For 75 years, the Memphis College of Art has made a significant impact on local culture that extends even beyond the visual arts. The school's students and faculty have spread their influence far and wide, contributing to institutions all over Memphis and beyond and touching artistic movements from cubism to postmodernism, which is why True Story Pictures decided to make a film to document the intriguing history behind the small, professional center of art and design education.
"The music is what we're known for the world over, but the art here is just as strong," says Joann Self Selvidge, director and producer of The Art Academy: A History of the Memphis College of Art.
Selvidge had previously conducted an extensive series for True Story Pictures called The Arts Interviews, in which she spoke with influential artists around the region and noticed a common, binding thread intrinsic to the lives of all she reached: a deep connection to MCA.
"It's not strictly like a historical documentary in the chronological sense, but a lot of what we focused on are the people, these iconic figures and their influence on the school and their artwork. It's more a celebration and homage to what the school has produced," Selvidge says.
Prolific artists and instrumental instructors like Dorothy Sturm and Marjorie Liebman came from Memphis and left to explore New York's art world before returning home to teach at what was then the Memphis Academy of Art. Both women were important to the abstract expressionist movement in the '50s, represented in New York by the same gallery that took on Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. But not every story was so easy to tell.
"When you set out to make a historical documentary, one of the first things you do is try to gather as much imagery as possible that you can use in a film format on the screen," Selvidge says.
To illustrate MCA's ornate history, Selvidge unearthed a wealth of old, 16-mm footage captured mostly under the instruction of former administrator and accomplished sculptor Ted Rust. She also used 3-D animations produced by a talented creative team of former and current MCA students, led by art director Ryan McGahan, to portray major events like the walk-out that led to the formation of a truly innovative arts school and Roy Harrover's original blueprints for a major arts complex in Overton Park. Steve Selvidge and Paul Taylor then composed an original soundtrack for the film, with the addition of a special piece from Jonathan Kirkscey for the opening animation.
The documentary's one-night-only premiere will take place at Malco's Studio on the Square on May 2nd at 7 p.m., accompanied by an art exhibit and silent auction of works specifically created for the film in the theater's lobby from noon to 10 p.m. Promising early ticket sales have indicated the likelihood of a second screening at 10 p.m., but patrons are encouraged to purchase tickets online at theartacademy.eventbrite.com if possible. Tickets for the screening are $12 each.
The Art Academy: A History of the Memphis College of Art
Studio on the Square, Wednesday, May 2nd, 7 p.m.; $12