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The "birthplace of rock and roll" braces for federal cuts to arts funding

In 2011, Memphis’ South Main ArtSpace Lofts project received a $100,000 planning grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The affordable housing development has since leveraged 18 million dollars in private and public money for artist live-work space on South Main.
The NEA’s support for other Memphis projects and organizations, such as the Tennessee Arts Commission, could be in jeopardy under the Trump administration.
“The arts are part of our DNA as a city,” said ArtsMemphis president and CEO, Elizabeth Rouse.
The NEA, which is the largest funder of nonprofit arts in the country, and other public art organizations like The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, support the arts through projects like ArtSpace across the country.
The White House budget office drafted a list that recommended President Trump’s first budget eliminate NEA, the NEH and the CPB. With these organizations on the chopping block, the Memphis art community rallied at Memphis Made Brewing February 20 to petition elected officials to protect the arts.

“(The arts) are an economic driver, they improve our quality of life and, most importantly, they transform lives. When you think about all of the arts organizations doing work in Memphis— whether it’s through arts education, after school programs or work in neighborhoods— the arts are represented all across the city and involve all types of people,” Rouse said.
Arts organizations make up a relatively small part of federal expenditures. Last year, the NEA’s budget was $148 million which is only 0.004 percent of the federal budget.
Jeff Kollath, executive director of the Stax Museum for American Soul Music believes that what is lost in this conversation is that the arts generate more revenue in the economy than they cost the government.
“(The arts) are a huge economic driver and that one of the best things about Memphis,” Kollath said.
“ArtsMemphis and other partner organizations have collected all of this data that shows how much spending is generated from the arts. The statistic is that a person spends over $24 when they go an arts event beyond the cost of their ticket,” Kollah added. “I think what elected representatives fail to see is how that money goes and affects people directly in their districts.”

 As evidenced from the ArtsSpace project, Rouse said that federal grants are vital for leveraging additional arts funding.
“(Public arts funding) is a small part of the budget, but it also goes a long way. One of the most important reasons for federal funding is to leverage other dollars from private support and pools of public money.”
At the Feb. 20 event attendees wrote postcards to state elected officials and sent messages on social media advocating for arts funding just days after groups in Nashville and Chattanooga held similar events.
Lauren Moscato, an arts supporter who works at the box office of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, wrote postcards at the event to show her support for federal arts funding. Hers is one of 48,851 arts-related jobs in Tennessee.
Moscato said the most important aspect of the arts in Memphis is the unity and community it provides.

“We need to continue the arts and carry on the message that arts are an important part of any community,” Moscato said.
“I’ve seen personally the growth in the arts in Memphis and the way that it unites people. I think music is universal and that’s why its continued to grow. It’s important for the next generation to appreciate it as well.”
Although cutting the arts has been described as an issue of fiscal responsibility, Kollath said he believes that is not the driving factor.
“The arts have always been political in nature,” said Kollath.
“But another reason why we get into the arts is because of the idea that there are no wrong answers. It’s exciting to push boundaries and to question things and question authority. Frankly, I think that makes people nervous sometimes.”
Rouse says they expect a first draft of the president’s budget next week and they hope that their work to lobby elected officials will build a foundation of support.
“We’re bringing people together to ask why does the arts matter to each of us as individuals and why do they matter to Memphis, Tennessee and why do they matter to the country? This is a way for us to proactive. It’s to get these stories together and showcase that federal support of the arts is important so that we will be ready if the arts are cut or eliminated from the budget.”

Memphis public transit is underfunded compared with peer cities, research shows

Declining financial support of the Memphis Area Transit Authority and a 40-year trend of development sprawling away from the city core has created a challenge for public transportation in Memphis.

To galvanize support for an alternate solution, Innovate Memphis released a white paper titled “Transit Funding: Memphis Deserves Great Transit,” that the organization hopes will build demand to increase Memphis area transit with funding that will stabilize and expand transit service.

It outlines MATA’s existing funding and a plan to expand Memphis’ public transportation infrastructure with a fare card system, more buses and bus stops as well as additional capital funds.

