University District

Going public: What you can do at University of Memphis as a community member

The University of Memphis has a lot to offer, and you don’t have to be a student or faculty member to take advantage of its services.

“Our registered student organizations on campus host over 800 events each school year, many of them free and open to the public,” said MK Tyler, coordinator of student engagement for the 20,000-student institution.

The public can learn about these events by visiting or the school's event calendar.

“It can be intimidating to go to a college campus for a lecture if you don’t know anyone. We encourage people to come out anyway," said Sarah Potter, Director of the Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities, which sponsors programs and public lectures at the University of Memphis related to study of the humanities. 

The university is taking steps to make its campus more welcoming to the general public. One factor that deters some community members from visiting is the perceived hassle of navigating the arterial streets, train tracks and parking surrounding the campus.

University of Memphis hopes their new pedestrian bridge, scheduled to open in late summer, will help remedy that. The bridge will connect a new parking garage south of campus to its center promenade over Southern Avenue, which will in effect create a defined pedestrian entrance.

“[It] is not only going to be symbolic but practical ... an invitation [to] come onto your publicly funded university," said Tk Buchanan, University of Memphis campus safety liaison,

But you don’t have to wait for the pedestrian bridge to connect to the many free public campus activities. Here are a few options that might surprise you.

The Tiger Eyes mural adjacent to a compost mural designed to instruct students and community members, both painted by U of M student Megan Farrell. (Scarlet Ponder)

Keep Calm and Dig for Sweet Potatoes

The TIGUrS (Tigers Initiative for Gardens in Urban Settings) gardens are campus community gardens that are open to students and faculty in addition to community members.

“If you’re in the city and don’t have a yard or can’t have your own garden, you can come and be a part of our garden,” said Karyl Buddington, the university's director of animal care facilities and TIGUrS garden founder. “The garden is out there for everybody.”

The garden's footprint is roughly an acre and launched ten years ago when Buddington had an idea to increase campus green space and work study opportunities for students. It is situated between the Elma Roane Fieldhouse and Zach Curlin parking garage.

“All of the produce that comes out of the garden is free to anyone who wants to use it," said Buddington.

A tiger statue guards the south end of the garden and weathered benches and picnic table are interspersed between rows of cinder block beds. On the west end of the garden patio furniture and a tranquil waterfall fountain provide a shady place to relax and socialize. It also features several colorful murals, some painted by U of M student Megan Farrell.

The garden produces an abundance of fresh produce and herbs including tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, peppers, onions, squash, lettuce, radish, basil, mint, cilantro and more. Hops are also grown in the garden, which are harvested annually by Bosco's Restaurant and Brewing Company to produce a seasonal single malt single hop, TIGUrS SMaSH beer.

Buddington encourages community members to contact her for volunteer opportunities and private events like weddings, reunions and birthday parties. The garden also hosts an annual Earth Day celebration and an annual Sweet Potato Pull, a fall event where students and community members come out to get dirty and dig for sweet potatoes.

The 10th annual TIGUrS garden Earth Day event will be held April 17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and feature live bands, free food, Zumba and yoga classes and giveaways.

Buddington hopes that community members will come out and enjoy the event and all the garden has to offer.

“The garden encourages people to get out, get some sun and some exercise," she said. "If you learn to grow your own food you can make salads, stir fries … you feel a sense of accomplishment for growing your own food.”

Kale, one of the colder-weather crops that can be found in the TIGUrS garden, fills one of the many cinder-block garden beds. (Scarlet Ponder)

A Saturday Stroll through the Art Museum

Gardens are lovely on fair weather days but when spring showers threaten, it's time to head indoors and delight your senses with the university's three art museums.

Christina King, a grade school student and aspiring artist, recently spent a quiet spring break afternoon exploring contemporary art, Egyptian mummies and traditional African carvings.

Her parents did their best to keep up with her eager stride.

“We brought her here because she just loves art,” said her mother, Megan Savare.

The Art Museum of the University of Memphis, located on the main campus near Central Avenue in the Arts and Communication Building, is free and open to the public weekdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Visitors can park for free on Saturdays in the Central Avenue lot. On weekdays visitors can find paid parking in the Zach Curlin parking garage.

