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ArtsMemphis and The Collective partner to raise profile for local artists of color

In an effort to support local artists, ArtMemphis is drawing inspiration from the concept of community supported agriculture.

But instead of shares of whatever’s in season, stakeholders will get a share of local artists’ work.

“The ArtsMemphis CSA draws from the same model that’s used in agriculture CSAs where you might get a share of cauliflower, kale, or beef from a local farm at a certain rate from your share.

In this case, instead of getting food you get a share of locally-produced works of art,” explained Will Murray, director of development & communications for ArtsMemphis.

ArtsMemphis hosted the first art CSA in 2016. In addition to raising funds for artists and connecting them with collectors and patrons, it also pays the artists who participate.

“We were trying to come up with new ideas to not only raise support for artists but to embrace our role as a connector between artists, collectors and members of the community,” said Elizabeth Rouse, ArtsMemphis president and CEO.

This year, ArtsMemphis partnered with The Collective. The new arts organization highlights the work of Memphis’ African American artists. Currently, artists Lawrence Matthews III, Matthew Thomas, and Felicia Wheeler have been commissioned to create editioned work for this year’s CSA.

Related: "Orange Mound Gallery models equitable development through arts"

Their works will be presented to collectors through the CSA and exhibition at Orange Mound Gallery.

“We were excited for the chance to partner with ArtsMemphis and play our part in diversifying both the artists and audience served by the awesome work they're doing, so we jumped at the opportunity,” said Victoria Jones, executive director of The Collective.

“Each artist involved in this year's CSA worked incredibly hard to provide thought-provoking, intentional works for the collectors. We are so excited to share their work with people who may not have had access to them previously.”

Twenty-five shares were made available for a set of three works. Shares ran $500. Artists contributed one work each. They included a painting print, photographic print and sculptural piece.

“It’s all two-dimensional so it’s very accessible to anyone who wants to buy art to hang up on their wall,” said Tracy Lauritzen Wright, ArtsMemphis director of grants & initiatives.

The two groups also put together a slate of CSA programs. The “Maintaining Place/Making Space” exhibit honors pre-existing communities as Memphis’ revitalization continues.

“We have been working hand in hand with ArtsMemphis to create a platform for Black artists through this partnership, and are excited to find ways to continue bridging that gap towards equity,” said Jones.

The exhibition opened Friday, Oct. 6 with an opening reception was held at the Orange Mound Gallery. Works from the 2017 CSA artists are featured, and it will run through November 4.

The gallery will also host “The Artists Talk” on Sunday, October 15 from 2 to 3 p.m. It will feature the three CSA artists, as well as art council member, Grace Stewart. Later, a closing exhibition and CSA pick-up party will be held on Friday, Nov. 3 from 6 to 9 p.m.

“As for OMG, in thinking about how to honor communities as Memphis addresses revitalization efforts, we could think of no gallery that was living that mission any truer than our friends at Orange Mound Gallery.

We have been so thankful for their staff (made up community members and artists) and their dedication to sharing this exhibition. They have been such an instrumental part of this partnership,” said Jones.

Through the exhibitions, the hope is conversations about topics like gentrification and equity within the arts will take place – in addition to identifying solutions or strategies.

“We have quite the journey ahead of us, and these can't be steps taken alone or in a vacuum. This is but a building block in the grand scheme of things. We are hoping to use as this moment as a strategic push for change, representation, and equity, but it cannot be the only one,” said Jones.

Part of the revenue from CSA sales goes toward the ArtsMemphis Arts Accelerator program, which provides grants to local artists. 

“ArtsMemphis is a grant-making organization. It's been around for 54 years to support Memphis by supporting the arts community. We do that primarily by raising dollars to support arts organizations,” said Rouse.

ArtsMemphis started the art accelerator program around five years ago. It provides grants to visual artists. Grants of $5,000 each go to five Memphis artists.

So far, ArtsMemphis has awarded over 150 grants to more than 80 artists and organizations this year.

Two of the five grants awarded next year will go to an artist of color.

“So, this partnership with The Collective has informed decisions for us with related programs as we go through our services that we provide to the local arts community,” said Wright.

How to get involved with Memphis' relief efforts for Puerto Rico

While Puerto Rico recovers from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, several Mid-South residents with ties to the island are initiating relief efforts to help their people get on their feet.

For almost two weeks, millions of citizens of the U.S. protectorate have gone without power and communication. Food and potable water have been scarce. Filling up a car could require an eight-hour wait in line, according to reports. 

As news of the third-world conditions on the island trickled to the mainland, Puerto Rico in Memphis, a local Facebook group, decided to get involved in the relief effort.

“This situation with the hurricane is something extraordinary. They are having a hard time right now,” said Maria DelosAngeles Azor, a member of Puerto Rico in Memphis.

A core group of 20 members have organized supply donation sites at Mystic Styles Hair Studio, 5412 Elvis Presley Boulevard; the Germantown Performing Arts Center, 1801 Exeter Road; the Jackson Avenue Flea Market, 4010 Jackson Avenue and at 2203 Vinton Avenue, a Midtown residence. 

All four locations will be activated on October 8 for a relief drive, held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Requested supplies include bottled water, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, canned and dry food, baby supplies, first aid kits, blankets, pillow, batteries. A full list can be found on the Puerto Rico in Memphis Facebook page.

Once the drive is finished, the supplies will be dropped off at a warehouse and placed on pallets.

JetBlue has donated an aircraft to drop off supplies at Aquavilla, Puerto Rico, which is on the west side of the island. Supplies must total 12,000 pounds for the airline to follow through with the delivery.

“It will be good to get stuff to that side of the island,” said Joy Padilla-Anderson. “Transporting the supplies is a logistical nightmare. They have had so many landslides. You can’t drive up roads. You can’t even walk up some.”

Padilla-Anderson, operator of the Joy Ride Latin Eats food truck, is heading the Midtown donation efforts.

“I am using my food truck here in front of my house and hope to fill it up as much as we can,” said Padilla-Anderson.

She will also donate a part of her proceeds from the JoyRide to the relief.

Growing up between Florida and Puerto Rico, the small business owner still has close ties to the island. Her grandparents, sister, brother and cousins are scattered across the island.

“I finally heard from my family this week and they are all OK. But I cried every day. I feel better now since I’ve talked with them and know they are getting help,” said Padilla-Anderson.

Other members of Puerto Rico in Memphis haven’t been as fortunate as they have family in towns that didn’t fare as well. 

With worst estimates saying the island has been set back 25 to 30 years, relief will be needed on an ongoing basis.

Hoping to continue to provide aid, the local group is organizing a Puerto Rican Festival – although it is still in the planning stage. It will be held at the Blue Moon Event Center on October 22. All proceeds will go to a nonprofit organization in Puerto Rico. More details will be available on the Puerto Rico in Memphis Facebook page as the event draws near.

“We are now working on getting the word out and to make sure people know we can go beyond the Latin community in Memphis. We need everyone in all neighborhoods to know about it,” said Azor.

All photos courtesy of Marlon Mercado.

There's opportunity in Memphis for creative professionals

The Creative Works conference, held every October in Memphis since 2014, is about more than attending panels and printing lanyards.

Leaders behind the annual conference for creative professionals have expanded their scope to organize year-round programming with the goal of reaching 10,000 creative professionals working in Memphis by 2030. 

Memphis has about half of the density people working in creative fields compared to comparably sized cities, said Dan Price, COO of nonprofit Creative Works.

That means about 5,000 Memphians are employed as creative professionals, such as graphic designers, web developers, art directors and film and video editors.

“What we found is that Memphis has a creative drought,” Price said. New programs, like a low-cost design bootcamp, intend to equip residents with the skills needed to support a thriving creative economy.