Innovate Memphis and several partners including Livable Memphis and the Greater Memphis Chamber as well as members of the business community convened the Transit Funding Working Group in late 2015 to identify additional sources of dedicated public funding.
The group’s goal is to increase transportation options and mobility with specific focus on improving reliable transit to jobs.  They seek to increase funding for MATA by $30 million annually.
“Improving and reimagining transit is one of the key decisions for Memphis’ future to increase the prosperity and health of its residents, as well as create a successful, livable Memphis,” said Suzanne Carlson, transportation and mobility project manager for Innovate Memphis.

“We can’t get there without funding public transit.”
According to Innovate Memphis’ research, Memphis is dramatically underfunded in comparison to Nashville, Louisville, Ky. and Charlotte, N.C.
MATA has no dedicated funding source and year and relies on elected officials and grant makers for funding which leaves its financial situation precarious from year. It has faced declining support, service cuts and maintenance issues in recent years.
Innovate Memphis reports that MATA operates on $84 per capita a year, whereas peer cities spend as much as $145.
The result, the paper stipulates, is that Memphis has created a dependence on cars. A small amount of Memphians, only 2.2 percent, take public transit to work compared to 7.1 percent for the largest 100 U.S. metropolitan areas. Memphis ranks 41 of 42 among large urban areas for transit use per capita.
According to MATA’s chief communications officer Nicole Lacey, MATA has the opportunity to be equal to, or better, than our peer cities, but says it starts with a unified effort from the community to support its growth.
“At MATA, one of our major goals for 2017 is to consistently and diligently show the public and our customers that we are committed to positive transformation,” Lacey said. “From Frayser to FedEx, from South Main to South Parkway and throughout many other neighborhoods in-between, MATA is committed to being there for every Memphian.
The white paper as well as a public survey to help provide insight into how people use public transit and other transit options in Memphis and Shelby County is available at http://www.yesmemphistransit.com/.

Senators Harris and Kelsey file legislation to protect Memphis sands aquifer

A bipartisan effort in underway to protect the Memphis Sand Aquifer, which provides Memphis drinking water. Last December, the Shelby County Groundwater Quality Control Board approved the Tennessee Valley Authority’s plan to pump 3.5 million gallons per day from it to cool a new natural gas plant. This was despite a resistance led by the Sierra Club who warns that the massive withdrawal TVA needs to cool its natural gas plant could contaminate the aquifer water.
State Senators Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Lee Harris (D-Memphis) filed legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly to set up a Memphis sands aquifer regional development board to protect water supplies in West Tennessee.
Senate Bill 776 also requires board approval to pump more than 10,000 gallons of water from the aquifer to ensure its long-term viability. It is sponsored by Rep. Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett) and Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer) in the House of Representatives.
“We want to make sure that the aquifer is preserved for future generations,” said Harris.
“That means we need to be careful with respect to the precedents we set today, since those precedents have a funny way to leading to negative consequences later. Because this aquifer is so special, we also want to do what we can to make sure that the public knows what’s happening with it and how it’s being utilized.”
This board would have full power to manage and preserve the aquifer. The nine-member board would be comprised of the mayors of Shelby, Tipton, and Fayette counties, which represents the area above where the aquifer flows. The governor would appoint the remaining members with two from the agricultural community, two from commerce and two from the environmental research community.
“This board would also help ensure that the flow of rain and water into the aquifer prevents pollution and waste,” Kelsey added. “I believe this legislation provides a well-balanced approach to ensure the aquifer is protected for many years to come.”
In addition, Senators Harris and Kelsey have filed a separate bill, Senate Bill 886, which requires anyone planning to drill a well to give at least 14 days advance notice to the state commissioner of the Department of Environment and Conservation with the notice published on department’s website.
“Clean drinking water is very important to our citizens and our future,” said Kelsey. “This legislation aims to ensure the aquifer remains a clean and reliable source for future generations.”

Women underrepresented in engineering celebrate local efforts to close the gap

The Memphis chapter of the Society of Women Engineers is hosting its first public event after receiving its charter in April 2016.

The Society of Women Engineers is an international organization that provides opportunities and resources for women in engineering, including scholarships for students, STEM outreach for K-12 girls, professional development events and public policy advocacy.

The Memphis chapter was founded by 53 local companies and organizations, including Christian Brothers University, City of Memphis, FedEx, Medtronic, Smith and Nephew, University of Memphis, and Wright Medical.

