When artist Russell Wild moved into his apartment in the Edge District in 1998, the neighborhood was filled with body shops and garages. Today, the area around Marshall Avenue is the scene of a burgeoning arts district, and Wild values living in an area with like-minded artists.
“Visual artists are a bunch of weird, quirky people,” Wild said. “You feed off the energy and get ideas from people. You support their work, and they support your work.”
It’s that sort of shared artist experience that the city of Memphis eventually hopes to create in a new, affordable living/studio space for artists. In mid-July, the city received a $250,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The money will go toward funding predevelopment work on a study to assess the living, working, and space needs for artists in the city.
The city is contracting Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit real-estate developer, for the study. Representatives from the organization will be in town for a few days in August, meeting with artists and scouting possible locations.
“[The space] would probably, but not necessarily, be somewhere in the South Main corridor,” said Kerry Hayes, research and innovation specialist with Mayor A C Wharton’s office. “There’s so much building stock in South Main, but we’re almost pricing it out of range for artists.”
The NEA grant was one of 21 grants totaling $3 million awarded to cities across the country through the Mayor’s Institute on City Design Anniversary Initiative. The money must be used to support projects that “transform sites into lively, beautiful, sustainable places with arts at their core,” according to a statement from the NEA.
Though creating affordable housing for artists will be a focal point of the Memphis study, Hayes said they’ll also be looking at how to keep artists in the city.
“What do emerging artists need to sustain and stay in Memphis? How do we help them make work?” Hayes said.
Hamlett Dobbins, director of Rhodes College’s Clough-Hanson Gallery, lives and works in the Broad Avenue Arts District. Like Wild, he thrives on living in an area with other artists.
“It’s nice to be around people like you, and people in the neighborhood really look out for each other,” Dobbins said.
As someone who works with art students, Dobbins supports the city’s plan to retain young and emerging artists.
“A lot of kids graduate and think about moving to other cities that have bigger arts communities,” Dobbins said. “We need to do anything we can to keep our kids here. We always lose kids to bigger art cities, but Memphis is a really great art town.”