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VOL. 132 | NO. 255 | Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2017 a Year of Expansions, New Beginnings in Memphis Arts

By Andy Meek

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After years of planning, design and construction, Crosstown Arts finally in mid-October moved into its new space on the second floor of Crosstown Concourse.

The move was one of a long string of highlights in 2017, which has been one of the more consequential years in recent memory for arts in the city.

Where Crosstown Arts is concerned, two art galleries and a screening room for video exhibitions opened in November. The organization also held its first art opening in the new space for “Art/Race/Violence: A Collaborative Response.”

“We’ve also hosted a couple of Crosstown Jazz Series shows, in partnership with Strictly Jazz Entertainment, in the East Atrium area,” said Crosstown Arts communications coordinator Bianca Phillips, adding that several spaces are still under construction and will be opening in 2018.

Those include a listening room, cafe/bar and 425-seat black box theater.

In other arts news, 2017 has been a year of anniversaries, expansions and, especially, new beginnings on a number of fronts.

A local bookstore was saved in 2017 when investors came up with a Novel idea. (Daily News File Photo/Houston Cofield)

 

You could call the reopening of what was once The Booksellers at Laurelwood a retail story, but it’s as much an arts-related development. A bookstore is, of course, nothing if not a place that celebrates the creativity inherent in the written word, albeit wrapped up in commercial imperatives. The predecessor store closed in January, leaving a major tenant hole in the Laurelwood shopping center. A group of local investors pooled their resources and reopened a smaller, reconfigured version of the store –called Novel – in that same space, bringing back the previous bookstores’ employees and favorites like the children’s section and a new cafe, Libro.

Overton Park, meanwhile, will be transformed in a big way as two of its biggest tenants made headlines: the imminent closure of the Memphis College of Art, and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art’s decision to leave its original home and move Downtown.

Pointing to a steady drop in enrollment, substantial real estate debt and no workable plan to fix the institution’s financial situation for the long term, the art college’s interim president Laura Hine told The Daily News that MCA “couldn’t see a way forward.” The 81-year-old college said it plans to close by May of 2020.

For now, it’s still pressing forward. Coming up in January, the college is hosting an exhibit in partnership with the city of Memphis and the National Civil Rights Museum’s MLK50 program honoring the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The exhibit, presenting a look at inequalities and social justice in Memphis, will be on view in the Main Gallery of Rust Hall Jan. 4 to Jan. 30.

Ballet Memphis moved into its highly visible new $21 million facility in Overton Square. (Daily News File Photo/Houston Cofield)

The Brooks board, meanwhile, is currently working on a plan to move to the city’s riverfront. A new Brooks Museum would be built on the west side of Front Street between Union and Monroe avenues and would open in 2022.

One byproduct of the Brooks’ plan: Hattiloo Theatre founder Ekundayo Bandele had been working on an idea and he has proposed to establish a National Black Theater Museum inside the Brooks’ building at Overton Park.

In other news, the Indie Memphis Film Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Royal Studios, which cranked out hits for the likes of Al Green, Ann Peebles and others, celebrated its 60th.

Shelby Farms Park hosted its inaugural MEMPHO Music Festival in October, with a lineup that included some local acts and big names like Cage the Elephant and Cold War Kids. Ballet Memphis also moved into its new home in Midtown at Overton Square, adding another major institution to a district that already includes Hattiloo, Playhouse on the Square, Circuit Playhouse and more.

Tennessee Shakespeare Company also has ambitions to do more in the new year. The organization at the end of August bought the old Ballet Memphis building at 7950 Trinity Road and hopes it will help the group expand its cultural and educational efforts.

The building will house all of Tennessee Shakespeare Company’s operations under one roof, from performances to training, education, administrative offices, storage, costume shop, scene shop and commercial kitchen. One more feather in the cap for Memphis’ arts community that’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

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