Butterfly sculptures flood Carnes garden and blighted neighborhood

An installation of more than 100 sculptures of butterflies works to brighten the neighborhood surrounding Carnes community garden just north of the Memphis Medical District.  

Artists from the Memphis College of Art designed the butterflies, which were fabricated from aluminum and colored plexiglass and then assembled by a group of volunteers from Bridges. During a special neighborhood event, the butterflies were “released” throughout the two neighborhood gardens along the paths to the gardens and in the yards of a few nearby residents.

“It’s great to be taking something that was a blight on the whole city really and making it into something that is an asset and at the same time restoring people’s faith that the neighborhood can get better,” said Mary Baker, planning and communication specialist for NPI.

Artists from Memphis College of Art fabricated the butterflies.

“We’re bringing back nature. Now they see beautiful butterflies in the garden, and we’re working towards getting more birds coming back to build nests.”

One goal of the project is to help develop the next generation of placemakers and public artists. The project partners, which include Neighborhood Preservation Inc., Bridges USA, MCA and the Memphis Medical District Collaborative, held a butterfly assembly party at Bridges on March 11 and 12.

Nearly 15 MCA volunteers came out to supervise the younger group of 35 Bridges volunteers who were mostly junior high to high school aged students.

Carnes Garden at 916 J.W. Williams Street was the first garden started by the NPI in the spring of 2014. Before then, there had been an old house on the lot that was torn down.

The butterfly sculptures flutter through the Carnes garden and surrounding neighborhood.

“We try to repair any home that we can and put a family in there or make it so a family can live there, but so many of the homes were beyond repair and had to be torn down,” said Baker.

“We ended up with vacant lots that became overgrown and weedy, so we started the program of making them into gardens.”

A mural for the back wall of the garden was created last summer with the help of support from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and a grant from Memphis City Beautiful. Then last fall, NPI received access to another lot just down the street at 956 J.W. Williams, and the organization started another garden along with a wildflower field about a half-mile away.

“So this butterfly release connected all of those areas together,” said Baker.

NPI continues to also renovate nearby homes as a part of an overall neighborhood strategy to lift up the area.

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.
Signup for Email Alerts