“Being a woman in engineering is both tremendously rewarding by improving the quality of life for millions of people around the world, and at other times, very frustrating,” said Memphis chapter president Dr. Sharon Rozzi.

“Women are underrepresented in engineering leadership despite progress in earning engineering degrees.  Studies have shown that women face obstacles that include gender bias, hostile cultures, shortage of mentors to provide career guidance, and 24/7 work pressures that make balancing home life challenging,” she added.

Per the National Science Foundation, women with college degrees remain underrepresented in Science & Engineering occupations, although less so than in the past. Except in computer/mathematical sciences, women have increased their particiation in each broad occupational group since the early 1990s.  In engineering, women increased their presence in the engineering workforce from 9 percent in 1993 to 13 percent in 2010.

This is as the field of engineering grows overall. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that, from 2010 to 2020, employment in Science & Engineering occupations will grow by 18.7 percent compared to 14.3 percent for all occupations.

Rizzo thinks the SWE’s work can help to close that gap and empower women starting from a young age to pursue well-paying STEM fields with good outlooks.
“SWE’s mission is to stimulate women to achieve their full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life, and demonstrate the value of diversity,” said Rizzo.
The inaugural event, “Celebrate SWE Memphis” is Thursday, February 23, 2017 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Double Tree in East Memphis.
Event speakers include past SWE President Colleen Layman and Medtronic VP of Research & Development Tommy Carls. All proceeds from the event will support SWE’s K-12 STEM outreach and member professional development.

Cynthia Daniels: Five easy ways to support black-owned businesses

The following is a guest post by Cynthia Daniels, chief event strategist at Cynthia Daniels & Co. Daniels will join four other Memphis business leaders for "Economic Justice in the City," a speaker event hosted by High Ground News at Clayborn Temple on February 28. Find out more about the free event here.

In a city with the majority is the minority, we tend to leave out a representative portion of our black restaurants and these very restaurants have grown to become hidden treasures.

Memphis Black Restaurant Week aims to counter economic disparity with fun and interactive solutions that engage, excite and ignite a deeper understanding and love of Memphis food culture while encouraging agency in the future of the city.  

This effort provides minority-owned restaurants with marketing opportunities that are otherwise cost restrictive with a goal of promoting Memphis food tourism and multicultural engagement. In 2016, MBRW offered exposure and supported eight black-owned restaurants.

In 2017, Memphis Black Restaurant Week expanded its model to nine cities. This year’s edition, which runs from March 6 to 12, names Sweet Potato Baby, Two Vegan Sistas and The Choo among participating restaurants.
Look For Them
It may take some homework to identify black-owned businesses because they are not as abundant in communities. Maybe you have to drive a little further but know that by doing this, you are supporting a black-owned business.

Try Something New
This is a great opportunity for consumers to mix it up and try different products and services they may end up liking even more than those they were used to purchasing from mainstream businesses. Nix the stereotyping and respect black products.

Spread the word on social media
Once you find businesses you like make sure other people know about them. Everyone loves having a secret, favorite local spot, but holding on to that information doesn't bring those businesses any revenue. Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are all great starting places to spread the word about local business you love.

Host events at black-owned businesses
Have a birthday, meeting or special event coming up? Keep a local black business in mind. Not only does this spread awareness, it brings new customers through the door.

Chamber of Commerce
This step will take a little bit of effort but it’s worth it in the end especially if you happen to be a business owner. Your city’s Chamber of Commerce or the National Black Chamber of Commerce can be used to find local business and who owns them. Most Chambers’ membership list can be searched for free. However, if you’d like to join there is usually a fee. The Chamber usually holds meetings and networking events where business owners get together to network and build relationships. Partnerships, business relationships, and referrals are common among members.

