Thursday, November 30, 2017

Brooks Museum Store Redesigned by 'City & State' Owner

Posted By on Thu, Nov 30, 2017 at 3:55 PM

  • Brooks Museum of Art

The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art has teamed up with the owner of City & State and The Liquor Store to redesign and relaunch the museum's gift shop.

The Brooks worked with Lisa Toro on the new store. It features "a collection of handmade and unique goods from around the world reflective of the global roots of our art collection,” said Emily Ballew Neff, the Brooks executive director.

“Lisa’s great aesthetic sensibilities and deft touch are a perfect match for what our patrons and members appreciate," Ballew Neff said.

The merchandise selection will change with the museum's exhibits and the seasons, with new selections added each month to the fully redesigned 350 square-foot space on the museum’s ground floor.

The store will open with a grand opening celebration Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 5 p.m. For more information, visit

The relaunch of the store comes as Brooks board members are weighing an option to move the museum from its Overton Park home to a spot on the Memphis riverfront.

Scheming Contractor Nailed By Feds

Posted By on Thu, Nov 30, 2017 at 2:36 PM

  • Dunavant

After hammering for justice, a scheming government contractor got hammered by justice.

Milton Cleve Collins, 54, pleaded guilty to one count of major fraud against the United States Thursday before U.S. District Judge John T. Fowlkes, Jr.

Collins had a $1.5 million federal government contract to replace the roof and the air conditioning system at the Ed Jones Federal Courthouse and Post Office in Jackson, Tenn.

He sub-contracted the work to a “small Memphis-area business,” according to D. Michael Dunavant, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, but did not pay the business in full. Collins then lied about it in documents to federal officials. For Collins, the scheme was worth over $580,000.

But Collins caught the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the General Services Administration, from which he had won the original contract.

“The major fraud committed by the defendant in this case is a serious crime of dishonesty and deceit that strikes at the very heart of those national interests, and will not be tolerated,” Dunavant said in a Thursday statement.

Collins now faces up to 10 years in prison, a fine of no more than $5 million, three years of supervised release, and a special assessment of $100. A sentencing hearing for him is set for March 2018.

“The FBI takes particular interest in cases where individuals, for their own personal benefit, use deceit and fraud to line their pockets,” said Michael T. Gavin, Special Agent in Charge of the Memphis Division of the FBI. “Fraud has a negative and long lasting impact on the community, and the honest and law abiding citizens who are fed up with the likes of those who, motivated merely by greed, violate the law, should be assured by this conviction that the FBI is committed to work closely with its law enforcement partners to vigorously pursue anyone who commits such crimes.”

Zoo Primate Headed Out (This Time With Handlers)

Posted By on Thu, Nov 30, 2017 at 9:39 AM

"Benjamin" and his mother, "Thimble," shortly after he was born in January 2016. - MEMPHIS ZOO TWITTER
  • Memphis Zoo Twitter
  • "Benjamin" and his mother, "Thimble," shortly after he was born in January 2016.
A little one — not even two years old yet — was scheduled for a CT Scan Thursday morning.

Benjamin started having nose bleeds in his left nostril in May. Last week his head started tilting to the left side, he was a bit off balance, and he had mild tremors in his left arm and hand. He's already had blood work and digital radiographs but nothing out of the ordinary was found.

So, Benjamin, a Spot-nosed Guenon, was slated to take a ride from his home at the Memphis Zoo Thursday morning for a quick scan at Memphis Veterinary Specialists in Cordova. His handlers hope the scan will help them find a course of treatment for his condition.

Benjamin was born on January 1, 2016 to mother and father, "Thimble" and "Jerry." Benjamin's brother, "Grommet," was born at the zoo in July. The animals are all on exhibit in the zoo's Primate Canyon.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Cosby Star Removed From Orpheum Sidewalk

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2017 at 4:19 PM

The sidewalk in front of The Orpheum features stars with names of prominent artists who have performed at the theater. - ORPHEUM THEATRE GROUP
  • Orpheum Theatre Group
  • The sidewalk in front of The Orpheum features stars with names of prominent artists who have performed at the theater.

Bill Cosby’s star was removed from the sidewalk in front of The Orpheum Theatre Tuesday to make way for a new star, according a theater official.

Cosby now faces years in prison on several charges of sexual assault. One trial earlier this year ended in a deadlocked jury. That case is set to be re-tried next year.

Kristin Bennett, press relations manager for Orpheum Theatre Group, said the decision to remove the star was simply to make way for another.

