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VOL. 131 | NO. 123 | Tuesday, June 21, 2016

UrbanArt Plans Move to Crosstown Neighborhood

By Andy Meek

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The planned relocation next year of the UrbanArt Commission from Poplar and Highland to a storefront across from Crosstown Concourse is one of the bigger items on a lengthy and growing to-do list for the arts-focused nonprofit.


That move, said executive director Lauren Kennedy, is just one of a slew of changes and announcements coming over this year and next. And it, more than the others, will help raise the profile of the organization that’s been working to support public art and design in Memphis since 1997.

“We’re going to move into the Crosstown neighborhood in the spring when people start moving into the concourse building,” Kennedy said. “We’re going to take over one of the Cleveland Street storefronts. It’s a big deal for us, being in proximity to all the things in that space and will make us highly visible in a way we’re not currently. Being seen from the street and interacting with everyone will be great for us.”

Her organization’s fiscal year closes at the end of the month, and in an interview she took stock of some recent developments. They include:

• Having some 20-odd projects in play right now, in various stages.
• Being only about $5,000 shy of the group’s annual fundraising efforts./
• And adding three new staff members, including a marketing hire.

Kennedy said the addition of the marketing staffer is reflective of UrbanArt’s interest in trying to think in new ways about how to tell its story. It’s also a function of the organization being more ambitious than it has been.

For example, the nonprofit – which marks its 20th anniversary next year – launched its annual fundraising campaign for the first time last year. Though it has a contract with the city of Memphis, it hasn’t historically raised funds.

“But that is something we’re focused on more and more in a way that will allow us to experiment with approaches to public art,” Kennedy said, “and be more playful with the kinds of things we produce. Because the rules are just different when it’s not city money.

“It’s important for the city to continue to invest in the work we’re doing, but we’re also looking to grow the number of stakeholders through these fundraisers.”

Now is an exciting time to be involved in public art in Memphis, as Kennedy sees it.

And because it’s been the agency responsible for many public art pieces around town, says Key Public Strategies principal Kerry Hayes, many artists also rely on their commissions to help them make a living.

“Making sure that the (UrbanArt Commission) is well-resourced produces a wonderful ripple effect throughout our whole economy,” said Hayes, who’s also a board member of the commission. “When artists work, neighborhoods thrive. Beyond that, I think city government and its various departments can do even more to engage artists and creative people in their work.

“There are entire schools of thought around better understanding the links between design and public safety, for instance,” Hayes said. “How might our mass transit system function differently if artists were more deeply involved in its operations? How might our city planning, public housing, or public health agencies work differently? Finding a way to involve artists and creative thinkers in this work can only elevate every Memphian's quality of life.”

Earlier this month, the nonprofit hosted a community event at Zodiac Park celebrating the installation of a new public art sculpture created by local artist Suzy Hendrix. That sculpture, called the Rendezvous Arc, is situated at the entrance of the park and is designed to serve as a landmark for the park and neighborhood.

Kennedy said other projects on the docket include one at the Wolf River Greenway and some 15 murals being worked on for the Kitchen Community in Memphis over the course of the next year.

“We’re looking to be a bigger organization in terms of the kinds of things we can take on, maybe pushing how Memphians define public art,” Kennedy said. “I just think we’re picking up a lot of steam as far as engaging new stakeholders, both organizations and individuals interested in the work we’re doing.

“I think 2017 is going to be a pretty big year for us and setting the tone for a few years to come.”

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