Local artisan market to open in the Edge District

The competition is on to see which local retailers and makers will win $2,500 and a spot in the Edge Alley development, which is slated to open this May.
The Edge Alley space, adjacent to High Cotton Brewing Co. on Monroe Avenue, will consist of a coffee roaster and coffee bar, a café, and the four retail spaces for local artisans.
Tim Barker and Phil Massey, who own the High Cotton space, created the mixed-use coffee shop concept as a way to use square footage unoccupied by the local brewery.  
Barker and Massey, who recently used the space for a pop-up art gallery, are interested in promoting flexible spaces and a maker culture in the blossoming Edge District.
This development comes as the Memphis Medical District Collaborative, an independent development agency backed by the area’s major medical institutions, advances their goal to increase retail offerings in the neighborhood to make it a more livable environment for professionals, students and residents.
“(MMDC’s) goal is to work with the anchor institutions to grow the neighborhood. A big part of that strategy is real estate development and attracting new and growing businesses,” said Abby Miller, MMDC director of programs and data.
“This is a really good entry point for makers, businesses and entrepreneurs because it’s a micro space where the makers are benefiting from being together and taking a square footage that is feasible,” she added.

The application for retailers opened February 2 and will close March 10.  Preference will be given to makers who can be ready to move into a small brick-and-mortar space by May 1. Applications forms can be found at edge-alley.com.

Suggested retail categories are clothes, shoes, jewelry, bags, food, furniture and home goods as well as bath and body and skincare and fragrance.

In addition to the $2,500 to spend on their store and offset rental cost, retailers will also receive up to 20 hours of business assistance from MMDC and technical assistance from EPICenter.

“We want a good healthy mix of business,” said Miller.
“Anybody who is a maker or entrepreneur is welcome-- whether they want a second location or are just starting out. What’s cool and viable about this project is having that diversity and interest when you walk into the space. It’s that wow factor. We want to see opportunity appeal to broadest community possible. We really want to help.”

New plan uncovers data that supports Memphis' maker economy

In December 2016, Memphis was named the fifth North American “Maker City” by the online marketplace, Etsy.  This was due in large part to the work of The Made By Project, which put in six months of research, mapping exercises, and in-depth interviews of local makers, artisans and micro-entrepreneurs to the aspirations of Memphis’ maker economy.
Led by Little Bird, a Memphis-based research, strategy and design firm, The Made By Project announced February 6 that they had released the data from this first-of-its kind quantitative and qualitative survey of more than 300 makers in Memphis and Shelby County.
“While many of our makers may not initially think of themselves as part of our entrepreneurial ecosystem, this ‘creative class’ of entrepreneurs not only represents viable businesses, but their locally made products represent such an authentic and vibrant part of Memphis,” said Leslie Smith, president of EPIcenter.
The Made By Project focuses on tracking entrepreneurs who create and sell physical goods at small scale in one of four sectors: packaged food and beverage; fashion and accessories; home goods; and technology and hardware.

The researchers plan to use the results of the survey to develop a data-driven economic development plan that fosters a vibrant, thriving and inclusive community of makers and artisans across the region.
Long term, the development plan aims to grow the greater Memphis economy in new areas, specifically in the number of maker enterprises led by women and minorities; the diversity and quality standard of products; the number of micro-entrepreneurs scaling to small- and medium-sized businesses; the demand for skilled worker; and the brand perception of Memphis for creative enterprises.
Of the 315 respondents, 68 percent run their businesses on their own, 57 percent identified as part-time and 43 percent identifiedas full-time.
Little Bird found that the median age for Memphis’ makers is 40 years old and 74 percent of respondents are women. Seventy-two percent are white, 72 percent are well-educated and 64 percent are married.
Implementation of recommendations in the development plan will be led by EPIcenter, a collaborative and community-wide strategic initiative that is helping entrepreneurs conceive, launch and scale businesses in the Memphis region.
EPIcenter serves as the strategic hub of the region’s ecosystem and coordinates resources from various organizations in the community such as accelerators, incubators, mentors, investors, networking programs, and technical assistance programs for entrepreneurs.
“Many communities are trying to determine how to build infrastructure to support makers and artisans, and we now have the data to really understand how best to serve them here in Shelby County,” said Leslie Smith, president of EPIcenter.
The full report can be viewed here

Crosstown Concourse incorporates salvaged and new art in its final touches

As organizations move into Crosstown Concourse and it approaches its May 2017 opening date, artists and contractors are putting the final touches on the $200 million renovation.

