VOL. 133 | NO. 10 | Friday, January 12, 2018
Soul is Required
By Dan Conaway
TIME TO SEE SOMETHING NEW. Years ago, friend Billy bought the Edge office supplies business on Union just west of other things that aren’t there anymore, like Happy Day Laundry and Wiles-Smith Drug Store. I was in there one day when he asked if I wanted to see something cool. He lowered a pull-down ladder to an attic and sent me up. As soon as my head cleared the opening, he flicked on the light.
“Jesus!” I screamed and almost fell off the ladder.
The face three inches in front of mine wasn’t, in fact, Jesus. It was a wide-eyed, teeth-bared baboon. He wasn’t alone up there. Heads, parts and whole bodies of stuffed denizens of African veld and jungle – primate, cat and pachyderm – were stuffed into every corner of that low attic, upside down and sideways, like some macabre inverse Noah exhibit – instead of save two of each, kill one of each.
Billy had the collection of local big game hunter Barry Brooks up there, the same one hanging on the walls and standing on the floor of the Pink Palace when I was a kid, the same one no one wanted to display anymore since the Pink Palace became a real museum instead of a really big, really eclectic, really bizarre attic.
There’s a lesson there. Don’t celebrate what once was and died, learn from what once was to inform the present and inspire the future. The National Civil Rights Museum teaches us that lesson every day.
Another Brooks, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, has plans to move Downtown and there are already two very different ideas for the space it will vacate in Overton Park, both of them designed to uniquely appeal to the majority of this city in new ways, and to uniquely attract national attention, support and patronage.
Ekundayo Bandele, executive director of Hattiloo Theatre, would spend $50 million turning the Brooks space into a national black theater museum, and he says four black theater organizations from Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Virginia and St. Paul would move here if he does, and that Rhodes College would be a collaborator.
Jay Etkin, gallery owner, artist and tireless art promoter, would turn the space into the Etkin Museum of Tribal and Visionary Art, and he says the Moseley Collection of African Art – more than 7,000 ceremonial masks, ritual statuary, jewelry, household objects, weapons, musical instruments, ceremonial regalia and currency – would come with him if he does, and that the University of Memphis would be a collaborator.
Either or both have the potential to involve, if not include, the iconic Rust Hall when Memphis College of Art closes. Either or both have the potential to showcase and mainstream little-known history and culture to inform and inspire.
I don’t know if either or both will make it, but I do know that both ideas have something unique to this city in raw and real abundance, something completely missing from that attic above Edge.
I’m a Memphian, and soul is very much alive here.
Dan Conaway, a communication strategist and author of “I’m a Memphian,” can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.