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    Mosaic in the Making: South Main art projects foster neighborhood identity

    Ashlyna Butler, an eighth-grade student from Arlington Middle School, paints on a collaborative mural at United Warehouse, soon to be renovated into South Main Artspace lofts.

    (Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)


    A group of artists soon will be chosen to add something new to the canvas of Downtown’s South Main Historic Arts District.

    They’ll be part of a public art program called South Main Mosaic, for which the Downtown Memphis Commission has put out a call for artists based within 250 miles of Memphis to submit everything from sculptures to murals, videos, artistic lighting and more. Up to 10 pieces will be chosen, and a budget of $47,000 has been allocated for artist fees and production of the works.
    The name of that program, meanwhile, also is a fitting identity for the neighborhood itself, thriving as it does thanks to a veritable mosaic of communities, including artists, restaurants and creative businesses, among others.
    Examples of that distinctive identity abound. Besides the new public art program, they include a transformation underway at the United Warehouse building, 138 St. Paul, which will eventually be home to live/work spaces for local artists.
    Partners in transforming the old three-story United Warehouse facility include Artspace – a national nonprofit that develops artist housing – as well as the Hyde Family Foundation and the city of Memphis. During the project’s preconstruction phase, the space is coming to life with artistic programming, an example of which happened March 28 as an event called Art Lounge, which brought three art workshops to the space.
    Those workshops included a large painting and drawing wall, a bookmaking corner and a photo booth. Art Lounge was a partnership between Artspace, the UrbanArt Commission and artist Arnold Thompson.
    Neighborhood stakeholders say events like that, as well as the public art installation, underscore the district’s signature charm.
    “For quite some time, the South Main district has actively worked towards reconnecting and re-envisioning itself as one of Memphis’ most eclectic and hidden gems,” said Cat Pena, a consultant working with the Downtown Memphis Commission on the South Main Mosaic project. “(South Main Mosaic) will not only showcase some of these unique sites and sentiments but give an opportunity for local and regional artists to add their individual artistic touches to the district.”
    Art installed as part of the program, she added, will be able to “challenge and alter peoples’ perspectives” on how public art can shape, connect, enhance and move a community forward.
    Artwork that’s “interactive, kinetic or interpretive of the neighborhood’s history” is especially encouraged, and pieces that are chosen to be displayed will be installed Oct. 3. After that, a panel of judges will award $1,000 to the artist determined to have the most creative display.
    The deadline to submit an application is April 25.
    Heather Prouty, art representative for the South Main Association and manager at D’Edge Art, said the South Main Mosaic project can help bring new ideas, new art and hopefully new visitors to the neighborhood.
    “Having public art as a part of your surroundings is a fun way to get people talking about art,” she said. “Maybe it’s a bright, new mural on an otherwise drab building that makes you look twice. Or an empty lot that now has a tall sculpture that moves with the wind. We’ll have to wait and see what local artists come up with, but I’m looking forward to the unveilings in October.”
    Likewise, Sache Clothing co-founder John Sylvester, whose store is part of the South Main community, is similarly excited about the project.
    “Sometimes these projects do a great job of fostering collaboration, sometimes they benefit artists by creating exposure or supporting their work financially, and other projects benefit business owners or are aimed at the visitor experience,” he said. “South Main Mosaic is one of those rare instances where we have a chance to check the box ‘all the above.’”