The project, originally launched under the direction of Crosstown Arts, has married the art-making into the creation process down to the smallest details.
Contractors are using salvaged elements from the building’s original use as Sears, Roebuck & Co. regional distribution center to beckon back to the building’s history.
The counter at the main reception desk on the first floor of the 1.5-million-square-foot building showcases tarnished conveyor spindles under a plate of glass. On the second floor, four large, vintage pieces of the original Sears conveyor system, where hundreds of employees received and packaged goods, were left intact in an homage to the building’s former use as a distribution center.
These examples are what Crosstown Concourse co-leader Todd Richardson calls “art moments” throughout the building.
“There are moments throughout the building where we will either have artists fabricate pieces, or where we’ve reclaimed and reused aspects of the former Sears building and woven them into the design of the renovation in such a way that they honor or point to the building’s history,” Richardson said.
Even the smallest details have a rich background. The first piece of Crosstown Concourse that visitors, residents, and workers will touch as they enter the building’s west or central atria is a work of art.
Local artist Ben Butler created 16 sets of door handles to adorn the double doors leading into the building’s main entrances. The handles, made from reclaimed maple, feature a silhouette image of the Concourse building designed by Michael Carpenter, partner at local ad agency Loaded for Bear.
“This is the first time someone touches the building, so it should be special,” said Butler, who will serve as the wood shop manager for Crosstown Arts’ shared art-making facility. Butler also participated in Crosstown Arts’ artist residency program over the past three months.
Butler’s project was the first such “art moment” to be fabricated by a local artist, but Richardson said he envisions opportunities for artists to create murals, lighting design, and sculpture throughout the building once construction is complete.
The display of historic artifacts, such as the steel rail lines embedded in concrete in the north plaza where the L&N Railroad once ran, have been worked into the building’s construction, but opportunities for artists to create new works throughout the building will continue beyond the construction phase.

The building, which is Memphis’ most significant renovation project to-date, will also include 45,000-square-feet of contemporary arts gallery and performance space operated by Crosstown Arts.

Start Co. launches first cohort of minority-owned businesses

As efforts grow city-wide to invest in minority-owned businesses, Start Co. responded by launching its first accelerator aimed to serve existing minority-owned businesses.
The Propel program graduated its first cohort in January. The companies launched include Casey Custom Upholstery, Durham Housing, Fifer & Associates, Fitnexx, The Healthcare Institute, Reflections and West Wing Events.
The 12-week program, run in partnership with The City of Memphis Office of Business Diversity and Compliance, was designed to build capacity and enhance the business models of existing by offering hands-on programming, mentor opportunities and technical resources.
To participate in Propel, business owners had to be operating for at least three years, have at least two full-tie employees and earn at least $200,000 in annual revenue. The accelerator participants were paired with more established business leaders as mentors.  
Start Co. president Andrew Fowlkes hopes that the entrepreneur service organization can expand Propel to foster a more inclusive business environment and polish businesses that might be eligible for public contracts.
“The program was great, and I think we really helped change (the participants’) mindset for future growth and building capacity,” Fowlkes said.
“But it really just begins now. And we have to also be very deliberate on being more inclusive in the greater ecosystem.”
Start Co. also offers a B2B tach accelerator, Seed Hatchery; an accelerator for women-owned businesses called Upstart; and Sky High, an accelerator for tech companies offering education solutions.
Unlike the other accelerators, however, Propel was created specifically for local businesses to create a relationship between the city and minority small business talent. They hope the pilot program can continue and grow after a successful first class of graduates.

“It’s exciting,” Fowlkes said. “We hope it can become an ongoing resource for minority-owned businesses.”

Lynching Sites Projects speaks to Shelby County's history of racial violence

In the morning light of May 22, 1917, an estimated 5,000 people gathered at the Wolf River near present-day Summer Avenue to lynch and decapitate fifty-year-old Ell Persons. No one was ever charged in the murder.
As Memphis approaches the 100th anniversary of this act of terror, the Lynching Sites Project of Memphis has hired John Ashworth on as project manager to organize a prayer vigil to mark the occasion.
Ashworth is a retired military veteran who has studied African-American history in Haywood County, Tenn. since 2007 where he opened a small museum. He is interested in subverting the traditional narrative and telling the story of African-Americans as actors rather than as victims.
“The victim story has been told many times over,” Ashworth said.
“This country is what it is because (African-Americans) gave our full share and our full measure, as everyone else did. The difference is that we were denied the benefits of our labor,” he said.
“When we look today at the problems in the black neighborhoods, we can look back and see that is because we were denied the benefits of our contributions. So, it’s important now to go back and look and understand the truth.”

