Saying Goodbye to Live From Memphis

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In an announcement posted on the front page of their popular web site, the pioneering arts community organization Live From Memphis announced last week that it will be ceasing operation. “The bottom line is that our site has far outgrown our resources to run it,” the announcement reads in part. “We had the passion, just not the financial support.”

Livefrommemphis.com launched in 2001, but the roots of the organization go back to the late 1990s when Christopher Reyes, an avid electronic music fan, saw a performance of bluegrass band the Mudflaps at Murphy’s in Midtown. “They did this acoustic fucking jam of the century, and I was like, ‘Oh My god! This is amazing!’ There was only 20 people in the room. It changed my perspective on music,” Reyes said.

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Reyes recorded Memphis bands playing live — at first only audio, then later adding video to the mix — and posted them online. His goal was to connect the many talented artists of Memphis with a larger audience, and the project grew to include Memphis film, art, and culture as well as music. “Eventually — and I didn’t realize this right off the bat — it became about the interaction between the artist and audience. There had to be an event where the audience could really get together with the artist,” Reyes says.

One of Reyes’ earliest innovations was the Creative Directory, an online space where talented Memphians of all kinds could create profiles and post their credentials and resumes so people and business requiring their services could easily find them. In the days before MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn took social marketing mainstream, the directory proved to be a valuable asset to Memphis creatives.

“Live From Memphis wasn’t just about the web site. It was a community, and it was about introducing new talent to Memphis culture,” Reyes says. “These creative people are Memphis culture,”

Under Reyes’ direction, and with the addition of his partner Sarah Fleming, Live From Memphis created a host of different programs and events over the years designed to engage both audience and artist, such as the Lil Film Fest, the Music Video Showcase, which showcased the talents of local filmmakers and musicians; the Mobile Music Machine, which used a custom-built stage mounted behind a bicycle to take Memphis musicians to masses; the award-winning GetDown, Flipside Memphis, and ArtsMemphisTV series, which partnered with local organizations to create web videos highlighting the works of Memphis artists. There was also an online magazine, for which this reporter edited and wrote.

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“I think we blurred that line between audience and creators,” Reyes says. “The creators were the audience, especially with Lil Film Fest and the Music Video Showcase. We didn’t discriminate between people or styles of music. We were providing opportunity.”

But despite widespread acclaim, Live From Memphis proved ultimately unsustainable. “We won lots of awards, but that doesn’t make a job necessarily successful,” says Fleming. “The community side was kept going by projects we got paid to do with the community. But as time went on, there were fewer paid projects.”

Eventually, the decision to pull the plug on the community aspect and concentrate on other endeavors became inevitable, but Reyes and Fleming find themselves beset with questions. “We love the Memphis community, and we love the artists here,” Fleming says. “Most of our past clients have been really good to us, and we wish above all that we could make this sustainable, but we couldn’t. Why not?”

Reyes continues to stand behind his model of community development through engagement. “You’ve got to provide education and opportunity for people to become involved themselves,” he says.

Fleming says everyone at Live From Memphis values the time they spent trying to help Memphis' artistic community.

“We are very grateful to the people who worked with us, and are very proud of the projects and programs we developed,” she says. “We consider ourselves very lucky to have been as involved as we were with so many amazing artists who call Memphis home.” n

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