“We had a star made to honor the 40th anniversary of our volunteer usher organization, Friends of the Orpheum, and wanted to put it in a prominent location in the sidewalk,” Bennett said in a statement. “In order to do that, we moved the Bill Cosby star. No decision has been made about what to do with Mr. Cosby's star.”

After Cosby was originally charged in 2015, then-Orpheum Theater president Pat Halloran told WMC-TV that the comedian’s star was placed on the sidewalk based on his four performances at the theater. At that time, Halloran told the television news station that his group had not considered removing the star.

When asked if the allegations against Cosby spurred the move to remove the star now, Bennett said, "We have no comment on the allegations against Mr. Cosby. We simply decided this was the most prominent spot for the new star."

Cosby's star (left) has been replaced with a "Friends of the Orpheum" star (right).
  • Cosby's star (left) has been replaced with a "Friends of the Orpheum" star (right).

The star's removal comes after the Orpheum Theatre Group named four new members to its board. In July, the group brought on:

• Dr. Noelle Chaddock, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs for Diversity and Inclusivity at Rhodes College

• Terri Lee Freeman, president of the National Civil Rights Museum

• Dr. Andrea Lewis Miller, president of Lemoyne-Owen College

• Brian Sullivan, principal and CEO of Sullivan Branding

• Robert Cox, shareholder at Glassman, Wyatt, Tuttle & Cox, P.C.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

'Church for Black Men' Coming Next Year

Posted By on Tue, Nov 28, 2017 at 12:22 PM

Johnson, in a Facebook video, on day 12 of his hunger strike this summer. - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • Johnson, in a Facebook video, on day 12 of his hunger strike this summer.

A Black Lives Matter (BLM) activist in Georgia plans to start a new church in Memphis for African American men.

Jomo Kenyatta Johnson, a Christian pastor who co-founded BLM Savannah, will start “a new Christian denomination of house churches,” called Church For Black Men, here in February.

“Sunday Home Meetings” will happen in homes, congregations will not exceed 25 people, and “it will be a familial setting not a formal one.”

Johnson worked in a number of “predominantly white Presbyterian churches” after he graduated Westminster Seminary.

“The reason that black men do not connect with the American Evangelical church is because (the church refuses) to suffer with blacks and, therefore, are unable to communicate in a message by which black men can understand,” Johnson said in a news release.

Johnson said the Church For Black Men is “not exclusively” for black men, “but primarily black.”
“Meaning, we will ask that if you are not a black male, to come as a guest of a black male who attends the church,” Johnson said.

The church won’t take money from its members. Johnson said it will also forfeit tax-exempt status so its leaders can speak on political issues.

“The belief is that by removing the church’s emphasis on money while also addressing political issues that lead to black oppression will enable a greater number of black males to partake,” Johnson said.

He said black men are the “least churched demographic in America” and “need of a safe place to be unapologetically black while learning and seeking spiritual truth.”

Johnson got national attention this summer when he went on a hunger strike for suicide awareness.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Local Organization Aims to Provide Bikes to Teens in South Memphis

Posted By on Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 1:39 PM

  • Revolutions

Revolutions Bicycle Co-Op, in partnership with The Works of South Memphis will launch a campaign Tuesday, Nov. 28 to bring bikes to teens in South Memphis.

  • Revolutions

The organizations are asking that Memphians donate $300 to the campaign. This would provide a bike, helmet, lights, and a lock to a teen in South Memphis.

“This gift will allow teenagers to travel to-and-from school, work, after-school activities, sports, and work obligations,” Shannon Little, Revolutions, media contact said.

The campaign will officially kick off on Tuesday, but donations will also be accepted any time after that on Revolutions’ website and Facebook page.

The bikes and equipment will be given to teens

who are participating in the Big Jump Teen Ambassadors program — a piece of the larger recently-launched initiative aimed at getting more people biking


 in South Memphis.

While, Revolutions’ campaign is a part of the citywide collaboration of local non-profits to “Grit, Grind, and Give,” on #givingtuesday, a day set aside globally to celebrate generosity.

Open Containers of Alcohol Could Soon Be Allowed on Main Street

Posted By on Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 11:41 AM

  • Dan Ball

Open plastic containers of alcohol could soon be allowed on Main Street after a Memphis City Council committee began discussion on the topic Tuesday, recommending the proposed ordinance for approval to the full council.