The Lynching Sites Project describes itself as “part of a growing network of citizens who want the whole and accurate truth to be told about the history of Shelby County.” The initiative has researched, documented, and created markers for lynchings in the area for a little over a year as part of a national effort by Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative to memorialize over 4,000 known lynchings in the United States between 1877 and 1950.

Ashworth joined with the Lynching Sites Project in early January and describes their work as “peeling back the pages of history to see what really happened.” As project manager, Ashworth will be making the 100th anniversary event possible and hopes that Memphis will confront its painful past by showing up.
“This is an opportunity for Memphis in particular and the Mid-South in general to demonstrate how far we have come,” Ashworth said.
“The question now for Memphis and the Mid-South is: how many of you will turn out in a prayer vigil for something very horrific? Now is a good time for Memphis to come and say to the world, we are much better than that. We have moved this much further ahead,” he added. “Certainly, not everyone is going to do that; but, I think there should be an equal, if not greater, turn out for this event on May 21st of this year than there was for the lynching of Ell Persons.”
Ashworth believes it is Important to revisit this history of terrorism to appreciate how it has shaped our country to this day. He points to the connection between the denial of wealth to African-Americans and their displacement after the Civil War as parallel to the denial of equal access to education, opportunity, wealth, and healthcare in black communities today.
“We all have a way of forgetting and not talking about those things in our past that are painful. You look at the amount of markers and monuments for the Confederate cause in the south. Even though people lost their lives, we see that as less horrific to talk about than the lynchings that occurred,” said Ashworth.
“I’m encouraged that there are so many people now who are willing to begin this very difficult conversation. And I realize the point we’re in now is highly polarized politically and it’d be easy to listen to a lot of noise and say that race relations are really worse today than they were. I personally don’t think that’s true, but, what I’m finding is that across this country, we are saying that we need to have this conversation.

Memphis-based company partners with IBM to "transform" online cotton trading

The cotton industry may evoke images of rural farmers and old Memphis industry, but modern-day businesses rely heavily on cutting-edge technology for production and trade.

The Seam, headquartered in Memphis, was founded by global agribusiness companies and specializes in commodity trading and management systems, including what they refer to as the world's first completely online, anonymous exchange for cotton trading.

The company announced in January that they are partnering with IBM to form a blockchain consortium for the global cotton industry to improve trading. The companies intend to lead a collaborative initiative across the industry to create a supply chain and trading ecosystem built on IBM blockchain technology.

A blockchain is a secure digital ledger that can be shared on multiple screens, enabling companies to work together with increased speed and reduced interference. The technology will impact trade by allowing instantaneous transfer of currency.

“This new technology will be transformational for the cotton industry,” said Mark Pryor, Chairman and CEO of The Seam.

“There are numerous organizations, processes, systems and transactions involved from field to fabric. Situated at the intersection of agriculture, finance and technology, The Seam with the help of IBM, is uniquely positioned to introduce blockchain technology to cotton-affiliated businesses worldwide.”

Blockchain technology encourages a network effect, whereby the service becomes more valuable the more participation it has. IBM hopes to play a key role in driving its global adoption, due to its already-present digital footprint in all cotton producing and consuming regions.

“Blockchain offers enormous potential to drive innovation throughout the cotton industry,” said Arvind Krishna, Senior Vice President of IBM Research.

“A consortium approach using IBM Blockchain and the Hyperledger Fabric can help create greater efficiency and serve as the foundation of a robust system for massive collaboration.”

In 2000, The Seam began operating the world’s first online, neutral trading exchange for cotton, on which the company says tens of millions of bales have been traded and cleared on its platforms. In September 2016, they launched a cloud-based commodity management system for the peanut industry, the first of its kind.

The ownership group of The Seam includes renowned cotton leaders Calcot, Cargill, ECOM Agroindustrial Corporation Ltd., EWR, Inc., Louis Dreyfus Company, Olam International, Parkdale Mills, Plains Cotton Cooperative Association and Staple Cotton Cooperative Association. 