Recent data from Americans for the Arts shows that arts-related industries are a major economic driver in Shelby County as nonprofit arts and culture drives $197.3 million in annual spending within Shelby County.


“The impact that arts and creativity has on culture and economy is kind of undeniable,” said Price. 

“Creative people have so much influence on the amenities of a city, especially in urban areas like Midtown and Downtown. We think with a greater density of creative people, people working to solve problems, we'll be able to see and feel changes in the culture of Memphis as a whole.”

Creative Works evolved into a year-round organization in 2016. The nonprofit’s cornerstone event, the Creative Works conference, has grown tremendously since its debut in 2014 and has garnered national attention. Forty percent of this year’s 400 conference attendees are from out-of-town.

Several local makers will showcase their products at the open-to-the-public Creative Works market, held October 6 and October 7 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at The Halloran Center.

When the conference wraps, attendees can continue to benefit from programs such as monthly meetups, bi-monthly lectures on topics such as branding and Squarespace basics and a high-profile guest speaker series.  

Underscoring the in-person events is a drive to increase the talent pool of creative professionals.

The demand is present, Price said.

“We [leadership at Creative Works] all come from agency backgrounds and we’ve see firsthand, over the past 10 years, how everyone is struggling to find talent. We know there's not a talent pool out there that's waiting for jobs,” Price said.

To prime the pump for advances in Memphis’ creative workforce, the nonprofit launched in July a design extracurricular course at Grizzlies Prep. Blake Lam, the organization’s director of youth education, has been leading courses in creativity and design for 7th and 8th graders.

In September, the organization wrapped a 12-week design boot camp where people learned practical design skills. Weekly sessions covered topics including the fundamentals of creative thinking and the ins-and-outs of Adobe Creative Cloud.

Sarah Blackburn, development and communications manager for ArtsMemphis, said the course fills a resource gap in Memphis.

“It's something we don't have in Memphis, and it's an asset,” she said.

As a participant in the course, Blackburn designed a creative brief, logo, brochure and other materials for Urban Paddle, an awareness campaign to encourage more Memphians to paddle the urban section of the Wolf River.

“I'm a [Memphis College of Art] graduate and I am the alumni president, so I want Memphis to invest in their creatives. It's not just for our designs abilities but our culture,” Blackburn said.

“There are so many studies that talk about how more corporations need to hire more creatives because we can think about problem solving in a different way than someone who is analytical. We can look at the entire picture," she added.

Information about Creative works programs and the annual conference, held October 5 through October 7, can be found here.

Healthy City town halls lead citizens in seeking "health care that heals"

Healthy City Town Hall Meeting was held recently at the Novel bookstore in the Laurelwood Shopping Center. The discussion centered around the perennial hot-button topic of health care.

 “This town hall was intended to give everyday people a way to understand the real forces driving American medicine and show them how to demand and get health care that truly heals for themselves, their families, and their neighbors,” said Dr. Jim Bailey, chair of Clinical Practice Committee for the Society of General Internal Medicine.

The September 16 town hall forum is part of a national tour Bailey is leading to "encourage people to join the movement to reclaim health care that heals."

Additional panelists included local physicians Dr. G. Scott Morris and Dr. Clarence Davis.

Morris is the founder and CEO of Church Health. The faith-based organization is the largest privately-funded primary care clinic in the nation. An ordained minister, he also advocates for the poor.

Davis is chief medical officer for the Memphis Health Center. Along with the Congregational Health Network, a partnership between Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare and roughly 400 area churches, he introduced "Walking With The Doctor" classes. The year-long educational series is centered on empowerment and wellness from ailments ranging from HIV to kidney disease.

Through their differing perspectives within the healthcare industry, the panelists addressed ways to “fix our broken health care system.”

After sharing their insights with the capacity crowd, a question and answer session was held. 

Questions about access to affordable prescriptions came up.  The panelists touched on an alternative approach, culinary medicine. The diet-based program is viewed as a lower-cost alternative to prescription medicines. A wellness-based lifestyle, as opposed to medical intervention, was also discussed.

Consensus formed among the physicians that primary care is the first step in repairing the health care system.

“Better health starts with primary care,” added Dr. Davis. “Getting everyone to make and keep an appointment to see their primary care provider will improve the health our community. In Memphis, we have affordable access points to match any budget.”

While the conversation focused on health care, the location of the event served a purpose, too.

The town hall also marked with the second printing of Bailey’s novel.

“The End of Healing: A Journey through the Underworld of American Medicine” draws from his experiences as a physician and expert in health care quality.

Like the town hall, the intention of the novel is to stir debate over the America’s health care system as well as provide insight to health care consumers.

“With all the recent debate about health reform, Americans are eager to discover the path to reclaiming their broken health care system and giving America a brighter future in the process,” said Bailey.

Dr. Bailey wasn’t the only panelist who uses the written word to promote changes.

Author of “God, Health & Happiness” and “If Your Heart is Like my Heart,” Morris’ works are reflective of his faith. They also acknowledge that doctors and the health care system overall are but one part of a wellness.

“It is my intent through my books, to show how physical health is affected by spiritual wellbeing,” said Dr. Morris.

The town hall was the first in a series Dr. Bailey plans to hold. Meetings in various cities are in the works.

“With the Healthy City Town Hall meetings, we are launching a national movement to help Americans reclaim health care that heals. We wanted to hold our inaugural event here in Memphis, and are now making plans to hold Healthy City Town Hall meetings across the country," he said.

During these stops, he plans to once again draw on experts in the communities.

“We are currently working to set up our next event in Nashville, followed by Oxford, MS — and then we are planning to visit other cities like Lexington, Boston and Washington DC — all to give people an opportunity to be part of the discussion about the future of healthcare.”

Emily Adams Keplinger contributed to this article. She is a freelance writer and editor based in Memphis, TN. She has worked as a multimedia journalist, serving as a writer and an editor for print and digital publications, as well as social media.

Adopt-A-Park program ramping up the call for volunteers

If there’s one thing Memphis doesn’t lack, it’s parks. In fact, the Bluff City is home to 167 parks. With 3,219 acres of public greenspace to maintain, Memphis City Beautiful is beginning a recruiting push for its Adopt-A-Park program this Fall.

“Mayor Strickland and Memphis City Beautiful kicked off the program in spring of 2016,” said Eldra Tarpley White, executive director of Memphis City Beautiful. “The primary goal and purpose is to establish beautiful and well-maintained parks, clean and free of litter.”

Volunteers are generally asked to help maintain parks by cleaning up litter, gardening, mulching. They are also asked to report unsafe conditions.

So far, 30 parks have been adopted.

“Our goal is to have at least 14 more parks adopted by June 30, 2018,” said White.

One early adopter is director of Hug Neighborhood Park Friends, Jo Ann Street.

“I see my role as an advocate for the parks to ensure that they are safe, promote health and wellness,” said Street.

Like many people, the site of a park brings back fond memories for her.

“Hollywood Park was moved across Chelsea, but it is the place where I first coached basketball for the major boys through my church, Christian United Baptist Church,” said Street.

Her group currently advocates for several parks. In addition to Hollywood, they help promote University and Gooch parks, too.

She encourages engagement with the parks by inviting sports teams, bicycle clubs and rodeos, such as the Memphis Hightailers and Bike Walk Memphis to use the green space; as well as Memphis Area Disc Golf, Memphis Wildcats football and cheerleaders, DUNK Camp with Rhonnie Brewer, RBI through the Redbirds, and Greater Memphis Greenline. Street also organizes the summer nutrition programs and school supply drives in the parks.

