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.