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VOL. 132 | NO. 120 | Friday, June 16, 2017

Drake Sculpts Community Through Art

Anna Traverse

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Memphis stands at the threshold of incredible possibility. In this series, we introduce innovative Memphians who are driving our city forward and forging its future success.

A local artist’s photographs of brightly hued objects – a yellow toy school bus, a crystal owl, a glistening caramel – line the long gallery hall. At a small table near the end of this candy-colored array sits Chantal Drake, communications director at Dixon Gallery and Gardens. To her right, a doorway opens into the Dixon’s collection of antique pewter vessels.

The contrast between the contemporary photographs and the antique collection – new and old, playful and stately, local and Continental – is a fitting depiction of where the Dixon is at this moment in its 41-year history.


“When I was growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, art was what I latched onto,” Drake recalls. She learned to connect with the world around her – and with different cultures in further-flung parts of the world – “so much better through a visual language.”

“Art can open your mind,” she explains, “and allow you so much more room to grow as a person – one who’s more socially conscious, more aware of what’s happening in the world around you.”

Now more than ever, Drake believes, our communities need art’s vibrant, visual language.

“It’s not just for certain people, and you don’t have to understand the complexities of color and line. There’s so much to learn by looking at art.”

That visual language, Drake knows, goes both ways: the Dixon listens as much as it speaks. Today, Drake and her team are focused on ways to draw more Memphians through the doors of the museum.

She and her team are forming a community task force to identify new ways for Memphians to get involved. And for many years, the Dixon has brought the language of art to area schoolchildren through Art to Grow, an outreach effort led by the Dixon’s education department that brings current exhibits – along with art-making activities – into Memphis’ K-12 classrooms.

She’s front and center of the museum’s new digital marketing strategy, and helping to curate events and initiatives to reach a broader audience. Most of us might not expect karaoke when considering an art museum, but the Dixon offers the unexpected – like Broadway Karaoke and Disney Karaoke. The result? Active engagement with more Memphians, more often.

Once visitors have stepped through the galleries, Drake’s team is committed to holding their interest. She and her team are developing new ways to accomplish this. Beacon technology soon will enable the museum to deliver information about artwork to visitors’ phones while they’re studying the paintings and sculptures.

The goal is to make sure that all people – regardless of age, race, gender, class or creed – feel welcome when they enter the Dixon, and feel at home while they explore.

From the enormous metallic purple Easter egg near the entrance – a sculpture by pop-art king Jeff Koons on view through August – to the beloved gardens surrounding the museum, there is something to delight every visitor.

“To sustain and thrive in this ever-changing world, we have to become a much more inclusive place. We’re on the right track – we just have to be sure we’re doing it in the right way.”

That means consistent dialogue with the community. And Drake is confident the museum is gaining traction as more Memphians start to hear the Dixon speaking to them.

“I’m glad I’m here at this time in Memphis when there’s so much activity and collaboration,” Drake notes. “I think we have a ton of opportunity to grow. I think we have nothing but opportunity to grow.”

Chantal Drake is a graduate of New Memphis’ Fellows program. Learn more at newmemphis.org.

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