Street initially got involved with the program for two reasons.

“I personally needed a place where I could be active near my home to improve my health.”

The other reason came more out of care for her community.

“Children were being exposed to negative influences and events, and it should not hurt to be a child,” said Street.

Volunteers from her group meet regularly to clean up the spaces.

“We have monthly cleanups in University Park and Gooch Park, but Hollywood Park has a regular group that have daily cleanups,” said Street.

Kipp Collegiate and Middle School also partner with HUG to have quarterly cleanups. Students can  earn community service hours by pitching in. In addition, court-ordered community service hours through the Shelby County Public Defenders’ Office is offered.

While there isn’t hard data to place credit squarely on the park adoption program, some parks have become safer over the past few years.

“We are celebrating the fact that there have been zero crime reports since 2015 in the parks,” said Street.

Other longtime residents have noticed the work the volunteers have put in.

“One neighbor told me that I hadn't done anything new.  I'd just restored the parks to their original use.  Momma Lou, we call her, said she played in the park (as a child),” said Street.

Some of the city’s greenspaces have a historic significance. For instance, Gooch park was the first Negro Park in Memphis. It was donated to the city by Cecil and Boyce Gooch in 1957.

“Neighbors remember learning to swim and playing basketball in the park.  It is said that Elvis Presley played football at Dave Wells, but played basketball at Gooch Park,” added Street.

Of course, many Memphians have always played a part in keeping area parks clean. Volunteer efforts are appreciated by the city.

“We are so happy to have people more engaged and connected with their neighborhood parks.  Early indications show that the Adopt A Park program is a true catalyst for community involvement.  JoAnn Street with H.U.G.S is one of our adopters that has proven this well,” said White.

For more information on how you can adopt a park, contact Memphis City Beautiful at 901-636-4410 or

A workforce of addiction medicine specialists starts in Memphis

Like the rest of the country, Tennessee hasn’t been a spared the opioid crisis. Between 2011 and 2015, over 6,000 lives were lost in the state due to overdose deaths from opioids.

There are other longstanding addiction problems as well.

For instance, alcohol is still the most commonly abused substance in Tennessee. About 1 in 20 Tennessee residents abused or were dependent on alcohol in 2016.

Following a hub and spoke model, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center is on the forefront of creating a national model for the treatment of addiction.

“The difference in what we are doing in Tennessee is that we want to create an addiction workforce. Our proposal is linked to a fellowship where we recruit and train the doctors. It’s similar to the hub-and-spoke model of other states, like Vermont, but based in the university system with a focus on education,” said Dr. David Stern, vice chancellor for Health Affairs for Statewide Initiatives at University of Tennessee Health and Science Center.

Other states are doing a variation of what Dr. Stern is proposing – the hub and spoke model.

“The hub is where there is greater expertise and the spoke is lesser expertise but greater numbers of practicing physicians who can screen and care for patients who aren’t as sick,” said Stern.

The first hub and spoke model for addiction medicine was Vermont. Its addiction specialists are connected to primary care physicians - some experience treating addiction.

Here in Tennessee, only about 10 percent of patients in treatment are helped by a physician trained to address substance abuse.

It’s a nationwide problem rooted in the postgraduate educational system. Addiction treatment isn’t addressed in most medical school curriculums. Nor does it come up in residency.

“One really has to create an informed workforce and these addiction fellows are the lightning rod – they are the specialists - and then they can train the primary care physicians and others around them,” said Stern.

With the rising need in treatment alternatives, addiction medicine is a trending specialty in health care. Traditionally, physicians have received little training in addiction treatments.

Dr. Kevin Kunz, Executive Vice President of the American Board of Addiction Medicine and The Addiction Medicine Foundation, is working to address the shortcoming. Dubbed the “father” of Addiction Medicine, his efforts have led to an increase in fellowships in universities across the country.

In 2006, Kunz’s foundation began efforts to provide certification in Addiction Medicine as a subspecialty. They developed year-long training programs. After primary training, physicians could become clinical experts in the field of addiction medicine.

“It took us 10 years to get the buy-in from official medicine. There are now 44 of those in the United States, and one of the best happens to be here in Memphis at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center,” said Kunz.

UTHSC started preparing for its new addiction medicine fellowship program three years ago.  They took the first two fellows on July 1, 2016.  Now, they are in the second year of the fellowship and are starting to interview for fellows for July 1, 2018. The programs also train faculty, teachers, researchers, and change agents in the field.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education now accredits the one-year addiction medicine specialty training. ACGME is responsible for accrediting most graduate medical training programs for physicians in the U.S.

“Addiction medicine has now formally entered the house of medicine and health care so that patients can see a physician with this specialty. Their insurance will pay for it. Physicians will be willing to go into the field because it’s a recognized field,” said Kunz.

Considered a model program, UTHSC was designated the first Center of Excellence in addiction medicine and addiction science last year.

“Our foundation gave them the first formal recognition as a Center of Excellence in Addiction Medicine because not just are they training physicians to be specialists, consultants and team players in the prevention and treatment of addiction, but they are connected to their community and providing services to a community in need,” said Kunz.

The fellowship program has fostered partnerships within health care systems and hospitals, as well as the community.

“Since having a workforce for addiction medicine is an issue, this fellowship is valuable. The fellows we send out, we are looking to send them out all over Tennessee to form a network of addiction providers. These fellows are the nodes in the network that reach out to the local population – whether it be rural or in the urban centers,” said Stern.

With Dr. Kunz’s collaboration, a proposal was pitched to the state to expand the fellowship to recruit physicians from different cities and regions within the commonwealth.

The idea is to recruit fellows from across the state. Once trained, they would return to their community and become a hub in the network of treatment providers.

Fellows would have access to electronic medical records. A standardized practice regiment will be adhered to. Additionally, consultations with primary care physicians will be held to provide a complete medical picture.

Outreach and prevention efforts will also take place in the communities.

“So, it’s taking those initial fellows we train and organize them into a network to make them an essential group of expert providers for addiction services in Tennessee,” said Stern.

Federal and state funding is being sought for the fellowships and building the network. According to Stern, $25 million is needed to fund the program. But he says it would become self-sustaining in six years.

One proposal is student loan forgiveness in exchange for three to four years of practice in a high-needs area.

They are also looking for funding to establish practices and service a network to collect outcomes – how well are these doctors doing in treating these patients, how can they do better.

“It’s comprehensive proposal to develop an addiction network by standardized training, followed by standardized practice, and standardized education of providers,” said Stern.

Peer counseling is also recommended. Medication alone will stem cravings and withdrawal. Through long-term counseling the patient can gain tools as well as moral support to gain control of their addiction.

Mental health professionals and case managers will be a part of the network, too.

“The most common co-occurring condition with an addiction problem is a mental health issue,” said Stern. “Therefore, you need to develop a holistic network around the patient of wraparound services, and that’s what the case manager and behavioral health consultant can do.”

Students in Tennessee will learn from a curriculum of prevention and treatment. After they finish their residency in family medicine, they move onto their fellowship – and then back to their communities.

“This changes the health care workforce dramatically. It’s the model that is settling into place nationally and what’s happening in Tennessee reflects it,” said Kunz.

If Stern and Kunz are successful selling this concept to the state, then they will begin the work of building out a statewide network of addiction medicine experts through state universities and then roll out to private practices and rehabilitation centers across Tennessee.

The hope is the Tennessee model becomes an example nationally. By 2025, AMF hopes to see 125 resident training programs up and running.

To reach the goal, UTHSC held a meeting on Sep. 7 to develop ways to bolster an addiction medicine workforce. The fellowship program was also discussed.

Representatives of medical schools from Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina and Kentucky were in attendance.

