Neighborhood groups take the reins in new public art initiative

It's been a while since there was anything new to see on Scott Street between Poplar Avenue and Broad Avenue, but that is changing.

A new mural is going up on the side of You’s Grocery Store at 391 Scott Street. It's still in progress, but that doesn’t stop people from parking at the store to take in the artistry and encourage the artists hard at work.

The project is funded by UrbanArt Commission's new Neighborhood Art Initiative, which launched in early May.

Instead of initiating, organizing and funding public art on their own, UAC awarded grants to community groups already engaged in neighborhood-based work to create public art supporting their work. UAC projects are typically vetted and selected by a committee of neighborhood representatives, artists and community stakeholders. Giving a single community group control of the finished product is a first for the organization. 

“This was our first call to organizations and nonprofits, as opposed to individual artists. So these groups will be taking the lead on their projects and choosing artists,” said Brett Hanover, project manager for UAC. "The community group is completely in charge of the artwork.”

Hanover said four organizations were selected: Cherokee Heights Civic Club, Carpenter Art Garden, Gooch Park's HUG Park Friends and the South Memphis Alliance / Dragonfly Collective.

“If you were a non-profit organization or an activist group or anything like that, you were able to apply," he said. "You just had to have an idea of how your public art would make your neighborhood a better place."

The total grant allotment is $120,000. UAC is working with the neighborhood groups to assess each one's specific needs and costs, rather than dividing the money into equal parts.

The Carpenter Art Garden's first UAC-funded project is already underway. 

Carpenter Art Garden is a non-profit founded in 2012 that works with the youth of Binghampton to develop creative talents and expose them to vocational, educational and artistic programs.

It's the art garden's teen boys, in collaboration with the store's owner and professional artist Jamond Bullock, who designed the eye-catching mural on You's Grocery. 

“This is the first official mural for the launching of our Mural Apprenticeship Program, which is meant to give the boys training from professional mural artists like Jamond Bullock," said Erin Harris, founder of Carpenter Art Garden.

"The boys painted all these murals for years because they love painting. Our goal [now] is vocational training."

You's is owned by Ae An Sartain. Her store is a well-loved fixture in the area, but the 50-year-old building is beginning to show its age. Sartain was interested in the mural because it could revamp the visuals not just for her store but the neighborhood as well.

“They're doing such a good job," said Sartain of the artists. "It's a nice upgrade for my store and the community. I'm very proud of my store, and I hope this brings even more business.”

Terry Rogers (L) and Donte Davis (R) are part of the Carpenter Art Garden's Mural Apprenticeship Program. This mural is located at You's Grocery on Scott Street and funded by the Urban Arts Commission's Neighborhood Art Initiative. (AJ Dugger)

HISTORY as art 

Originally from South Korea, Sartain moved to the United States 36 years ago and inherited the store 21 years ago when her father died. Sartain was a little girl when her father opened the store so the artists depicted her as a child on the mural.

The mural is full of history based on Sartain's memories of the neighborhood. 

“Each of the boys drew out ideas based on their conversations with [Sartain],” said Harris.

Bullock is overseeing the project and mentoring the young artists.

“We met with [Sartain] a few months back," said Bullock. "She had some ideas of what she wanted, and we put it into our own concept that connected with what she wanted.”

“These are super-talented guys," he continued. "They individually had these drawings, and I put them together like a puzzle. That's how we designed the mural.”

The mural also pays homage to NBA Legend Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, who grew up in Binghampton and neighboring Highland Heights. At the center of the mural is a penny with Hardaway's picture on it. The artists' work is detailed, right down to the tattoo on Hardaway's neck, which he dedicated to his best friend.

There are other messages in the mural too, including a stop sign that partially covers a gun.

“This part of the mural is a way to say stop the gun violence,'' said Bullock. “We're trying to convey a message that’s positive and fun to look at.”

Resident Teresa Sugars grew up in Binghampton and now owns a barber shop in the neighborhood. The East High graduate stopped by You's to congratulate the young artists and offer her encouragement.

“If Penny Hardaway drove down here and saw this, he would probably shed a tear and say 'Wow!,'” she said.

“These young men are making Binghampton beautiful again. I grew up here and saw it grow and decline, but putting this mural up means something," she continued. "People will look over at this mural and they will want to stop and take a picture or shop at the store. That means growth in the community.”

Sugars said she's seen slow but stead improvement in the neighborhood in recent years. 

“It's still a good community. That's why you see people coming back and buying property because they know it’s going to grow," she said. "I'm glad to see what these young men are doing ... it's a beautiful blessing.”

A HardWorking Crew 

Donte Davis is one of the young artists hard at work on the mural, but he doesn't consider the project to be work.

“It's very mind relaxing. It's a great way to express yourself,” said Davis. 

Harris has been working with these youth for five years. She said she couldn't be prouder of their progress from creative expression to potential profession.

“The future goal is for these boys to have enough skill to transfer it out to other neighborhoods and become assistants and train younger youths," she said. 

Beyond the You's Grocery mural, the teens stay busy. They work at the art garden, which is located nearby on Carpenter Street, and there are more murals to complete in the near future.

“They have five additional murals to do and so far we have funding for three of them,” said Harris.

The artists expect to complete the You's Grocery mural in the next two weeks.

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)