But, before anyone is able to walk the length of the Main Street mall sipping spirits from an open container, the full council must approve the ordinance. It’s set to take the first of three votes on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

Sponsored by council member Martavius Jones, the ordinance would allow people to partake in alcohol on Main from E.H. Crump to A.W. Willis. This, Jones said would spark further economic growth, bringing in “ a lot more vibrant businesses” on the street.

Per the request of the city’s chief operations officer Doug McGowen, Jones will meet with representatives from the Downtown Memphis Commission, owners of Main Street restaurants, and other stakeholders for more discussion on the question.

Also on Tuesday, the council revisited discussion of how the city handles the application and notification process for events that temporary close down city streets.

Council member Reid Hedgepeth is sponsoring an ordinance that would require race and parade organizers to apply for a permit 90 days ahead of the event. Currently, organizers only have to register for a permit 14 days out.

Additionally, organizers would be required to mail notifications to any residents or businesses that might be affected by the event or the streets closed as a result.

This would allow those who oppose the street closure to submit opposition to the city’s permit office, which would then be presented to the council for a vote.

However, council member Martavius Jones expressed concern over the organizers of small races and parades not being able to afford mailing out thousands of notifications.

But, Hedgepeth added that the Memphis Runners Track Club is working to create designated, pre-approved race routes away from neighborhood streets. He said once these standard routes are decided, organizers won’t have to send notifications if their event is along those routes.

Council member Patrice Robinson added that there needs to be a more intentional effort about having races in the city’s parks.

The council is set to return to the issue on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

15 Covers for our 1,500th issue

Posted By on Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 11:28 AM

This week marks the 1,500th issue of The Memphis Flyer and to celebrate we're sharing 15 of our favorite and most significant covers since '89. You'll have to forgive me for some the older ones—they were professionally photographed from our archives with my phone.

The first issue:

Flyer founder and publisher Kenneth Neill remembers installing the first Flyer box on a rainy night in 1989, by what used to be Three Little Pigs' old Highland location. Fun fact: all the Flyer boxes retain the original Flyer logo.


Lord of the Ring:
Jerry Lawler remains one of the most beloved celebrities in Memphis history. Here, he graces our 36th issue.

The Grizzlies' insane 2011 playoff run:
In 2011, the Grizzlies finally win their first playoff game and then some, beating the top-seeded Spurs and enthralling us with endless overtimes in the series against the Westbrook-KD-Harden OKC Thunder. Here's the consummation of the Grit and Grind era.


Historic demonstrations didn't skip the 901, as protesters and activists pushed a dialogue about the racially biased, and lethal, criminal justice system into the spotlight.

The Adventures of Shirtless Man:
Many on staff believe this story is the funniest thing the Flyer has ever published. Decide for yourself.

John Calipari and Derrick Rose:
Our 2007 preview for the U of M's basketball team marks the beginning of a fantastic and frustrating journey that took the Tigers to the end of the NCAA tournament.

Down along the Flood:

Catastrophic flooding ravaged the lives of many Memphians in 2011.

Transgender in Memphis:
All about transgender pride and raising awareness of the transgender community.

Elvis Presley 1935-2007:
This cover story imagines Elvis' life if he lived to 2007, staging comebacks in music and film, as well as bringing Memphis its first NFL team (the Hound Dogs). When we published this issue, and any time we share the story online, we invariably get a barrage of comments from angry readers questioning our journalistic accuracy and reminding us that Elvis actually died in '77. It never gets old.

Blunt Assessment:
We still aren't there yet, but we're making progress in common sense legislation regarding marijuana. Our readers lit up over this cover.

Loaded Questions:
The debate over firearm legislation continues to rage as the US (and Memphis) suffers from lethal gun violence that's unparalleled by any other developed country. Tennessee politicians continue to write love letters to gun culture in the form of legislation, and we'll continue to call them out for enabling this pandemic.

Silver Screen Style:
We just love this cover for 2008's fall fashion issue. Bow down to the 50-ft woman!

KISS and Tell:
KISS came to Memphis in April 2000 near the start of what the band called its Farewell Tour. KISS superfan Frank Murtaugh interviewed fire-breathing bassist Gene Simmons, who touched on Bluff City icons from Elvis Presley to the Peabody ducks. Seventeen years later, Simmons is still performing with KISS (when not offending mankind with his behavior).

