VOL. 10 | NO. 38 | Saturday, September 16, 2017
The Memphis News Editorial
Editorial: Brooks’ Current Home As Important As Its Future
It’s hard to imagine Overton Park without the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The park itself was just shy of 15 years old when the Brooks opened in a beaux-arts-style marble box in 1916, awaiting art objects to fill its space.
By the time the museum undertook a renovation for its centennial in 2016, it was with the certainty that the institution was about to do something more permanent, more exacting to the modern standards of art conservation and preservation, and with more room.
Now Brooks leaders are starting to explore what’s next for the storied museum, including a possible move from the only location they’ve ever known.
Perhaps a new home could be found on the city’s maintenance yard on the East Parkway side of the Overton Park, on the other side of the Old Forest. Or maybe the answer is far from Midtown.
Either way, if the Brooks leaves its current location, the museum facility itself – particularly the original beaux-arts building – should be preserved and a new use found.
With a tentative plan several years ago for a museum and archive of the photographic works of Memphis artist William Eggleston on the maintenance yard property, maybe now is the right time and the Brooks facility is the right place for such a museum.
The Brooks has a long history of daring statements in the arts that already make it a companion of the nearby Memphis College of Art. In another scenario for the facility, that relationship could become even closer with a museum that chronicles the ongoing and largely untold story of the arts in Memphis.
There is no question Memphis could support another institution, keep it stocked with local art past and present, and draw national exhibitions.
As Brooks feels out the possibility of a move, it’s another indication that our city is in a cycle of change in which we are growing through adaptive reuse while also rethinking where important public institutions go.
Whether the museum leaves Overton Park or expands closer to one of the fairways of the golf course, Memphis’ ongoing story of innovation in the arts is connected to the universe of artistic pursuit and achievement.
And Brooks leaders recognize that. In a recent letter, they said they’re eager to face “exciting challenges” including “redefining exactly what an art museum should be in Memphis in the 21st century – and ensuring that we matter to every Memphian.”
Regions matter in the expression of the arts. But the boundaries that separate the culture of those regions don’t apply to the power of influence the arts has. What happens locally influences and is influenced by what happens elsewhere.
For that reason, the Brooks needs to be able to grow. If that can happen in Overton Park, it should. If it can’t, what happens to the museum’s current home is just as important to the abundance and diversity of artistic expression in Memphis as where it goes next.