Medical District

Growing arts scene brings new vibrancy to Medical District

A growing arts scene is breathing life, vibrancy and money into an area of Memphis better know for its healthcare contributions — the Medical District. Recently additions to the district include Shift + Gallery, Karen Adams Designs and A. Lever Studios.

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The Medical District is an umbrella term for several neighborhoods including The Edge, Pinch District and Madison Heights connected physically and economically by major healthcare anchors like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Regional One Health. 

“The property our anchors own dictates the boundaries, and St. Jude owns a lot of the property in Uptown and the Pinch,” said Vonesha Mitchell, community program director for Memphis Medical District Collaborative on the district's expansive footprint. 

The success of arts-centered businesses is a barometer of sorts for the district and the MMDC, which is dedicated to the area's economic and social development.

Arts businesses show the area can sustain a multitude of offerings and draw disposable income, and for MMDC, they're a critical piece of the work and play components in their live-work-play development model. 

“The importance of the new artistic businesses in the district is to demonstrate the ability for businesses like this to flourish in this geography and these market conditions. There is a real creative culture pulsing through the district,” said Mitchell.


Antoine Lever in front of his original works inside his Uptown studio, A Lever Studios. (Ziggy Mack)
A Lever Studios

A Lever Studios opened in December 2018 at 527 N. Main in Uptown.

The studio caters to event photography including weddings, baby showers and parties. Owner/photographer Antoine Lever has covering events for the University of Tennessee, Memphis Medical District Week and numerous Yappy Hour events for the MMDC. His work was also recently featured abroad on billboards for a hair company in Paris.

“I shoot everything, but I mainly focus on beauty, fashion and portrait photography,” said Lever.

Photo Booth services are also available on-site at the studio or on-location at events. It includes props for different occasions.

“People love it. I love it," said Lever of the booth. "That is one of my most fun parts of the job. Really, we kind of bring the party to the party."

The photographer made the move to the district to be closer to clients in Midtown, Downtown and between. In addition to the MMDC, Lever's top local clients include beauty, hair and corporate magazines. Lever's interest in photography began while he was attending Christian Brothers High School, and his first studio was located in East Memphis.

“I always wanted to have a studio Downtown,” said Lever. 

Though he liked East Memphis, Lever finds Uptown and Downtown offer a more vibrant setting.

“Usually, twice a week I’ll jump on a Bird scooter, and I’ll just ride down Main. Sometimes, I’ll get some pizza or ice cream. I can even jump on a Bird and go see some of my clients,” he said.


Karen Adams poses inside her new production space in The Edge. (Ziggy Mack)

Karen Adams Designs 

Karen Adams Designs is moving her custom-designed stationery company from Broad Avenue to The Edge. She's currently redesigning the new location at 647 Madison Avenue and expects to be operational in September. 

Attached to Sun Studios, the 12,000 square-foot space was once a bakery and will serve as Karen Adams Designs' studio, warehouse, production facility and administrative space. 

The location won’t have a retail component, but orders for stationery, invitations, calendars and other offerings are only available online.

With twice the square footage of the old location, the need for more space is a reflection of how much the business has grown over the past 20 years. It started out of Adam's house. 

“I wanted to do something that was going to be a business versus doing art for a gallery or something like that. I wanted to do something that was both creative and business oriented,” said Adams of her inspiration to create custom stationary. 

“All of our orders are fulfilled in house," she continued. "I do all of the artwork for our business, and that’s sort of the beginning of everything we create.”

She said The Edge is on an upswing in recent years with increased traffic and distinct set of new businesses including retailers and restaurants. 

“It’s such a great vibe there, with everything that’s going on," said Adams. "It’s not like development of chain restaurants or chain stores. Everything seems to be very unique and is being injected with a lot of enthusiasm that is artistic and creative."


Ryan Adams poses in front of Shift + Gallery located inside Edge Alley. (Ziggy Mack)

Shift + Gallery

Edge Alley is located at 600 Monroe Avenue and know primarily known as a dining spot, but owner Tim Barker recently partnered with Ryan Adams to converted part of the restaurant and an adjacent space into the Shift + Gallery, dedicated to rare vintage photographs and prints.

“It focuses on vintage photographs, [specifically] photography that is printed at the time that it is taken," said Adams,. "It’s like someone who collects books, like first editions rather than a later edition. They are much more rare, valuable and hard to find photographs."

The gallery held its grand opening in June. Displayed in three sections, the exhibit featured a series of original prints from NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, as well as the unmanned missions that led to the July 20, 1969 moon landing.

Adams, who has no relation to Karen Adams, has worked for galleries and museums in the U.S. and abroad. After moving to The Edge, Adams got to know the neighborhood and Edge Alley became a familiar haunt. He met Barker and found the two shared a passion for photography.

“He has a fascination with photography. He is a photographer himself," said Adams. "We decided to start working on a space together to start displaying stuff."

Although many restaurants showcase local artists on their walls, Adams says offering museum-quality art alongside top-quality local faire is unique in Memphis and likely the region.

“When I was in Germany, most of the work I did was for museums," he said. "A lot of the prints that I own out of my collection have been to museums, have been shown, have been at art fairs and have been all over the world."

He said their goal is to mix gallery art and culinary arts together to create an entirely new atmosphere with equal appreciate for both.

“That is something that I have always tried to focus on with my work, how is this impacting and bringing people in," said Adams. "That is the big thing for the Edge district."
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Read more articles by Kim and Jim Coleman.

Kim Coleman is a journalist with over 20 years of experience in newsrooms as a reporter, editor and graphic designer, including ten years with The Commercial Appeal as Design Director/Senior Editor and Print Planning Editor. 


Jim Coleman is a freelance writer, covering a variety of topics from high school sports, community news and small business. He has written for different news organizations over the past 20 years, including The Commercial Appeal, Community Weeklies, Lexington Herald-Leader and The Albuquerque Journal.