commission is also preparing for its Unveil Downtown Artwalk with the Downtown Neighborhood Association, a 20-day pop-up gallery around Downtown restaurants and retail businesses that will showcase the work of 20 artists from across the region.

Each artist will be allowed to exhibit and sell eight to 10 pieces of artwork and get to keep 100 percent of the proceeds of any sales. Selected artists will be required to donate one piece of their work for an online auction that will raise money for the Downtown Neighborhood Association.

The Downtown Alive event for Friday, June 1 is a preview of the artists’ auction pieces on display in the lobby of Brinkley Plaza.

“We’ll have music out on the (Main Street) mall and have people lead them into (Brinkley) so they can get a sneak peak and hopefully come back later that evening and check out the reception and walk through the art walk,” Vinson said.

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