Performing Artifacts

The Urban Art Commission recognizes Theatre Memphis' Sculpture Garden


Some of Memphis' heaviest metal is about to get the recognition it deserves. On Friday, February 13th, prior to the opening night performance of Cyrano DeBegerac, Theatre Memphis' sculpture garden (also known as "Dramatis Personae") will become the Bluff City's first officially designated Public Art Heritage Site.

Urban Arts Commission director John Weeden says he became aware of the need for just such a designation while creating a map of public art projects created in conjunction with the UAC.

"These Heritage pieces deserve attention," Weeden says, explaining that Dramatis Personae is a prime example of the kind of works that established a precedent for what the UAC does today. "I don't think the community is always well versed in the origins of these pieces," Weeden adds. "A perfect example is the tile mosaic in the library at Lemoyne-Owen College. An artist named Ben Shahn created it sometime in the early 1960s. Shahn is a pivotal artist in post-war America. This is a real treasure and nobody seems to know that this piece is there. And it's just one of the treasures that adds to the livability of our city."

Weeden hopes that the Heritage Site project, which is currently still in the planning and development stage, will encourage people to take notice of off-the-radar public art in their communities and neighborhoods.

There could be a lot of stuff out there that's been overlooked and we want people to let us know about it," Weeden says. "If there’s some quirky park that a neighborhood made up, I want to know about that."

Theatre Memphis' sculpture garden was commissioned in 1978 by the family of Hubert and Stella Menke and paid for in part by a grant for public art by the Tennessee Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. It was installed in 1979 in conjunction with the opening of TM's new facility at the corner of Southern and Perkins. Lon Anthony, an artist known for his visual puns and whimsical images was chosen to create the pieces. At the time of the commission Anthony, who now resides in Florida, was head of the Rhodes College Art Department.

The UAC will eventually produce a map with information regarding Memphis public art heritage sites. The heritage site project will officially kick off at an invitation-only event at Theatre Memphis on Friday, February 13 at 6:30 p.m., prior to the performance of Cyrano, a sprawling romance based loosely on the life of Savinien de Cyrano, whose fictionalized likeness can be found in the garden.

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