The Survivor:
One of our most powerful covers, and totally fueled by Alyssa Moore's bravery in opening up about her horrific experiences with domestic abuse. Her story couldn't be more important, as Memphis and Tennessee consistently rank near the top of cities and states for men killing women.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Vote to Remove Memphis' Confederate Statues Held by City Council

Posted By on Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 5:32 PM

Nathan Bedford Forrest Statue in Health Sciences Park
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest Statue in Health Sciences Park

The Memphis City Council was set Tuesday to have the third and final vote on an ordinance that requires the city administration to adopt a plan to immediately remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis statues, as well as related artifacts from the city.

However, following city council attorney Allan Wade’s advisement to hold the vote until the next meeting, the council decided with no objections to hold it until Tuesday, Dec. 5.

Wade said that in the interim, the Tennessee attorney general has asked that city officials meet with representatives of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and descendants of Forrest to discuss possible future locations for the statue and graves of both Forrest and his wife.

He said this mediated meeting is set to take place no later than the council’s Dec. 5 meeting.

Wade also said that the city is in the process of pursuing litigation challenging the Tennessee Historical Commission’s October decision to deny Memphis’ waiver petition for the removal of Forrest’s statue from Health Sciences Park downtown.

Additionally, the city has filed with the Shelby County Chancery Court to declare the statue a “public nuisance” on an expedited basis.

Wade said that local litigation should be completed by January, but the council’s vote on the ordinance won’t be held beyond Dec. 5, as the city is “prepared to pull the trigger.”

City Council Looks to Ensure Good Portion of Public Art Money Goes to Local Artists

Posted By on Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 5:00 PM


The Memphis City Council began discussion of an ordinance that would ensure a set percentage of public art funds are spent on local and minority artists.

Funds were pulled from the city’s UrbanArt Commission (UAC) during budget season last year after then-council member, now chairman Berlin Boyd expressed concerns over the amount of money spent to bring in out-of-town artists, instead of local artists.

Boyd said he’s “sick and tired" of quasi-government entities and agencies, funded in part by public money, feeling as though the council has no authority to oversee them.

The proposed ordinance would require that 60 percent of project dollars each year be awarded to local artists, as well as minority- and/or women-owned enterprises.

However, executive director of UAC, Lauren Kennedy said though it can be done, it will take significant work and commitment to bring more local artists into the public arts space.

The new legislation also puts parameters in place to make the program more transparent. One parameter  would allow the public to attend artist selection committee meetings, as Boyd said “it’s fair to let the public see how and where their dollars are being spent.”

Boyd, as well as council members Patrice Robinson and Joe Brown expressed additional concerns over some of the artwork going up in the city, citing a grim reaper mural near Chelsea.

Boyd said that type of art shouldn’t be in African-American neighborhoods, calling the mural “rude.”

Robinson said it would be nice if there was a monitoring process to ensure that “rather than painting despicable objects on buildings,” making sure the art is tasteful. But, Kennedy told the council that the UAC had no part in the grim reaper mural and other art around the city that although are on public buildings, are not funded by public dollars.

The full council will vote on the ordinance at its next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

Memphis Residents Could Pay Increased Water, Gas, Electric Rates Next Year

Posted By on Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 12:10 PM


Memphis, Light, Gas, & Water (MLGW) customers might start paying higher rates in 2018, after a Memphis City Council committee began discussion Tuesday of water, gas, and electric rate increases.

CEO of MLGW Jerry Collins, Jr. told the committee that the revenue from the increased water rates would be used to fund research on the Memphis Sands Aquifer, the source of Memphis’ drinking water.

Dr. Brian Waldron, the University of Memphis' director of the Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering said there is currently a threat concerning the quality of water in the aquifer and that the additional funds will help the city be proactive and assess where exactly the contamination breaches, if any, are in the aquifers. He said fixing the problem now will save thousands of dollars in the future.

With a 1.05 percent increase in rates, customers would pay an additional $11 a month. Collins said this would yield close to $1 million a year of dedicated research funds.


Gas and electric rates, MLGW officials said, haven’t seen increases in a “very long time,” noting that the last electric increase was in 2004 and the last gas increase was in 2008.

Collins adds that the average utility bill for Memphis residents is about $34 less than it was 10 years ago. But, he said that stagnant rates have created a weakening financial position.

To mitigate those financial problems, the utility presented the council committee with three options to increase water, gas, and electric rates.

The options propose increasing rates over one, two, or three years.

The full council is set to vote on the increases and which option to pursue at the next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5.