Rhodes College awarded $600,000 for collaboration with National Civil Rights Museum

Rhodes awarded $600,000 for Collaboration with National Civil Right Museum
The Andrew W. Mellon foundation has awarded Rhodes College a $600,000 grant to be used in collaboration with The National Civil Rights Museum for research about current social issues in Memphis, such as diversification, health disparities, economic change, and creative placemaking.
The grant will also be applied toward creating programming that the partners hope will lead to effective community action, including a series of lectures, performances, and workshops.
“The National Civil Rights Museum is proud to continue to partner with Rhodes College to apply theoretical principles practically in community,” said Terri Lee Freeman, president of the National Civil Rights Museum.
“It is important that we use the resources available in the museum to further civil society, recognizing what it has taken to get us to this point and what it will require for us to continue to build just communities.”
The grant will span over three years and build on the decades-long collaboration that Rhodes and NCRM have already undertaken to create community partnerships and educational experiences around Memphis history and culture.
NCRM staff have participated as lecturers and panelists for the Rhodes Institute for Regional Studies and Rhodes faculty members Tim Huebner and Charles McKinney participated in the of the process of planning the museum’s newly-renovated exhibits. The institutions are planning to expand their relationship and develop co-taught courses about social issues in the Memphis community.
This project will be led under the auspices of Rhodes’ Memphis Center, led by director of the Rhodes Memphis Center, Dr. Charles Hughes. The Memphis Center operates a variety of initiatives focusing on interdisciplinary study of Memphis and the surrounding region and fosters engaged learning opportunities between students and the community.
“This grant represents the next phase in Rhodes College’s long commitment to creating transformative educational opportunities through partnerships in Memphis,” said Hughes.
“By joining with the world-class National Civil Rights Museum, we will produce unique experiences on our campus and support the causes of democracy, equity, and justice in our city and beyond,” he added. “It is an incredibly exciting opportunity and I can’t wait to get started.”

Artists sought to contribute to Memphis' first comprehensive city plan

The UrbanArt Commission is seeking three local artists to collaborate in the comprehensive city planning process, Memphis 3.0.
Memphis 3.0 is a two-year process to create the city’s first strategic plan in 35 years. Set to be completed for Memphis' bicentennial year in 2019, the plan will chart progress for the city's growth in livability, sustainability and neighborhood development.

The UrbanArt Commission, in its collaboration with the city of Memphis, plans for the selected artists to facilitate neighborhood conversations by developing creative approaches to discussing connectivity, sustainability, livability and opportunity across the city. Artists will collaborate with the planning team to “amplify and diversify” voices that are working to shape the city’s future.

 “There are great examples across the country like in Minneapolis where artists are being engaged not to produce an object but to further a process and develop innovative approaches in cross-sector partnerships,” said UrbanArt executive director Lauren Kennedy.

Kennedy hopes the partnership will facilitate neighborhood conversations by developing creative approaches to discussing connectivity, sustainability, livability and opportunity across Memphis and get more local artists involved in social practice work.

In preparation for the beginning of the application period for artists that opens in February, UrbanArt Commission is hosting two training sessions with consultants from Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis. The first is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 2 p.m. at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library and the second is at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at the Orange Mound Gallery.
Artists must attend one of the information sessions, be living and working in Memphis and have attended at least one of the January information sessions in order to apply.

A $25,000 stipend will be paid to each of the three artists during their positions, which will span from August 2017 to October 2018. Artists with backgrounds in visual, performing, craft, design, video, multi-media, interdisciplinary and/or multidisciplinary arts are invited to apply. 

