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

One of Memphis’ significant civil rights events will be commemorated with a public plaza.

The City of Memphis and the UrbanArt Commission seek an artist to create a public art installation for the city’s I Am a Man Plaza project. The plaza site is located adjacent to Clayborn Temple, which was a central location for the 1968 sanitation workers' strike.

The sanitation workers' strike protested discrimination within the city government and dangerous working conditions that led to the death of two black sanitation workers. This strike drew Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Memphis to help lead the workers’ efforts. It was during this time that the rallying cry “I am a Man” was coined. During this trip to Memphis, King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968.

“We are hopeful to see some really passionate responses from artists who want to lend their hand to this space,” UAC executive director Lauren Kennedy said.

She added that the selection committee wants the plaza to be, “a space for peaceful protest and positive change moving forward.”

“We need these spaces today as they were needed 50 years ago and this installation will set the stage for that reflection and gathering,” she said.

The city hopes to commemorate King’s legacy on the 50th anniversary of his death in April 2018 with the opening of the plaza, which Kennedy says is the largest investment by the city in public art to date.

The project budget will be $700,00 with up to three finalists receiving an honorarium of $1,500. The three finalists will be notified March 25 after the artists submit a final proposal. The chosen artist will be commissioned in late May.

“I believe that it is incredibly important for the city to invest in our public spaces and to make art accessible outside of traditional museum and gallery situations,” said Kennedy.

Read more articles by J. Dylan Sandifer.

J. Dylan Sandifer is a freelance writer living in Memphis since 2008. They have also contributed writing and research for MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, VICE News, and Choose901. 
Signup for Email Alerts