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New African-American Art Space Opens in Orange Mound


Last Saturday, an unprecedented assembly of African-American artists gathered in Orange Mound. It was ostensibly for a photo shoot organized by the nonprofit known as the Collective, but it was obvious, as dozens of local black creatives socialized and networked all morning, that much more was going on. "It's the first time so many of Memphis' black artists have come together all at once," said Collective program director Lawrence Matthews. "This represents millions of dollars worth of talent."

In a sense, it was the unofficial grand opening of the nonprofit's new space, the CMPLX, next to the Orange Mound Gallery (OMG) in an unassuming strip mall at Park and Airways. The official event takes place this Friday evening, with an impressive lineup of visual artists, musicians, and others. But on this crisp Saturday morning, the collection of talent showed how the Collective, aka the CLTV, represents a movement that goes far beyond its nominal membership. As Matthews explained, "We don't want to just make it about black visual artists and black musicians, but black dancers, black writers, black filmmakers. Even black thinkers. If you're an individual that loves creativity, you have a place and a safe space with us, to get paid and to create things."

After working for four years without a headquarters, executive director Victoria Jones emphasizes the importance of having the CMPLX. "How do we create really strong black artists? Create space for them to actually exist. We'll also promote professional and creative development opportunities, host critiques, round tables, and sharing work with peers." She adds that the CLTV will also guide artists' careers. "We've got funding from the Tennessee Arts Commission and ArtsMemphis to put together a professional development series, once we open the space. We'll be talking about the business side of being an artist."

Rapper Great Dame throws down at the CLTV photo shoot - ZIGGY MACK
  • Ziggy Mack
  • Rapper Great Dame throws down at the CLTV photo shoot

A dedicated space will improve the CLTV's business as well. While institutions like Crosstown Arts or the Brooks Museum of Art have hosted their events, Jones points out that they have been the most poorly attended. In contrast, the opening of last summer's "Thug" exhibit at the OMG was packed. Says Matthews of being hosted by other organizations, "It's like, why should I come to this space? If I'm in Hickory Hill or whatever, why should I come to this space, which charges me whatever to come in here, and I get followed around? We spent a year trying to cultivate those relationships. At the end of it, I don't know how much we took away from it, besides, okay, we should do this on our own."

Friday's grand opening will bring in a wealth of talent, including performances by NuJas, Erlee, Magnolia, AWFM, Cameron Bethany, Don Lifted, Ricky Davaine, Rudy Rhymer, and Cities Aviv, not to mention works by over a dozen visual artists. It foreshadows the relaunch of the CLTV's monthly Decibel concert series in February, not to mention other, smaller performances in the large studio room in the back. "It'll almost be like a Tiny Desk show," says Jones, "because this room will indeed be used as an art studio. We won't make people move their artwork. But we'll have a photo backdrop so musicians' whole setup will fit neatly into that."

Jones hopes such events will attract other collectives to the area. "I don't think it stops with us. We have partnered with other black arts organizations, like Unapologetic. Folks are ready to invest. We're just the first domino." And, she adds, the CLTV's relationship with the neighborhood is reciprocal. "Orange Mound is already a very energized space. We're just trying to find ways we can exist within that." From the looks of it, the CLTV is in Orange Mound to stay.

The CMPLX grand opening takes place Friday, January 11th, 6:30-9:30 p.m., 2234 Lamar.

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