University District resident Vania Barraza said she hopes the university will consider free parking for all its public events, especially if it hopes to be truly public and serve the entire Memphis community regardless of income. 

"To create community, you have to create the condition too," she said. 

In addition to permanent Egyptian and African Collections, the main gallery features temporary exhibitions changing every few months, often alternating between student works and nationally and internationally recognized contemporary artists.

The Egyptian collection includes mummies that can be viewed up close through glass cases. The museum offers guided tours of the Egyptian and African collections free of charge. Tours typically last 20 minutes per exhibition and are scheduled at least two weeks in advance.

The current temporary exhibition titled “Dear Artist”, features contemporary works by a variety of artists accompanied by intimate, hypothetical letters written by collectors to their chosen artists.

The University of Memphis Arts and Communication Building houses the Martha and Robert Fogelman Galleries of Contemporary Art open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Fogelman Galleries will be exhibiting Part I of the Spring 2019 BFA Thesis Exhibition featuring the work of nine graduating seniors through April 5. Part II of the thesis exhibitions will run April 12 through 24. An opening reception will be held from 5-7 p.m. on April 12.

Also at the Arts and Communications Building is the Box Gallery, which opened in 2012. The student-run gallery hosts eight exhibitions of student artwork annually.

Signs direct visitors to the entrance of the Art Museum of the University of Memphis (AMUM), which is open to the public 9am - 5pm Monday through Friday. (Scarlet Ponder)

Oh the Humanities!

The Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities hosts an annual lecture series that includes four to six speakers from historians, philosophers and art historians to experts in world language and literature, political science and anthropology.

Some of the most popular lectures have been on topics of the African-American experience including “Reparations: A Democratic Idea”, a lecture by Lawrie Balfour, a professor at the University of Virginia, and “i have shaken rivers out of my eyes: Black Poetry & Prophetic Rage," a lecture by Yolanda Piece, a professor and dean at the Howard University School of Divinity.

Potter wants the public to know that anyone regardless of their background or level of education is encouraged to attend.

“We want the public to feel welcome, not intimidated,” said Potter.

For the 2019 spring semester many of the lectures are focused on migration during World War I and its connection to our current ideas on migration. The last lecture of the series, titled “Culture Wars: Publishing World Literature in the Age of German Nationalism," presented by Dr. Meike Werner of Vanderbilt University, will held April 4.

The Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, which promotes the studying of civil rights and social change through teaching, research, and community engagement, also hosts regular lectures and documentary screenings at the University of Memphis and across the Mid-South.

Still don’t feel like a traditional lecture is for you? Try Humanities on Tap instead.

Humanities on Tap, usually held at businesses on neighboring Highland Street, features three or four Humanities faculty members in dicussion about their field of study.

“We buy appetizers, they talk for five minutes and after it’s time to mix and mingle and people can ask questions," said Potter. "Those are always open to the public.”

Those who want to learn about MOCH's free events can visit their University of Memphis event page to for more information and to subscribe to their email list.

More to Explore

Looking for a cross cultural experience? Learn about about Chinese language and culture at events hosted by the Confucius Institute, home to the University of Memphis Asian Studies and International Trade program. The institute is committed to providing multicultural experiences to foster understanding of Chinese culture in Memphis and the Mid-South.

You can also explore free annual film festivals sponsored by the U of M Department of World Languages and Literatures. The Hispanic Film Festival screens in September during Hispanic Heritage Month. This year's Italian Film Festivalheld April 8 through 12, will feature two comedies and one drama. The festival is a part of a larger national tour organized by the Italian Film Festival USA, the largest festival dedicated exclusively to Italian film in the U.S.

Though not free, the Department of Theatre and Dance offers a variety of performances throughout the academic year that are open to the public. The upcoming theatrical performance “Shaming Jane Doe” will be performed April 4 through 6 and April 11 through 13 at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets for performances can be purchased on their website.

Looking for something a little more academic from your public university? Community members can always check out books and use guest computers free of charge at the McWherter Library.

Read more articles by Scarlet Ponder.

Scarlet Ponder is a certified urban planner and an honorary Memphian of five years. As a freelance writer and local transit planer, she is passionate about promoting equitable urban policy and amplifying the stories of everyday change-makers.
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