Monday, November 20, 2017

City Program Offering Work to Homeless Memphians Expands

Posted By on Mon, Nov 20, 2017 at 11:49 AM

  • Facebook- Mayor Jim Strickland
  • Hospitality Hub Van

A program that employs homeless Memphians for various clean-up projects around town is expanding to more days of operation per week and will start paying participants higher wages, Mayor Jim Strickland announced last week.

When it launched last November, the Work Local initiative ran just two days a week and paid participants $9 an hour.

Now, it will run five days days a week, paying workers $10 per hour, thanks to $175,000 of additional funding from the city’s Division of Public Works.

The initiative is carried out by local resource center for the city’s homeless population, Hospitality Hub of Memphis. Its staff drives a van around Downtown Memphis offering homeless Memphians work, lunch, and connections to social services.

Since launching last year, close to 400 participants have benefitted from the program and have picked up more than 70,000 pounds of trash from around the city.

In a Facebook post last week, Mayor Strickland said of the initiative's expansion: “This is City government at its best: Innovating and working with great community partners to positively affect the lives of homeless Memphians. I was so proud to work with the Hospitality Hub and so many others to get this off the ground last year, and I’m even prouder today that we can expand to serve more Memphians”

TDOT to Halt Lane Closures on State's Highways for Thanksgiving Holiday

Posted By on Mon, Nov 20, 2017 at 10:12 AM

Talk about traffic!
  • Talk about traffic!

In anticipation of more than one million travelers hitting the state’s highways for Thanksgiving, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) announced Monday there will be no lane closures during the holiday.

Beginning Wednesday, TDOT will pause all construction-related closures through Monday, Nov. 27 for what the department’s commissioner, John Schroer calls the most-traveled holiday of the year.

“Over a million travelers in Tennessee are expected to drive to their holiday destinations this year,” Schroer said. “Halting road work during this busy time will provide maximum capacity on our highways and help alleviate congestion, especially during the predicted peak travel days of Wednesday and Sunday. “

Additionally, in order to keep traffic flowing, TDOT’s regional HELP Trucks will be on the state's interstates and highways assisting with any incidents . 

Officials add that drivers should still adhere to the speed limits posted in construction zones, as some workers may still be present there.


TDOT, along with local law enforcement agencies statewide and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security also created the l-40 Challenge, aiming to have zero road fatalities during the holiday week.

On Wednesday and Sunday, “peak travel days,” Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers will be stationed every 20 miles on I-40.

In America, close to 51 million people are expected to travel at least 50 miles for the Thanksgiving holiday, according to AAA. About 1.2 million of those travelers will be Tennesseans, and 1.1 million are expected to travel via automobile.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Q & A With MCA President Laura Hine

Debt, declining enrollment, and low endowments create a difficult environment for academic institutions. Memphis College of Art struggled with all three

Posted By on Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 3:02 PM

MCA President, Laura Hine
  • MCA President, Laura Hine
As reported in this week’s Memphis Flyer cover feature "Art of the Deal," the Memphis College of Art was severely impacted by a declining enrollment. But what does that really mean? And was it merely the kiss of death to a small, private college already struggling with a low endowment and debt?

There’s some context necessary for understanding college enrollment and trends in higher education. An institution’s reputation, and the kinds of training programs it offers are meaningful of course. There will always be a Harvard, probably. But enrollment numbers are also aligned with things as basic as birth rates, and one of MCA’s last major economic crises came about in the 80’s, as the last members of the enormous Baby Boomer generation reached the end of their formal education. Enrollment dropped from 246, which was an all-time high in 1976, to 207 in 1980. After losing only 39-students, the school was described as being, “under siege financially,” and it faced faculty layoffs, major changes to academic culture, and an $80,000 shortfall.

When wages are stagnant while tuitions go up colleges are taxed with finding larger and larger amounts of financial aid. Unemployment, on the other hand, can increase some enrollments as displaced workers look to acquire skills, marketability, etc. while a warming economy (conversely and counterintuitively) shrinks enrollment by sucking those potential students back into the workforce.

90% of MCA students have traditionally come from within a 300-mile radius of the school so, in this case, proximity and convenience have driven enrollment.

MCA’s interim President Laura Hine understood that the Overton Park-based art college’s future was tied to smaller, realistic headcounts, a 21st-Century curriculum, and funding models that hedged against the natural ebb and flow of enrollment. She also knew that enrollment was just one part of a three-pronged threat the school was facing — a threat that included crippling real estate debt, and an endowment too low to sustain the school during harder times.

