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Storefront Art

Vacant downtown buildings become temporary art galleries.

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New life is coming to two long-vacant buildings at the corner of South Main and Union.

The Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) is working with the owners of 82 and 85 S. Main to convert their storefronts into miniature gallery spaces.

"We like active spaces," said Leslie Gower, DMC's vice president of marketing and communications. "Even if a building is vacant and has a good storefront, that's still okay."

The property at 85 S. Main was previously home to the Smooth Moves smoothie shop and has recently undergone a million-dollar renovation. The other building, 82 S. Main, is currently in the renovation process and has been vacant for nearly 10 years. Over the years, it has housed Stewart Brothers Department Store and Three Sisters clothing store.

Though both buildings are looking better than they have in years, the DMC wanted to go a step further to rejuvenate the corner of South Main and Union.

"That corner," Gower said, "is one of the highest pedestrian intersections in the city, and two of the four buildings were vacant. We didn't want them to just sit there."

Both storefronts will showcase at least one artist for a month at a time and then new pieces by different artists will be cycled in.

"We're discovering [new artists] and asking them [if they're interested in showing their work in either building]," Gower said. "We can actually showcase more than one artist in each storefront, but because the spaces are really raw and there's no electricity, we're looking for artists who are low maintenance. We can't put in works of art that are worth thousands of dollars."

The first two artists to be featured are Memphis-based photographers Chip Chockley and John Henry. Chockley's exhibit at 85 S. Main features a series of photographs taken at Memphis Rock-N-Romp events. Henry's landscape photography is featured at 82 S. Main. Both will be shown until the first of February.

According to Gower, the Downtown Memphis Commission is looking for artists to be featured in the future.

"We're working with people who don't have a lot of requirements and want to have the opportunity to showcase their work," Gower said. "We're just looking for art that draws people to that space."

The project will continue indefinitely with new artists each month until the spaces are filled with new businesses.

"The real hope is that the spaces get filled soon," Gower said. "But until they do, we'll continue to work with the property owners who've been really excited about improving their spaces."

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