In the words of Crosstown Arts co-founder Todd Richardson, the neighborhood near the long-abandoned Sears Crosstown building "could use some love."
Though the neighboring Evergreen Historic District is home to manicured yards and a close-knit community, the commercial district along Cleveland near the defunct Crosstown building is peppered with vacant storefronts and littered parking lots. So University of Memphis art faculty Richardson and partner Chris Miner formed Crosstown Arts in hopes of transforming the neighborhood into a thriving arts community.
"The location of Crosstown is tough to beat. It's close to downtown, but it's still Midtown, and artists tend to live in Midtown," Richardson said. "It's a cool neighborhood, and there's already a lot going in terms of arts-minded things."
Crosstown Arts is hosting MemFEAST, a community dinner to raise money for a public art project, on Friday, October 1st, at their office on North Watkins. At the dinner, which has already sold out, attendees will vote on proposals by seven artists. The winner will receive $1,500 to complete the project in three months.
Crosstown Arts was granted 501(c)3 status earlier this month, and Miner said the first order of business will be a year-long feasibility study to determine what sort of arts amenities the community can support.
"We don't want to impose any ideas on the neighborhood," Miner said. "We want to spend a year researching what's needed and forming a business plan."
They do have a few ideas in mind, including a multidisciplinary artist residency program, a contemporary arts center, and an artist resource center. The resource center would be like an "art gym" where artists could pay a fee to use studio space, photography equipment, or woodshop space.
"A lot of art students leave Rhodes or the University of Memphis and don't have access to studio or lab space," Richardson said. "People leave Memphis after college to have access to something like that, but this would bring artists here."
Richardson said their idea for the arts center was inspired by several large centers across the country, like MASS MoCA.
MASS MoCA, in North Adams, Massachusetts, features 110,000 square feet of open, flexible space for large-scale art installations too big for conventional museums. The center opened in 1999 in a converted 19th-century electric power plant.
Part of Crosstown Arts' feasibility plan involves determining whether or not the organization would convert an empty space or build a new structure for a potential arts center.
Though Crosstown Arts isn't ruling out the 1.4-million-square-foot Sears building for such a center, Richardson said it would take more than an effort by Crosstown Arts to convert the massive structure. Real estate developer Andy Cates purchased the Crosstown building in 2007, but it still sits empty.
"It's no accident that we're in the shadow of the Sears building," Richardson said. "It's such an icon, and I'm hoping that things we do here, in some small way, will help bring attention to the possibilities of what could happen in that building."