“The interest they have in replicating what UTHSC has done is strong,” said Kunz.

Memphis Teacher Residency prepares students for success

With achievement gaps hovering over Memphis, local faith-based Memphis Teacher Residency is hoping to improve several high-needs schools by recruiting teachers to cut their teeth in area classrooms.

Once trained, the hope is teachers will choose to remain in the district. Ninety percent of MTR teachers stay at least one more year past their residency requirement.

“There are teacher needs in the city and we want to provide effective education for students in Memphis to meet achievement gaps. The district is hungry for quality educators so where these needs exist we hope to step in the gap,” said Hayley Moore, Development Director.

To improve education outcomes in Memphis, MTR offers two programs. The first is the teacher residency program.

“We follow a residency model. So, you spend your first year training – doing a deep dive in coursework getting a Master of Urban Education degree. You spend Monday to Thursday in a classroom under the leadership of a mentor-teacher. Then on Friday and Saturday, a resident works on their Masters degree. So, it’s the pairing of coursework with practice for an entire year before you are a teacher of record in your own classroom,” said Moore. The post-graduate work is done at Union University.

The student achievement gap in Memphis is larger than 70 percent of major cities in the US. However, it has narrowed by 19 percent between 2011 and 2014, according to a 2016 study.

The current class has 59 residents. Nearly 300 teachers and leaders are employed at 36 feeder-pattern partner schools. Among the six high-needs neighborhoods served are Binghampton, Orange Mound and Frayser.


A feeder pattern is the flow of schools a student graduates through during their education. For instance, a student at Snowden Middle School will generally advance to Central High.

Teachers are placed in these specific neighborhoods in a concentrated effort to affect change as a child ages through high school.

“The hope is that over time that translates into higher level change in a department, school and neighborhood. This is why we use the neighborhood feeder pattern approach,” said Molly Nied, Director of Education.higher level change in a department, school and neighborhood. This is why we use the neighborhood feeder pattern approach,” said Molly Nied, Director of Education.

Recent teacher evaluations conducted by Shelby County Schools show the teachers are having a positive effect on student achievement.

The report stated that “MTR teachers on the whole exhibited above-average effectiveness and outscored their non-MTR counterparts on two powerful measures of teaching effectiveness: TVAAS [Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System] and TEM [Teacher Effectiveness Measure],” scoring 4 in both areas out of a 5-point scale.

Teacher retention rates are up too. Ninety-three percent of the teacher residency program completed their three-year teaching requirement from 2010 to 2014. Only 41 percent of Tennessee’s new teachers met that standard in 2014.

The program has shown a pattern of sustained success. A 2016 MTR report stated 85 percent of residents had completed the for the year-long residency program since its inception.

Further affirmation was provided by a Teach901 survey released in January. The local teacher recruitment initiative gave Memphis Teacher Residency the state's highest rating for the fourth consecutive year. Nearly half of the 900 teachers surveyed had been trained in state. The participants in the survey came from 45 “priority schools” with test scores in the bottom 5 percent statewide.

Founded in 2008, the non-profit doesn’t proselytize. Residents aren’t expected to be Christian either. The mission is education for all, an effort that has its roots in the Civil Rights movement.

Desegregation during the 1950s and 1960s compelled the introduction of black students into the American public education system. The busing policies during the 1970s took the idea a step further. Affirmative action, with its all-things-being-equal go with the minority approach, was codified to address disparities in higher education and workplace hiring.

To a degree, they were successful – a student can attend any public school, so long as they are in district.

A quick look at the achievement gap shows these policies didn’t go far enough. Poor, underserved districts often round out the bottom statistically achievement-wise. Opportunities for students from these areas are scant. Meanwhile, more affluent districts thrive.

It’s a problem that MTR executive director David Montague has been working on for a while. Before his current post, He worked at the Poplar Foundation, which provides funding for education initiatives in Memphis.

During this time, teacher residency programs were in their infancy. After arranging a meeting with the National Center for Teacher Residency, he visited programs in Boston, Denver and Chicago.

“The thinking was instead of the creation of additional schools, we could have impact in existing schools. And that would be a way to bring equal education across the city, reaching every kid in classrooms where they are already at,” said Nied.

It’s a concept rooted in the long-held standard of the medical residency, which also has an extended apprenticeship.

“The history of the residency model and even the term was borrowed from the medical community. The way doctors are trained is with a hands-on, guided approach and education should be valued as a challenging profession that needs the same kind of hands-on training,” she added.

The model has caught on. There are 25 education residency models nationally. Memphis was only the fourth such program in the nation when it launched its first cohort in 2009.

One recent college graduate who’s taking advantage of the program is Amani Alexander.

Since earning his bachelors’ degree at Morehouse College, he began work on the 2017 to 2018 school year June 1. After a summer spent studying the cultural foundations, history, and inequalities of Memphis, he started his mentorship.

“So how it works is I am in the classroom with a mentor-teacher, who happens to be a graduate of the MTR program, and I have a plan that sets out what I’m supposed to do each week as far as teaching responsibilities,” said Alexander.

Observation comes first. After a while, morning duties, taking attendance and teaching lessons are taken on. By the end of the year, the residents lead the classroom.

“We don’t just jump headfirst into it but follow a strategic plan as not to overwhelm residents, because there are residents who have never had teaching experience,” said Alexander. “But we are getting into the thick of it all now. I am inside the classroom at Treadwell Elementary with my mentor-teacher for fourth grade math and taking graduate courses on Friday and Saturday.”

After completing the program, MTR helps graduates find their first teaching jobs.

“We have a staffing manager that works with all of our residents to secure jobs,” said Nied. “We work with providers in our target neighborhoods. It could be SCS, charter or ASD. Essentially, whatever path a child takes from K-12, we are trying to be a part of it.”

To drum up residents, a recruitment team is sent to college campuses, conferences and camps. Current residents also make a pitch to interested students at their alma maters.

“I’m going back to Morehouse in Atlanta. I graduated in May, so I am excited to go back to find good teachers. I am most excited to speak to a group I started called ‘Black Educators Club’ about the possibility of coming to Memphis to teach,” said Alexander.

Exposure is part of the recruitment strategy too.

Another program making an impact is the MTR Summer Camp.

Started in 2013, it provides academic enrichment to first through fourth graders. It is designed to curb student regression during the extended vacation. Much of the focus is on math and reading skills, with enrichment in the afternoons. The camp is open to students of partner schools.

“It was hands down one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said Alexander. “We did a theater enrichment where students put on a play for parents at the end of the camp. It’s a great experience for students to continue to learn while having fun,” said Alexander.

The camp also gives undergrads an idea of what it is like to teach in a high-needs school.

“I just loved it. It was the first time in my life I felt called to something. To see the faces of kids when they learn something really struck me and I said ‘I’ve got to do this,’” said Alexander.

Mid-South Canines for Veterans recruits rescue dogs to service U.S. veterans

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 former service members commit suicide every day. For veterans of conflict, service dogs can be a practical way to help them overcome stresses as they transition back into everyday life.

A new local non-profit has been established to provide returning service members with these working animals.

In addition to placing dogs with veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Mid-South Canines trains, boards, feeds and provides health care for the dog.

It was founded in October of last year by veteran Ira Smith and Rebecca Wilson, owner of Paw Paw’s Pets.

MSCV's goal is to rescue, train, and place 22 dogs per year with U.S. veterans with PTSD.

“We believe that we are giving back in training dogs to become service dogs to veterans who have served our country worldwide,” said Wilson.

The organization also benefits the dogs. Some are spared euthanasia from local animal shelters. Others come from local rescue groups. Those chosen all lead a higher quality of life.

