One recent afternoon, three college students painted on the side of an empty Front Street building. Motorists slowed down to gawk, and some people even got out of their cars to lecture them about graffiti.
From a closer perspective, it became clear that this wasn't really graffiti at all. The trio had pinned large sheets of industrial paper to the side of the building and were asking passersby if they would like to draw on the "mural."
"We wanted to get the public to participate, maybe draw on the drawings, make it a more interactive process," says Memphis College of Art student Jonathan Dodge.
Dodge, along with fellow students William Bevan, Shea Colburn, and Michael Roy, often do collaborative drawings, sometimes with up to eight artists. But the group is planning an even larger collaboration for an upcoming project. Along with several other MCA students, they plan to open an arts-cooperative near Cooper-Young.
The students are interested in a 6,500-square-foot vacant building at the corner of Evelyn and Rozelle, on almost an acre of land. The co-op would serve as a place where any kind of artist, from musicians to architects to dancers, could live, provided they were willing to give back to the community. Bevan says the space could also be used for growing food or public gatherings.
"If we wanted to build a self-sustaining kind of place, [the building] has everything that it needs," he says. "I was raised on an arts commune. I know how we can make this work."
The students are currently trying to raise $30,000 by the end of June to cover renovation costs and bring the building up to code. Colburn is getting together investment portfolios. Dodge is planning the renovation process.
If they can't raise the funds, the current owner plans to demolish the building. If that happens, the students say they will try to find another building.
"Not that there isn't a wealth of empty buildings in Memphis," Colburn jokes. "Everyone involved in this project is dedicated to it. "We kick each other's asses when we do art together, and we'll kick each other's asses in this."
Bevan and Roy's most recent work debuts May 19th during the DADA Ball Masquerade Party at Power House and involves a bathtub full of ice.
Let's see them try to get passersby to participate in that.