The Edge District doesn't exactly fit into any one Memphis neighborhood. It's technically downtown, but it doesn't feel like downtown. And it's a little too far west to be considered Midtown. The neighborhood's size makes it almost missable, as it only takes up about one-fourth of a mile radius around the intersection of Marshall and Monroe. As the home of Sun Studios, the prominence the Edge once held has diminished to mere memories.
But a public art resurgence, led by artist Cat Peña and sponsored by the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC), is underway in the Edge District. Over the next few months, a team of artists will be studying the neighborhood to determine how its character can contribute to public art projects.
The DMC decided that the Edge was "the quirky little neighborhood" they wanted to focus more attention and money on partly due to the increasing economic rise of Midtown and downtown, (the two communities the Edge separates), according to Leslie Gower, vice-president of marketing and communications for the DMC.
Peña approached the DMC last year with a proposal to help with their focus on the Edge. She suggested allowing a team of eight artists to embed themselves into the Edge District so they could really have time to explore. Then the artists would propose public art projects that the DMC would fund.
The DMC liked her idea, and with that, Collabortory was born. The name was chosen by Peña to show the collective nature of the project.
Phase one — the observation and research phase — is currently underway and will go through September. During this time, the artists are learning about and exploring the area while preparing ideas for public art projects. The DMC will select a few proposals, and in phase two, the artists will implement them.
Peña says the DMC has committed at least $40,000 for the whole project. The goal of the artists and the DMC is to make sure the Edge area is accurately represented, and they're hoping the format of this project will assist in that.
"Everything is grounded in so much research that more lofty ideas might be supported," Peña said. "I'm excited about perhaps expanding Memphis' expectations of public art. [Public art] tends to be permanent, so having temporary or ephemeral or even event-based stuff is possible."
Each member in the team of eight artists is focusing on different aspects of the Edge, and they hope to come together to create projects that are collectively successful. They have bi-weekly meetings where they discuss ideas. The group hopes to present a few art project ideas to the DMC and the general public by September. Until then, elements of their research and possible project ideas can be seen on their blog, http://collabortory.wix.com/survey1.
Once the Edge District project is done, Peña hopes to expand the Collabortory model elsewhere.
"I'm excited about perhaps expanding Memphis' expectations of public art," Peña said. "[I want] to have more projects like this where I focus on other parts of Memphis, either neighborhoods or historical sights or topics. And [we can] form another group of artists and have another year of another something and just keep moving. If it works really well here, I can apply it to other cities in the US."