After a dog is rescued, Smith evaluates the lucky pup with a set of criteria to see if they are potential service dogs. It takes about six months to train the animal.

“Whenever possible, Becky wants dogs off the urgent list so we are saving a dog from being euthanized,” said Anne Forbus, treasurer for Mid-South Canines for Veterans.

Just getting off the ground, Mid-South Canines has functioned as a word-of-mouth operation.

So far, they have place one dog, Cassie, after her veteran expressed interest to MSCV.

“She immediately bonded with him,” said Forbus.

Cassie accompanies him to the VA and just about everywhere else. She makes him feel more comfortable when faced with social encounters.

“The symbiotic relationship between veteran and service dog plays an integral part in saving both dog and veteran,” said Wilson

Two more dogs have been trained and awaiting placement. When they are in their new homes new recruits will be brought in.

Wilson trains dogs both for Paw Paw's and MSCV.

As president of MSC, Wilson works to bring awareness to the life-saving possibilities of service dogs. Funding comes from donations by local businesses and individuals.

MSCV recently received a $5,000 grant from the Granger Foundation. It will go to offsetting the costs and healthcare and training of the dogs.

MSCV has also partnered with Utopia Animal Hospital, which brings down the costs of care for the rescued pups.

On tap for Saturday, September 23 is the inaugural Bark on Broad 5-K9 event. Wilson hopes the event will generate funds bring awareness to an organization that is saving the lives of both service members and canines.

City of Memphis rolls out several grants to support MLK50 efforts, neighborhoods crime watch

The City of Memphis has rolled several new grant programs in September. $10,000 will go towards events organized to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Additional funds are available to support neighborhood crime prevention and provide long-needed retirement benefits to the living participants of the 1968 sanitation workers strike.

An additional dozen 1968 sanitation workers identified to collect retirement grants

Another 12 grants will be awarded to workers who participated in the historic 1968 sanitation strike by the City of Memphis. The move is touted by the city as a step toward financial security for the former workers.

With the addition, 26 workers have been earmarked to receive $70,000 grants in preparation for the 50-year commemoration of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a city-wide effort that has been dubbed MLK50. The yearlong commemoration will recognize the late civil rights leaders, as well as the strike that first drew Dr. King to Memhis.

Initially, 10 retirees and four active employees were identified and acknowledged by the city when the initiative was first announced on July 14.

Related: "Fifty years later, sanitation workers see fruit of their labor with addition of retirement benefits"

Thirty-six more came forward since the announcement. Twelve were deemed ineligible by the city’s Human Resources division.

"When the grants were first awarded, we anticipated there could be additional recipients and we let the City Council know that we would likely be coming back to them to approve the funding," said Ursula Madden, City of Memphis chief communications officer.

To verify the grants, the city poured through employee records. The HR department sought to verify grantees were full-time employees at the time of the strike. They also had to be eligible to retire after 25 years of service, as well as be ineligible to receive a pension from the city.

Those denied have until October 1 to provide further documentation.

The grants will cost the city an additional $1.1 million.

The city council will address the latest grants on April 19, 2018.

$10,000 grants on the horizon to go toward 'positive social change' leading up to MLK50

In further MLK50 news, the city of Memphis has awarded $10,000 in grants to fund programs and community events during next year’s commemoration.

Mayor Jim Strickland, along with the city council, established the grants to support the projects and programming planned for celebration.

The grants were awarded in the hopes of encouraging social change. They will build upon the theme of the National Civil Rights Museum, “Where do we go from here?” Areas of focus will be poverty, youth, jobs, economic development, community empowerment, nonviolence, and justice and peace.

Related: "City's largest investment in public art honors 1968 sanitation workers' strike"

Events will begin in January and end with the April 4 commemoration of Kings death. The remembrance will be held at the Lorraine Hotel, where King was killed. 

Applications for the in grants will be accepted through September 30. Recipients will be notified on November 1. Half of the funds will be provided up front. The remaining will be allotted after the submission of an action report following the event.

The budget for the grants is $100,000.

Memphis neighborhoods get help with crime prevention initiatives

The City of Memphis has awarded crime prevention grants to several neighborhoods. Glenview, Berclair, Hyde Park and Sea Lake are among the 16 neighborhoods to receive the $2,500 grants, which can be used for programs and equipment.

Whitehaven is among the neighborhoods using the funds to address domestic violence. 

This is the second year in a row that the community has received the grant. The program has already proved effective. Marianne Bell, assistant district attorney, said the area has brought down domestic violence by 25 percent. 

Related: "New community organization focuses on self-sufficiency in Orange Mound"

"Data shows that a neighborhood that's engaged, has a neighborhood watch formed and active ... they have less crime than other neighborhoods," said Mayor Jim Strickland.

The money for the grants comes from traffic tickets issued by the city’s red light cameras.

Some neighborhoods are using their money to put up security cameras, hold awareness programs or sponsoring a National Night Out.

"I know of individual situations where a camera has helped apprehend an individual," according to MPD Police Director Mike Rallings.

So far, over $277,000 has been doled out to over 100 neighborhood associations.

“This is one piece of the puzzle, we've got a crime plan that we're working and one of those pieces is to get neighborhoods more engaged," said Strickland.

The deadline to apply for a grant is November 15.

Throwin' down and picking it back up again: the Orange Mound parade goes green

Children cling to the edge of the sidewalk to catch candy as it's thrown from vehicles at the Orange Mound parade. Folks bring lawn chairs and stay all day alongside the mile-long stretch of Park Avenue. Food vendors sell smoked meat and freshly fried fish. Thousands attend, and thousands of folks leave trash behind. But this year, the annual Orange Mound parade went green.

Clean Memphis, with the Orange Mound parade committee, added new volunteers and programs to promote recycling at the massive event, which is held every September in coordination with the Southern Heritage Classic football game. Clean Memphis hopes to take what it learned in Orange Mound to clean up other festivals around the city.

“We reached out to Orange Mound stakeholders and talked to them about engaging in a more impactful way to put waste in its place but also to raise awareness about recycling in the community,” said Janet Boscarino, co-founder and executive director Clean Memphis.

Last year, Boscarino said Clean Memphis picked up about 78 bags of litter during Memphis festivals, the equivalent of 1,200 pounds of debris.The Southern Heritage Classic Parade draws 20,000 people every year to the streets of Orange Mound, so a lot of waste is usually left behind.

“This kind of thing happens regardless of where you are in Memphis,” she said. “We’re trying to constructively get people thinking about better ways to manage waste.”

Claudette Boyd, president of the Orange Mound parade committee, said she hopes that by adding in street sweepers and recycling bins, the first green parade created awareness about keeping Orange Mound clean. 

“We have so much blight in our community any little thing can help. If we start cleaning and showing our children how to clean, the habits will trickle down to them and we will have a cleaner community,” she said.

“We’re trying to be more aware. We don’t want to let our community fall into disrepair. If we in our own community keep our community clean, then other people will want to come and live and stay here.” 

Coca-Cola provided volunteers, t-shirts and supplies for the cleanup committee.

Students from Melrose High School were part of the volunteer group that donned green shirts and carried clear plastic bags throughout the event, picking up plastic, paper, aluminum and other recyclables. There were also stations along the route for trash and recycling.

Melrose students were recruited from a program called We Can Help, a nonprofit youth organization that aligns youth in Orange Mound and Cordova in sustainability initiatives.

Money from aluminum cans that were recycled from the parade will go back into We Can Help.

Jeremy Jerdine, director of We Can Help, said young people were “excited and invigorated” to learn about and participate in recycling.

