Critic Says South Main Art Doesn't Reflect City's Diversity

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Strictly Moral at Adler Apartments
  • Downtown Memphis Commission
  • "Strictly Moral" at Adler Apartments

Not everyone was pleased with the pieces picked for the upcoming public art show called Mosaic that will be installed this week in the South Main District.

The pieces were unveiled to members of the Downtown Memphis Commission’s Center City Development Corp. (CCDC) last week. The CCDC funded the project with a $50,000 grant and requests for proposals from artists went out in April.

Leslie Gower, the commission’s vice president of marketing and communications, told board members the requests yielded 65 responses, all from local artists. She gave brief descriptions of each project and showed them during the CCDC meeting last week. She agreed to release only one of the images (above) to the media last week saying the sketches were incomplete.

Here are some of the descriptions:

• “Wind Scribbles” - Nearly 3,000 stainless steel disks that will move in the wind. (Front and Butler)

• “Strictly Moral” - Lighted window installation of canned goods stacked in the window of the Adler Apartments to look like an ice cream cone. (Main and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.)

• “Jay” - Mural on the side of Chapman Furniture depicts Memphis rocker Jay Reatard. (Main and Vance)

• Mixed medium mural depicting South Main’s railroad history.

• Mural depicting the history of South Main. Mural changes as you walk by it.

• Mural depicting “I Am a Man” protestors. (400 S. Main)

• Playable street piano, a baby grand, installed on a loading dock. (409 S. Main)

• Tall, metal flower, nearly 11 feet tall. (Main and Talbot)

Jones
  • Jones
CCDC board member Melvin Jones called the collection “neat,” and “nice,” and “cute” but said it “does not represent the diversity of Memphis” and said those running the Mosaic project could have tried harder to find African American artists for the project.

“Memphis is a town of 65 percent African Americans and this being Downtown...,” said Jones, CEO of the Black Business Directory. “When people don’t see themselves when they walk down the streets they can then assume that this is not for me. South Main is for the rich, white kids. I know that is not everybody’s intent but people have to see themselves. We have to be much more intentional about finding (African American artists).”

Gower said she did reach out to many African American artists and an African American artist was a member of the Mosaic selection committee. She said timing was an issue for some artists as some were working on other projects but “honestly, we didn’t get a lot of input from the African American community for one reason or another.”

Jones said he knew a couple of African American artists in Memphis that could have helped get the word out.

“So many times — because people don’t know the community — the try is different from if it was someone who knew the community and their try…because there’s tons of African American artists across the city.”

Downtown Memphis Commission president Paul Morris said he agreed with Jones on the need for diversity in the art but that “we did try.”

“We had difficulty. And you’d think, oh, we’re giving away free money, and artists would have been all over this,” Morris said during the meeting last week. “Well, we had artists that agreed to do it or didn’t respond or couldn’t follow through and then we had to go to another…it was a lot of work to recruit the artists that we got. We did make an intentional effort to reach out to everyone in the community and we will continue to do that.”

The Mosaic pieces are slated to remain up in the South Main District for at least one year.

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