North Memphis

ArtUp offers North Memphis entrepreneurs $2,500, training, and chance to pitch to investors

North Memphis has plenty of creative people from sculptors to musicians to hair stylists. But for creatives who want to move from passion projects and side hustles to legitimate businesses, there aren't a lot of supports to run, fund, and market their dream. 

ArtUp is hosting an incubator for creative entrepreneurs in North Memphis that will culminate in a "Shark Tank"-style pitch to potential investors. 

“We have a roundtable of influencers and investors who get to hear our fellows’ ideas and get to decide if they want to invest," said Katyana Dandridge, ArtUp's director of programs and operations. 

Ten ArtUp Fellows will receive $2,500 towards their businesses' startup costs, including developing their branding and marketing in preparation for their final comprehensive pitches.

“We want you to make money doing what you like to do. We don’t believe in people working for free," said Dandridge of the trend of underpaying creatives or asking for donated time and skills.

The fellows will receive coaching, mentoring, and instruction as part of the 12-week North Memphis Incubator. Lessons include financial management, branding, marketing, and public speaking. The fellows will also travel to cities like New York, where they will attend lectures and workshops hosted by established entrepreneurs and influencers.

“We have some real professional people come in and teach these classes on branding, managing money, creative thinking, and specializing contracts,” said ArtUp's creative director, Paul Thomas.

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Hopeful fellows attended a North Memphis Pitch 101 workshop on January 18 that included basic tips for pitching. Each hopeful then filmed a first pitch of their business idea. Those short pitches are now being evaluated by judges to pick the final 10 fellows who will receive the money, training, and chance to pitch to the roundtable. 

The committee includes community partners, artists, entrepreneurs, and local influencers.

ArtUp has operated four previous incubator and pitch programs in Binghampton, Soulsville, South City, and Orange Mound with eight to ten participants each.

In addition to fine artists like painters and illustrators, ArtUp works with aspiring actors, screenwriters, designers, painters, photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists and other creative entrepreneurs.

Donita Sharkey attended the North Memphis workshop and filmed her short pitch. She encourages future fellowship hopefuls to bring their confidence and an open mind.

“[Bring yourself] and the intention to grow and develop from this and you will definitely do so,” said Sharkey.

Los Angeles casting director Twinkie Byrd gives a lecture for Elise Neal's Masterclass Series. ArtUp is helping Neal incubate her business, which hosts the series. The series teaches aspiring performance artists how to break into the industry of their choice. (Jazz Johnson)

Lessons from Orange MOund

The Orange Mound Gallery began as an ArtUp program. ArtUp's founder, Linda Steele, managed fundraising efforts. Thomas and Orange Mound residents transformed the space from a liquor store to premier community gallery.

The Orange Mound Arts Council now oversees the gallery's operations. Council members are all former ArtUp Fellows and Orange Mound residents.

Thomas views ArtUp’s work in Orange Mound as a perfect example of the positive momentum he hopes North Memphis will experience.

“North Memphis is more challenging because of the lack of [entrepreneurial] education in the community. They just need somebody to boost them,” said Thomas. “No program has been developed in that area. Once we root them up and get them started, they’ll be fine.”

ArtUp is hosting its first community conversation on February 15. The event is in collaboration with the Center for Transforming Communities.

Hip hop artist and North Memphis native Tauheed Rahim II, who performs under the stage name Marco Pavé, will share in a conversation on art, economics, and community building with CTC's executive director, Justin Merrick. The forum will be public with location to be announced.

partners in the pitch

Steele founded ArtUp in 2017. The organization's nonprofit partner is Community LIFT, and it's operated by a core team of Steele, Dandridge, and Thomas. ArtUp is Memphis-based and works to build equity within the local creative economy and grow inclusive practices.

ArtUp received a $25,000 grant from the Neighborhood Collaborative for Resilience to support its North Memphis fellows and incubator program.

NCR is a coalition of North Memphis residents and other key stakeholders who decide how local SPARCC dollars will be allocated. 

Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge or SPARCC is a nationwide resource partner that invests in local endeavors to reduce racial and economic disparities and provide opportunities for community members to live healthy lives and build thriving neighborhoods.

BLDG Memphis was SPARCC’s Memphis-area program administrator from February 2017 through December 2019. Administration moved to CTC starting January 2020. 

Read more articles by A. J. Dugger III.

A.J. Dugger III is an award-winning journalist and native Memphian who joined High Ground as lead writer for its signature series, On the Ground, in August 2019. Previously, he wrote for numerous publications in West Tennessee and authored two books, “Southern Terror” and “The Dealers: Then and Now.” He has also appeared as a guest expert on the true-crime series, “For My Man.” For more information, visit (Photo by April Stilwell)
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