“I believe it gives people in the community a sense of pride,” he said. “We had a couple of proprietors of the neighborhood decide to adopt the recycling process after they saw what we were doing in the parade and elderly people were really ecstatic to see us organized and recycling.”

Indie Memphis Film Festival grows beyond a regional event

The Indie Memphis’ yearly exposition has matured from a fledgling local event into an internationally recognized film festival, and its 20th annual festival is shaping up the be the largest yet.

Thirty-five viewers gathered for the inaugural festival. Local film students, largely, screened their efforts at the EDGE coffee shop in Cooper-Young circa 1998.  Local underground filmmaker John Pickle made an appearance, too.

Now, the festival sports a lineup that includes over 180 films, panel workshops, music and parties. Attendance tops out at around 11,000.

“If people know about Indie Memphis and they know it’s a film organization then they might think it’s all about movies. It’s certainly built around movies. But the purpose of it is to build community around these experiences,” said Iddo Patt, board member of Indie Memphis and founder of Modern Production Concepts.

During the Indie Memphis Film Festival on November 3 through 5, Indie Memphis will host its first-ever block party. Traffic will be closed on Cooper between Monroe and Union avenues during the event to improve walkability.

“For our 20th anniversary this was our big addition to the festival,” said Watt. “Hopefully, people will wander up to it, who don’t know much about Indie Memphis, and hang out, take part in what’s free and then be compelled to buy a ticket."

This year’s festivities will be highlighted by Rainn Wilson’s new movie, “Thom Pain”. Based on co-director Will Eno’s one-man play, it will premiere at the Orpheum on opening night, November 1. The adaptation of the monologue-driven work was also directed by Oliver Butler. Wilson, of "The Office" fame, will make an appearance at the premiere.

“The hope is that each year gets better – improving the level of guests we bring into town and the variety of films,” said Watt. “Rainn Wilson is one of the more high-profile guests we’ve brought into the festival.

It’s a huge deal to have a world premiere. It’s actually a rare thing for a regional festival like Indie Memphis.”

Originally a volunteer effort, the Indie Memphis nonprofit now staffs eight and has a 22-member board of directors that work year round. Over the years, they have fundraised, promoted, bent ears, cajoled civic leaders and celebrity agents alike.

In addition to the film festival, there are several programs offered throughout the year. For instance, Shoot and Splice and a monthly filmmaking forum promote independent filmmaking in Memphis. Screenings can be seen with the Microcinema Club and on Indie Wednesday. There is also the Youth Film Fest.

Many of the early featured filmmakers were students. Others were novices pursuing their passions and far-fetched dreams. Some, though, had enough talent to take them beyond Memphis.

In 2000, Craig Brewer’s feature, “The Poor & Hungry,” premiered at the Memphis College of Art. Shot in digital format on a budget of $20,000, it gave an unflinching look Memphis’ street life. It won awards at Indie Memphis and later at the Hollywood Film Festival.

Five years later, Brewer took home the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival for “Hustle & Flow”.  Another Memphis director, Ira Sachs, won the Grand Jury Prize for “Forty Shades of Blue”.

Even the music categories weren’t safe, as local rap outfit Three Six Mafia beat out Dolly Parton for best musical score, notching another win for “Hustle & Flow” in 2005.

It was the film's exposure at Indie Memphis that led to greater exposure elsewhere. The filmmakers’ success brought attention back to the tiny film festival that started it all. Since those earlier efforts, the festival has only increased in popularity and acclaim.

MovieMaker Magazine recently ranked the Indie Memphis “one of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals and one the 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.” Amazon Studios came on board as a marquee sponsor last year. It now joins the Sundance, Tribeca and Seattle International Film Festivals as recipients of Amazon's nod.

Italian director Abel Ferrera will be on hand as well during this year's festival. The controversial filmmaker will join editor Anthony Redman and cinematographer Ken Welsch for anniversary screenings of “Bad Lieutenant,” starring Harvey Keitel, and 1995’s “The Blackout,” with Mathew Modine. Both will be screened at the Malco Studio on the Square.

Seven new and classic films will be showcased as a part of the MLK50 mini-festival. Among them will be “Marvin Booker Was Murdered,” which is about the beating to death of a homeless preacher. Jules Dassin’s “Up Tight”, featuring the music of Stax house band Booker T. and the MG’s, will also be shown.

“Leading up to the anniversary in April, groups like ourselves are partnering with the National Civil Rights Museum to have events that fit into the themes of not only Martin Luther King but ‘where to do we go from here.’ Tying it back to today and what’s going in the world,” said Watt of the 50-year commemoration of Dr. King's assassination in Memphis.

Music won’t only be featured on the soundtracks, scores, and incidentally during the festival. “Thank You, Friends: Big Star's 'Third' Live... And More," will be shown on an outdoor screen during a November 3 block party. The film will feature performances by Robyn Hitchcock, members of R.E.M., Wilco, Yo La Tengo, and the original drummer for the Memphis band, Jody Stephens. The concert documentary features music from their third album. Stephens will host the screening.

Screening venues include the Halloran Centre, Playhouse on the Square, Circuit Playhouse, the Hattiloo Theatre, the Studio on the Square and the Ridgeway Cinema Grill.

Indie Memphis will host the “Collierville Encore” on Nov. 11. Some of the most popular films from the primary schedule will be re-shown following the festival at Malco Collierville Towne Cinema. In the past, screenings were shown simultaneously in Collierville and Midtown.

"Having the whole staff being focused on [the Collierville Encore] a week later will add a lot more to it," Watt said. “We are trying to make sure different areas of town have easy access to the festival.”

A complete schedule will be announced during a preview party at The Rec Room, located at 3000 Broad Avenue, on September 26.

A record number of entries have been submitted this year. Around 200 documentary, experimental, narrative, and animated features and shorts will be screen.

More information can be found at Passes are available. Tickets to individual films go on sale to the general public on Oct. 10.

“Our hope is that every day you are frustrated because there’s more than one thing you want to go to. That means we’ve done our job,” said Watt.

XQ Super School Project taps Crosstown High to reinvent what education looks like for the future

On a journey to rethink high school. That sums up the shared vision of the XQ Super School Project and Crosstown High.

It’s an idea with influential supporters like Lauren Powell Jobs, chairperson of XQ’s board of directors and president of Emerson Collective, and Russlynn Ali, CEO of XQ and former assistant secretary of civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The initiative has with celebrity colloborators like MC Hammer and Yo-Yo Ma, and it's found roots in Memphis.

“This XQ thing – they have a big vision,” stated Ginger Spickler, project director for Crosstown High.

The needs and direction of our society have changed drastically in the past century especially with the advent of technology. But American high schools have remained the same. The XQ Super School Project is designed to rethink America’s high schools.

Related: "Crosstown High School driving to be a 21st century model"

In 1892, a group of ten private school presidents got together to rethink what school should be for the 20th century. They came out with the Carnegie Units, desks in straight rows, mandatory school through age 16 – and it improved education in America.

But it was designed for an industrial model to prepare children for the workforce and for a few to go on to college.

“We are in a different age, a different era. Children need to learn differently. They need to be problem solvers and collaborators," said Chris Terrill, executive director of Crosstown High. "So, the things we’ve taught without question for over 120 years are irrelevant. We need to make a shift if we are going to be competitive in the 21st century."

As a part of XQ Super Schools, award recipients are working together to develop innovative ways of teaching and curriculum in hopes of preparing students for the future.

In 2016, members of the Memphis community coalesced to start the work to discover, design and develop what they thought a 21st century high school would look like for the XQ Super School Project contest. The school made it to the round of 50 finalists but learned they missed the mark in the fall of last year.

However, through the process, a vision was created and Crosstown High was born. The XQ team pushed forward to shape what a high school of the future looks like, keeping to the principles set forth in the XQ application.