Hine spoke to The Flyer for this week’s Art of the Deal cover story. Here’s a transcript of the conversation. It has been edited for length, focus, and clarity.

Memphis Flyer: I know you’ve been at the school for a while now. But you’ve only been in your current position for what six or eight months, right?

Laura Hine: I came here in the academic year 2014-15 as the VP for Advancement and when Ron retired in the middle of last semester I was asked if I would take the position and I said yes I will.

When you came on as interim President, did you have any idea you’d be the person who’d announce the school was closing?

No I didn't. I've been here, and there’ve been serious economic and financial challenges. Of course I was aware of those. But it wasn't a thought in my mind that it would come to this. Someone asked me would you have taken the job had you known this would be the outcome and that's a really hard question for me to answer because I love the school. But this has been the worst professional experience of my life in terms of the sadness and the heartbreak of it all. You have jobs, and you work hard. I'm not afraid of any of that and I've done that my whole life. But I've never had the same passion and love for something as I have for the school, so I think that's what's made it different from any of the work I've ever done before. The board and Ron had approached me at some point prior to my being asked to take up the job — more or less rather suddenly. Would I have an interest in applying for the president's job at the end of Ron's tenure and I said yes, it's possible I would throw my hat in the ring. Then Ron decided to retire and the college needs someone to step into the position, so I accepted it on the interim basis. We never made it to the process of full National search because we were otherwise occupied .

Looking back at some of the media when Ron Jones first joined MCA — He often seemed like maybe he wasn’t fully aware of what he was stepping into — or that the problems got much bigger, much faster than anticipated.

He inherited some situations I think that probably caught him a little bit unaware and he very quickly had to spring into action and take some steps that would stabilize the college. There were issues related to accreditation, and he stabilized that. So much has been written about the real estate debt. I know the college sold some properties at the time. There were some active layoffs. Your instructional cost is the largest line item in your budget — as it should be. But I think there were some faculty layoffs, and at that time we got to the accreditation problems etc.

It did seem like a lot happening at once.

When I got here people said, “You jumped on a sinking ship.” I said, “Well, it was listing.” But there's always an opportunity for stabilizing a sinking ship.

I think there’s a sense — related to the abruptness of the announcement — that the school wasn’t exploring all its options, beating every bush...

We're running annual campaigns and fundraising. So, to say we haven't been out in the community raising money is just not true. There are various events for fundraising. To say we aren’t beating every bush is just wrong. I would say, within the major donor funding community, there was no stone left unturned. People raised the issue of Sweetbriar, when the alumni came in and saved them. Well historically, if you look throughout the entire college’s history, our alumni are not wealthy people. And they have been asked to give and give. They are part of every campaign to raise money. But to look to them to provide the kind of funding this institution needs, it's just not there. The funding capacity is just not there. They can help in other ways or support the school in other ways. But they don't have the capacity to give on a large scale. The problem with that — Let's say you have a pretty successful campaign and it yields $2,000,000. Well that's that’s one year. But unless you have ongoing commitments, and know you can count on those commitments, what happens here is, you get into a situation — and this was at the front of the minds of the board when they made their vote — you don't know that you have funding lined up to teach them out. Could you have raised enough money to maybe get you through a year? Fine, you've now admitted new students but you have no funding commitments that will sustain the institution over a longer period of years. There is no private college of any kind that doesn't rely on its donors to survive and the major donor community here has been extraordinarily generous to this college over a very long period of years. But the efforts to line up multi-year commitments didn't materialize. So then you have a situation.
I know the teach-out is scheduled to end in 2020. Will you still have students then? Or faculty? Or will they transfer to other schools, get other jobs?

There will be students all the way up till commencement May 2020. We are staging a transfer fair on November 9th. But let me explain to you how this works. We are professional Fine Art and Design School. The way art curriculum is built doesn't translate easily to other environments.The pool of credits that are accrued here by our students are studio credits. So the longer student goes in our environment and uses their federal financial aid, the more obligated we are to see them through to degree completion. When we talked to our accreditors after the board vote trying to get some guidance on accreditation during a period like this, we asked about what would be appropriate for the teach out. They said, “well, we’ve unfortunately had too many of these kinds of conversations because of the failure rate of small private liberal arts and fine arts schools. And the answer is how long can you teach out? There are some schools they just go ‘we're closing the doors tomorrow. We don't have the means to carry on. We don't have the funding in the resources to carry on.’” And that's what happens. In this instance we looked at how long can we carry on if we liquidate our assets and how long can we carry on and teach out students. You know, there's no book or roadmap on how you do this with compassion and understanding for all of the people who are going to be impacted, so in my mind it was imperative that we come out as soon as possible and share the information. The accreditor said, “You can wait till the spring,” and I said, “There's no way we're going to do that because what happens you're going to have students your continuing to accrue credits without in the information that they need? This is something that's going to impact their lives.”

