Orange Mound Gallery models equitable development through arts

As redevelopments populate the Memphis map, some organizations like the Orange Mound Gallery look to more equitable ways to bring economic and social improvements to commercially disinvested areas.

OMG, formerly a liquor store, opened in February in partnership with ArtsMemphis and the Art & Place Symposium at Rhodes College. The vision and direction of the gallery at 2232 Lamar Avenue stemmed from residents of Orange Mound.

Residents LueElla Marshall and Mary Mitchell identified the abandoned space in a shopping strip on Lamar Avenue as one primed for reactivation. ArtsMemphis Chief Engagement Officer, Linda Steele, pinpoints this resident-focused model as “a brand of creative placemaking that is about equity and inclusion,” allowing the residents to have ultimate control over changes in their own neighborhood.
OMG’s fourth exhibition, “Shotgun Folklore,” opened on Nov. 5 and features paintings by Orange Mound-born artist NJ Woods. The works are inspired by her childhood home and the prevalence of shotgun houses in the Orange Mound neighborhood.

The space first opened with an exhibition of the work and collection of local artist Paul Thomas, who is now the artist-in-residence. Since then, the gallery has hosted exhibitions in partnership with the University of Memphis for the 1866 Memphis Massacre Symposium and Blues City Cultural Center's This is Orange Mound tour and exhibition.
Long-term, organizers see OMG as the first of several projects that will transform the Lamar shopping strip into an arts corridor, including classes, residencies, and a mural by local artists Jamond Bullock and Siphne Sylve who were selected by a committee of residents, stakeholders, and business owners in the community. They also plan to acquire the space next door to OMG, which will serve as an incubation space for arts-based social projects and studio space for local artists.
Orange Mound was the first African-American neighborhood in the United States built by and for African-Americans. Organizers hope that the gallery can continue the neighborhood’s legacy by forming a safe space for its residents—a space to specifically support the work of African-American artists and other people of color.

The gallery is also intended to showcase a variety of art forms, including music and theatre. Last Thursday, it succeeded on both counts when it hosted the PRIZM Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble composed primarily of people of color that committed to education and youth development through performance.
“OMG is capturing the attention of practitioners around the country in the field so Memphis is becoming a lab for how the arts and culture can play a role in a community's economic and social redevelopment, particularly in low income and communities of color,” says Steele.
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Read more articles by J. Dylan Sandifer.

J. Dylan Sandifer is a freelance writer living in Memphis since 2008. They have also contributed writing and research for MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, VICE News, and Choose901.