XQ awarded Crosstown High's independent progress with a $2.5 million grant, which will cover teacher training and professional development.

“When we first started down the XQ application path, I never thought in a million years we would win anything from it. I thought the application process itself would be so valuable in terms of helping us move in a different direction. That was the main reason for doing it,” said Spickler.

During that process, the XQ team worked through three phases.

During the discovery phase, team members interviewed hundreds of students, as well as educators, youth develops and members of the business community. They also spent hours online researching successful learning methods.

This was followed by a design phase, where prototypes were created and focus-tested with local youths.

Finally, came the development phase of the application. The XQ team along with stakeholders got to work on the school design and charter application writing, as well as public strategy and community engagement.
“The basic pieces in the XQ application are going to be the foundation of the school,” Spickler added.
The school will welcome its first class of 125 freshmen in 2018. The lower level of the school is completed at Crosstown Concourse, but the classrooms and auditorium are still under construction. The school has a separate entrance and elevator system in the building.

Overall visions are one thing, but when you’re talking about a school of the 21st century, curriculum should figure prominently in the discussion.


While a lot of details still need hammering out, there is an outline.

“In terms of the curriculum, we have an idea of what we want, but we’re still early in the process so it’s evolving,” said Dr. Chandra Sledge Mathias, principal of Crosstown High.

Like the application process, XP allows charter schools the research what other schools are doing; what works and what doesn’t. If the curriculum reflects early hires, it will likely be different from a typical high school’s.

“Dr. Mathias was hired, in part, due to her experience in project-based learning – one of the key elements for the school,” said Spickler.

What would be an example of a project? And what would be demanded of the student?

A teacher might give bits of data or some foundational information. Then it’s up to the student to go out and explore – it’s very inquiry-based. Then the project is presented to the teacher, who is more of a facilitator.

“Most students won’t have any experience with this model and won’t be ready on day one. But they need to be ready to work into it and be open to becoming a self-directed learner. That’s ultimately what we want – kids who want to be lifelong learners. They are going to have to be to keep up in a 21st century world,” said Spickler.

Another key element of the application was a diverse by design student body.

By state law as a public charter school, Crosstown High is required to hold an application period and then a lottery. So, how do they keep the diversity from swinging one way or the other?

“I think the answer is we have a window that’s open long enough and as applications come in we are able to figure out some information based on those applications to tell if there are under-represented areas of the city,” said Terrill.

Those areas can be targeted with a marketing campaign. If the lottery pool reflects the desired diversity, so should the lottery.

 “One of our primary goals is to a diverse population of students and faculty, and we’re in this diverse building then we have to be true to that and work diligently to fill that applicant base a diverse population,” said Terrill.

Applications will be chosen randomly. It is recommended parents make an informed decision about their education model before submitting.

“We want people to look beyond the new building, nice furniture and understand what our program is about. How it’s different than a traditional school. And for some children, that’s going to be exactly what they’ve been looking for. For others, it’s not going to be what they’ve been looking for,” said Terrill.

Part of the schools’ mission is about personalized learning so students can follow their interests, talents, and strengths.

“While they are still getting curricular content, while they are still getting the college prep experience, they will get real world experience that typically, most people don’t get until after they graduate college,” said Dr. Mathias.

On Aug 24, an event was held to celebrate Crosstown High’s designation as a super school. The XQ Super School bus was there, along with food trucks, a photo booth and information booths. Live music was provided by Royal Studios’ artists Boo Mitchell and Al Kapone.

According to Terrill, being part of XQ is really about the partnership. It’s being able to connect with the other schools around the country.

Conferences will be held two to three times per year so schools can gauge their progress against other XQ schools. Spickler and Terrill attended one in Boston in July.

“While we’re there, in walks MC Hammer and he hung out with us for two days – he’s an XQ board member. YoYo Ma joined us. The next day Ginger ended up at a table with Lauren Power Jobs. It was just surreal,” said Terrill.

On Sept. 8, there is a XQ Super School event that will broadcast live across every major network from 7 to 8 p.m. It is produced to start questioning and rethinking of high school. The star-studded event will feature celebrities like Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, Common and Jennifer Hudson.

“Chandra and I are going out for that event along with representatives from the other 17 schools,” said Terrill.

“It’s to our city’s best interest that we share the things that are working for students – that gets them engaged and better prepared – that we share those things,” said Spickler. “We want this grant to be for the benefit of not just Crosstown but for the city.”

Memphis College of Art offers new certificate program in fashion design

Memphis College of Art and the Memphis Fashion Design Network have launched a fashion design certificate program starting this fall.

The MCA Fashion Design Certificate program is an intensive nine-month program to learn how to create fashion designs or work in the fashion industry. It will run from September through May with a tuition of $2,650.

There are seven courses in the certificate program. Each class gives a different take on the fashion design world. They range from technical skills like draping and pattern techniques to the business of fashion. The history of fashion is covered in a course called "Fashion Through the Ages". 

There's also a course called "Concept to Collection" that walks students through the process of how to take ideas from concept through the creative process to produce a collection.

“The certificate program would benefit anyone who wants to do a design-oriented job or a hands-on job in the fashion design world; it marries the technical and conceptual sides of the industry,” said Cece Palazola, Director of Community Education for Memphis College of Art.

For several years, Memphis College of Art has worked with the Memphis Fashion Design Network. Non-credit courses like sewing, fashion illustration and draping haven been offered through their community education department.

Related: "Memphis fashion design scene encourages collaboration, youth participation"

In addition to launching the Fashion Design Network last year, Abby Phillips founded Memphis Fashion Week seven years ago. With the new non-profit, she hopes to support fashion designers with resources, studio space and showrooms.

She was also the driver the fashion courses at MCA, including the new certificate program.

“The partnership with Abby Phillips and the Fashion Design Network has been vital to the development of this certification curriculum,” said Palazola.

Two classes were offered a semester. They were specific to a skill and would rotate out. Draping, basic sewing and fashion illustration are a few examples.

“And this is the process of how it’s done in real life. This takes if from the sketchbook to the pattern to the dress,” said Palazola.

The classes were popular. Many were full. An advisor from the Fashion Institute of Technology out of New York was brought in.

“We sat down with them and started working on ideas of what we should be doing next step. That’s when we came up with the certificate program,” said Phillips.

Students have up to two years to complete the nine-month program. Enrollment is done by availability.

“If someone wanted to enroll in the spring and we have availability in the classes they want to take then they can jump right in,” said Palazola.

High School students ages 16 and up can also enroll.

“It’s a great opportunity for high school students who are interested in studying fashion but don’t know where to start in building a portfolio. They have to have a portfolio to even apply for a fashion design school. This is a great place for them to come and give them a base so they can move onto a design school,” said Phillips.

Related: "The Lab offers support for local fashion designers"

The program has drawn interest from people already working in fashion.

“We’ve had people already working in the fashion industry who want to hone a particular skill. I talked to a lady last week who has a job in alterations but wants to learn fashion illustration. This is one of our continuing education courses and just an example of where the interests lie,” said Palazola.

Additional funding for the program has been received through a grant from the American Association of University Women. The money will pay for equipment. It will also fund five scholarships for under resourced women. The awards will cover 50 percent of their tuition.

“We are excited to bring a program like this to Memphis. There is a huge demand for it. We are almost full. And we've had close to 20 applications for the scholarship,” said Palazola.

Going forward, the college hopes to receive additional funding from the community to offset tuition costs for worthy, cash-strapped students.

“There is so much creativity in Memphis and so many deserving people who are doing that side hustle thing right now who want to build it into something else and take that next step,” said Palazola.