What about faculty?

Decisions about faculty are going to be based on student need. You go back to what's our mission? It's to educate students. So faculty decisions will be made based upon what faculty are needed to serve the students. So you have to look at things like do program analysis. What are the larger what disciplines? What are the largest populations of students that we need to serve? So the faculty that are needed to serve those students are the faculty who will remain. In a general sense there are never any guarantees about faculty saying through four years. Faculty go and come and make career choices and decisions based on their life circumstances. based on student need.

I’d like to talk a little about the real estate debt. I know a lot of it happened before you got here, and I don’t want you to feel like you have to answer questions right now if those questions are better suited for someone else, or feel like you’re putting words in other people’s mouths.

I'm pretty familiar with the history because I've had to become familiar with it. Because it's been a financial challenge for the school. So I'm familiar with a snapshot of the incurred debt. That was in the first decade of the 2000s. And it grew to over $11-million. And I think there's always this notion — and it's human nature to point the finger of blame but 3 fingers always come back — I just don't like to collapse into that. There were some detractors. And these steps were taken during probably what you would say was a more hopeful time. There was an expansive vision. That just frankly didn't materialize. And the folly of it? There's some validity to that. It's kind of a “you build-it-and-they-will-come” versus “there here and what are we going to do about it?” All the while you have the wild ticker tape of nationally declining enrollments running in the background.

I don’t think I realized it was as high as $11-million.

It has been a financial albatross around this institutions neck for many years. When I first came here in there was a board-led fundraiser and the philanthropic community showed up for this institution in a big and mighty way. And we took that money and we reduced debt by 31%. We had multiple loans and the interest rates were pretty high. So what we did was, we found out about a bond issue tax-exempt refinance mechanism. So we can colidated our debt, went through that refinance, and got interest rates down to 3.67%. Over the life of the loan it would save the institution about $800,000 in interest, so it was a very smart thing to do. At the same time we looked at Nissan [Graduate School] downtown, and when you looked at the operational expense associated with having a building that far from where we are, it was about a $230,000 a year expense just operating the shuttle and security down there. So a decision was made to sell the building.

Let’s talk some more about enrollment.

We've seen declining enrollment. The other thing: Recruiting students here is one thing and retaining students here is another. This is something I wasn't really aware of when I started working here. I always had this impression there's a pretty affluent student body of the College of Art. These are kids who can pursue a fine art degree etc. And I want to be careful here because I don't want to disparage any of our existing students — it's important me that that doesn’t happen. There are no shame cooties for this institution that you're serving kids who are largely coming out of poverty. These are talented kids and we change their worldview and they go out and they're different people when they leave here than when they came in. But their financial barriers are considerable and present a lot of challenges. You started to see more and more pressure in the post-recession era on colleges and universities every institution struggles with enrollment, with no exception. There is a fight for every headcount in every college, in every University. In the post-recession era it starts to catch up. With the Disappearance of the middle class normal families the middle class families ability to pay a fine and liberal arts schools tuition. You have things that occur at the state level like Tennessee making the first two years of community college free. It's hard to say no to two free years of school, and that deals a blow to institutions like us.

I’ve heard mentions that there may have been missed opportunities in terms of identifying emerging disciplines and developing curriculum...

I think there were some missed opportunities to build out programs here in areas where you're seeing enrollment upticks… Everything is digital in terms of the interest and demands of students on a national level. They're looking for design programs, user experience, user interface, app development and that kind of cutting edge design program. And we have some classes here, but there wasn’t an emphasis on that in our curricular developments. Due to the generous support of some of our donors we had some consultants come in to help spur thinking and passion for program changes and development but those consultancies didn't lead to any actions in a period where we didn't have any time to waste.

I know Ron Jones wanted to upgrade, or modernize enrollment. And he brought in someone from a different kind of academic environment. From the for-profit environment. Can you speak to what kinds of changes were made? Did they work?