Memphis pinball scene picks up momentum

What do two techies, a middle school science teacher and a public health researcher all have in common? They “live and breathe pinball.” Together, Richard Rickman, David Yopp, Eric Stenberg, and Ace Madjlesi make up the core team that runs Memphis Pinball.
Memphis Pinball operates and maintains pinball machines at many Memphis establishments.
“There are big pinball markets in Portland, Seattle, Austin, and St. Louis,” said Madjlesi. “But Memphis is definitely on the upswing.”
Recently, Stenberg founded Bluff City LLC so that the group could operate the pinball machines he owns out of restaurants and bars. Pinball Memphis set its sights on the Memphis Made taproom, which now displays five pinball machines with titles including Fun House, Fish Tales, Demolition Man, Hook and NBA Fast Break. Play is 50 cents.
“I'm really proud of Bluff City Pinball and Memphis Made for taking this step,” said Memphis Pinball director Madjlesi, who is the highest-ranking female pinball player in Tennessee.
“My end goal is to have a vibrant local pinball scene. I want to be able to take study breaks and play a variety of machines all over town. I want to have qualifying rounds at our tournaments because so many good players show up,” she added.
Memphis Pinball has hosted several International Flipper Pinball Association tournaments since the kickoff competition in Feb. 2014. Players in Memphis are internationally ranked.
The third annual Tilted Hearts Pinball Tournament is planned for Feb. 18 at Memphis Made. There will be cash prizes for the top four players.
Stenberg says his goal with Bluff City Pinball is to foster a pinball scene in Memphis and maybe make enough to cover the maintenance of the machines.
“I think people may not realize how much engineering, sweat and cash goes into maintaining pinball machines,” Madjlesi added.
There are also pinball machines at Garibaldi's University Yates locations and two machines at the Rec Room. Yopp is putting in a retro arcade in Millington that will feature 15 to 20 pinball machines, which he hopes to have running by March 2017. 
“I like to say that pinball is about half skill and half luck. Anyone can have a good ball and anyone can have a bad one,” Madjlesi added.

With a giant closing, Memphis weighs the future of independent book stores

As Memphis stirred from the close of the holiday season, the city's last large independent bookstore announced that it was closing its doors. 

Citing declining sales, the Booksellers at Laurelwood announced on Jan. 3 that it will be closing in February after 32 years.

Memphians flocked to the East Memphis store in a show of support and others took to social media to advocate for innovative solutions to allow Laurelwood to keep its doors open. 

The owners of Burke’s Books, a used bookstore in Midtown, appealed to investors on their Facebook page to save the bookstore as Memphians did for Burke’s ten years ago. Cheryl and Corey Mesler included with their post a petition started by White Station High School student Emmett Miskell that has so far garnered 1,750 signatures.
Although the possibility of saving The Booksellers at Laurelwood is unsure, other independent stores like Burke’s Books and 901 Comics remain.
Shannon Merritt, owner of 901 comics admits that the news worries him. “I hope it is not a trend. (The Booksellers at Laurelwood) have been a cornerstone of small business here. I don’t think you can say they were not a success. Thirty years is a good run, but I am sorry that people will lose their jobs.”
Burke’s co-owner Cheryl Mesler called the news “tragic”.

“It can work. Maybe not in that size or set up (at Booksellers) but Memphis has the capacity to support multiple bookstores," she said. In recent years, the 25,000-square-foot Booksellers at Laurelwood location has added more used books and media as well as gifts in an effort to draw in new customers.

Current owner Neil Van Uum purchased the store ten years ago when it was known as Davis-Kidd Booksellers. When the chain went bankrupt, Van Uum kept the store open under a new independently-owned identity. 
Both Merritt and Mesler pointed to the in-person experience of independent stores that you cannot get at a chain or by buying online.
“It's important to communities to have the experience of walking around a bookstore and talking to knowledgeable staff. The browsing experience is completely unique," said Mesler.
“People come together for causes. Independent bookstores do so much to support literacy, especially among children," she added. "They are a community spot where people can have face-to-face contact about books. Books are art that you can hold in your hand.”
Merritt also cited the expertise of staff as the heart of the independent store experience.
“I went into a Books-A-Million recently and saw a big section of comic books, and that bothered me,” Merritt said. “People there can’t talk to you about comics. We have expertise and better customer service. We run a subscription service. People come in every week and get comics that we selected for them. That’s not going to happen at a big store.”
He also said that he chose the Cooper-Young neighborhood for his store because he believes it is a neighborhood that supports local businesses. He hopes appealing to a niche market will be a successful strategy for keeping his small business' doors open.
Mesler is concerned about the “ripple effect” of independent stores closing. Indie bookstores who support and publicize lesser-known authors help to diversify publishing. If independent bookstores disappear, she says publishing will be in the hands of the very few.
“We can’t let that happen. We need a lot of voices out there.”
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