A few newly hired instructors are MCA alums. One worked for Polo Ralph Lauren. Another creates costumes for Ballet Memphis.

“She has amazing technical skills to make anything and has a real understanding of the work,” said Palazola.

They all hold at least a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, as well as experience working in the fashion industry.

“If someone takes the program and earns the certificate then they will be ready to move to that next level in the fashion industry,” said  Palazola.

Ballet Memphis holds to core values of innovation after 30 years

It’s been a steep climb, but after 30 years Memphis Ballet Company has risen from a small, local dance company to a position of national recognition.

A lot of the credit lies with founder Dorothy Gunther Pugh.

“We’ve built such a strong and admirable institution. We’ve been pretty careful about it,” said the CEO and founding artistic director of Ballet Memphis.

In 1986, she founded Ballet Memphis. Since, the company has grown from two dancers to 26. The budget followed suit swelling from $75,000 to $4.1 million.

Further reflecting the trend in growth, a new $21 million facility in Midtown at 2144 Madison Ave. will also formally open its doors on Aug. 26.

Related: "Five upcoming projects that will change Memphis neighborhoods"

“The company has changed so much in the past 20 years. People are moving back into the city, taking part in this urban renaissance, more walkers and bikers. We wanted to be in the new hot bed of activity,” said Pugh.

She was quick to thank those who have provided support from day one.

“They have supported us without fail. The philanthropists in this town are dedicated and it’s amazing all the things they help make happen in this community.”

Credit also lies with the culture Pugh and early company members created.

Ballet Memphis values diversity among its company and its staff, Pugh said. Currently, over 60 percent of its dancers are of color.

“We have dancers from Memphis; we recruit nationally – I have a dancer from Charlottsville, Va. We have two Panamanian dancers. They’ve come from North Carolina, from Boston, from Japan, Mexico, Spain, France, Russia, the Phillipines,” said Pugh.

Some dancers have been with company for 20 years. There is little turnover. Some years, there is only one spot to fill. Dancers spanning the globe travel to Memphis to audition. Ballet Memphis holds tryouts in diverse locations, as well.

On tour, the company tries to project Memphis' unique voice. Pieces from their River Project or Memphis Project are generally performed.

“When we performed at the Kennedy Center in 2010 with 'Dance Across America' we were on stage with nine major companies and we were the star of the show – the finest reviews went to us with our five dancers and our Roy Orbison inspired piece called ‘In Dreams.’”

The spirit of inclusiveness is also reflected in the design of the new 38,000-square-foot facility. The front exterior features open spaces. An abundance of glass panels provide transparency. Colors were chosen from nature’s palette to mirror the outside world. The effect is a melding of the inside and outside spaces.

“We want people to come in, look around and feel welcome.”

From Madison Ave., the work of the costume shop will be visible. Through its glass panes, selections from an estimated 10,000-piece wardrobe will be exhibited. You can also catch costumers hard at work.

Dancers will also be visible as they ply their craft. They, too, will be part of the scenery at the Overton Square intersection.

“It feels great to finally be working in the new building. One of the things I’ve really taken note of is seeing how the space has affected the people who work in it – their spirits really seemed to have soared from the moment they stepped into the new space," Pugh added.

Within its walls are studios, offices, a costume shop, meeting and classroom space and a corner café.

Softly curved in an almost egg-like shape, the Mama Gaia Café, or the “egg,” as Pugh calls it, will serve organic vegetarian fare to visitors.

The second floor features a “nest” or loft. Here, dancers and staff can gather and relax.

“It provides a sense of lifting our spirits up and a nesting for ideas and things that are not born yet or are in the process of growth. There’s a lot of metaphorical language in the building that reflects what the ballet world can do for people.”

Each studio has its own name and identity.

The main studio, which is referred to as Fly, fronts the building. With a 45-ft ceiling, it was built to house practices for high-flying performances like “Peter Pan.” It has retractable seating for 200, so it can be converted into a performance space. It also features a state-of-the-art sound system and lighting.

The space will be available to rent out for business gatherings or special events.

The other studios are dubbed Imagine, Discover and Dream. 

A board room will also available for rent as a meeting space.

“We’ll have to work it around our first job, which is to make sure the dancers are doing what they are supposed to be doing; it’s our primary mission. But another part of our mission is to bring people into the space,” said Pugh.

As excitement is building for the imminent grand opening, the old Ballet Memphis facility has plans earmarked for it, too.

“We didn’t need two large buildings.”

The decision was made to pair with the Memphis Jewish Community Center to maintain a presence in the East Memphis area.

“We still have wonderful families in East Memphis and it may not be convenient for them to come into the city after work for classes. So, we are keeping a presence out east with the MJCC partnership. We are trying to serve both areas,” said Pugh.

With the decision to maintain both facilities, the footprint of Ballet Memphis has grown. This dovetails with Pugh’s desire to expand the ballet’s impact on the community.

“I don’t want our dancers to hide in their theater bubble. We encourage them to be in the community; meet the families and children that partake in Ballet Memphis. It’s not about one of us; it’s about all of us together. And that’s my inspiration and hope for our new home,” said Pugh.

Immigrant families get rock star treatment on the first day back to school in Memphis

Emerging from the shadows since federal agents raided several Latino neighborhoods in Memphis, immigrant families were greeted August 7 by cheering neighbors and educators as they brought their children back to school amid assurances of protection.

Holding signs with messages such as “Bienvenido” and “Every Student is Welcome,” clusters of people gathered at the entrances of about 25 Memphis schools with large Hispanic student populations on the first day of class. The welcomings were organized by church leaders and Latino Memphis, an advocacy group for the city’s growing Hispanic population.

“They welcome us. They support us. And we are not alone in this neighborhood,” said a mother named Aura after she dropped off her children at Brewster Elementary School, where about 30 people greeted the families.

Speaking in Spanish with the help of a translator, Aura described how she had been afraid to leave her house during the waning weeks of summer break after the arrests in Memphis of about 15 immigrants by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. While targeting immigrants with criminal history, ICE officials also were arresting immigrants who were residing in the United States without authorization.

Leaders of Shelby County Schools have assured parents they can bring their children to school without fear of arrest. They’ve also dispatched workers to apartment complexes where arrests were made to tell families that the district does not share their personal information with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

At Brewster on opening day, principal Angela Askew said the school still had not heard from up to 75 Hispanic students expected to return this year. Though lagging school registration is a chronic challenge in Memphis, the ICE arrests appear to have exacerbated the problem at the Binghamton neighborhood school, where Hispanics comprise about one-fifth of the student population.

“We drove around the neighborhoods that week telling people it’s OK for them to come in,” Askew said. “They were afraid to come, which is understandable.”

The informal welcoming events on August 7 offered a message counter to the raids, which have increased nationwide under the administration of President Donald Trump.

Related: "ICE Storm: Immigration officers target Latino families; worry Shelby County Schools"

“Many Latino families have gone through a tough past couple of weeks after immigration agents targeted their neighborhoods,” Latino Memphis said in a statement announcing the effort. “…We want you to join us to make sure ALL students feel safe and welcome at their school.”

Last year in Shelby County Schools, Hispanic students made up 12 percent of enrollment, and that percentage is expected to rise.

Organizations such as Comunidades Unidas en Una Voz have been holding trainings for Hispanic families to know what to do in case an ICE agent comes to their home or if a family member is arrested.

Cristina Condori, an organizer with the group, said Monday’s turnout from community members should help ease the minds of families wary of bringing their children to school.

“It’s very important, this act,” she said. “They can receive support from the community that says all immigrants are welcome in this country.”

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Laura Faith Kebede on August 7, 2017


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