University of Memphis art instructor Terry Lynn is hard at work designing a steel sculpture that will be part of the new South City neighborhood development. Lynn is dedicating the three-part sculpture to his grandfather, the legacy of Foote Homes, and future of South City.
“It’s a large scale culture project. They were asking for something cultural that would represent the South City area,” said Lynn.
Lynn was commissioned last spring by The City of Memphis and UrbanArt Commission. He included extensive community feedback in his final design.
“From my short time knowing Terry, he's a really great guy and very enthused to be expanding his practice in this way,” said Shanette Parks, senior program manager for UAC. “Terry is a natural talent and trained visual artist and illustrator.”
Artist Terry Lynn listens to community members' suggestions and feedback to guide the design of his South City sculpture. (Symmbol Sanderlin)
The sculpture will be installed in a new park in the South City house and apartment community, which is being built and opened in phases. The entire South City neighborhood development spans nearly 900 acres and includes other new and existing housing and apartment communities. Their residents will also have access to the new park.
The sculpture will center on a 12 to 13-foot inverted triangle made of steel, with two additional pieces.
"[The center] triangle represents strength and unity,” said Lynn.
In addition, the sculpture will use symbols and shapes to represent the histories and traditions of the families that lived in Foote Homes, including African symbolism and African American quilting patterns.
Lynn has a personal connection to Foote Homes. His grandfather, Leon Lynn, was a brick mason who helped construct the public housing project in the late 1930s.
“That area has so much history,” said Lynn. “That area has been a vital part of the African American community in Memphis. I feel like they don’t get the attention or dues.”
Honoring Foote Homes
Opened in 1940, Foote Homes was the first public housing project for black and African American Memphians.
After decades of neglect and intentional disinvestment in Foote Homes and the surrounding neighborhoods, its residents were displaced and its buildings leveled in 2017. It was the last of Memphis' New Deal, segregation-era public housing projects to stand.
Related: "The last major vestige of segregation-era housing set for demolition"
The South City housing community is now being developed in its place. Lynn's sculpture won’t be installed until the South City housing community is complete.
Former Foote Homes residents do have an option to return to South City, and unprecedented care was taken by the Memphis Housing Authority t to ensure that if they did chose to return, they had the support and resources the needed. While some residents will not return, MHA hopes to far surpass the national average of a roughly 10% rate of return post-relocation.
Related: "As Downtown grows, South City invests in low-income residents"
Parks said fully supporting former residents' return is the right thing to do.
“When I examine cities similar to Memphis and even much larger, I rarely see and hear stories offering that full-circle moment,” she said.
Lynn said bringing the original residents back to their neighborhood is an important acknowledgement of its people and history, and he hopes his sculpture will be viewed similarly.
“There’s a lot of inequality and disparity when it comes to economics and development within the African American community in Memphis,” he said. “I hope my work speaks to that.”
Lynn has lived in many Memphis neighborhoods, including Whitehaven, Arlington, North Memphis, and Frayser.
“I’m very committed to this community. This is home,” he said.
He graduated from The University of Memphis with a fine arts degree in 2001 and earned a graduate degree at The University of Mississippi six years ago.
He's an art instructor at The University of Memphis and has shown work in many exhibitions.
Lynn loves to paint and draw, but doesn’t like to categorize himself.
“I consider myself just an artist...someone who loves to create and be inspired by the world around me,” he said. “The older I get, I don't give myself a label. But sculpture is something that is part of my repertoire as well."
The City of Memphis and UAC issued a local invitational call to artists for the South City project. Each of them were offered the opportunity to submit a Request for Qualifications (RFQ).
Lynn was selected out of 10-plus artists invited to submit formal proposals and four finalists who made presentations to the Public Art Oversight Committee. The committee is comprised of local artists, South City representatives, and other vested stakeholders.
“I was always interested in doing something for this community. When that project came about, I jumped at that opportunity to do that,” he said.
Parks said a project of this magnitude takes tremendous effort, energy, and resilience.
“To me, the beauty of life is knowing that transformation is the key to evolution,” she said.