The new changes in enrollment didn't work out as we intended it to. That's clear. The thinking was, we needed to look at the pressures that exist in the macro environment — Like community college, free tuition etc. There was the fight for every headcount and I think that the choice was made to bring in someone who had a very aggressive approach to enrollment. And I think the short answer I'm willing to give is I don't think that person was a good cultural fit here here, and I wasn't shy about saying it.

This happens at a time when a lot of colleges are struggling and failing. I was hesitant to describe it as a trend, but the more I look...

It's a trend. It's an absolute trend.

But is MCA just a statistic? Just part of that trend or it’s story — how we arrived here — unique even inside that trend?

I think it's truly a combination of all of it. You cite the national trends the declining enrollment in the traditional and fine arts. There are three factors that determine the fate of an institution and we had on all of them: declining enrollment, low endowment, and debt. That's 3 combined factors that will sink an institution. If you have a large endowment that sustains you. We don't have that. It's important to note to this institution has maintained the corpus of its endowment. You read about the colleges like Sweetbriar, where they were dipping into the Corpus of their endowment to sustain themselves and to keep their operations going. We haven't done that but when you look at the size of our annual drawdown — we have a 5% drawdown policy. So with an endowment of about 4.7- 4.8 million, 5% comes to $225,000 to $255,000 annual draw down on a 10 or 11 million dollar budget. It doesn't help us. I mean, it does help us, but only to that amount and then there’s no more. I've seen it written over the last week,people saying, “It’s just not that much money. It's onlu 6.9 million dollars right?” We have all three of those kisses of death for an institution of higher education in a post-recession environment. You have to look at statistics. I think closure rate has doubled in the last decade. We're not unusual. We talk to our accreditors, and there is a heartache in higher ed nationally. If you ask a person like me, especially in the political environment we’re in right now, I don't think there’s ever been a more important time for the liberal arts and the fine arts. I think this dynamic is a tragedy at a time when we need people who are educated in this fashion — people can change the world with their worldviews, through their expansive thinking.

You mention conventional wisdom — It’s only $6-million. Which is a lot of money, but I think when other institutions have raised that kind of money, I understand why people might say that.

To go back in address the debt issue, you have several plans for consideration, but we could not secure multi-year commitments and that's what you got to have. Say you raise a million dollars and admit new students then next year you go to the same people who dug deep, and they don't have it the next year. So it really is a process. Will the major donor community sustain this institution for years while we put a plan in place? It's interesting to me that people are telling me, “sell everything south of Poplar. Eliminate your debt. Invest in Rust Hall. Well, that was the plan — go back to what we used to be. Lower expectations on head count. Go back down to a sustainable size. We couldn't line up the commitments.

You sound like an urban planner talking about sprawl…

Right? Forget growing your way out of it. You're not going to grow your way out of it. So that was a plan that we weren't able to line up commitments for. and I think the reason was — there was a feeling, all the while this is going on — we missed our enrollment goals by a lot. Where did we land on enrollment this year? 35% less than we’d projected. Is that the remnants of enrollment is a process or is it truly just a product of the times in terms of the declining enrollment. That resulted in an even greater deficit, and I think it was kind of determinative in a sense, that the model that the school has had just isn't viable.

It’s probably easier to sell the idea of expansion though — whether it’s a good idea or not— than shrinking. You can see expansion in the landscape. Shrinkage? What you see is absence — negative space.

Like, "Can someone just give me a visual on what Rust Hall will look like if we do these kinds of programs?" Because you can go and you can sell that. I think that’s probably part of it. There's a weariness that sets in too. Our donors have been so generous to this institution, and they are called upon to support the community and other nonprofits in ways that are just constant. In fairness to them, it's probably just weariness.

I think I read that the school’s budget model is based on something like 80% tuition and 20% fundraising, is that still accurate?

I would say that's about right. There were striking fundraising years, like the first year I was here.There was a major fundraiser. See, you have these years when the philanthropic community comes on extremely. You'll see that kind of say, “wow that was a pretty good year!” And then you start to see it settling down into just really normal ranges. There's been so many plans and so many projections. Anyway you slice it we are going to need donor support at about a million to a million .5 every year. That's the nut.

Do miracles happen?

I think it was High Ground News that asked what it would take. I think I said it will take a $30-million endowment. Well, why $30-million? Because 5% of $30-million is $1.5 million, and we would need to know we had that kind of resource available to us under pretty much any scenario. And that's where the $30-million amount comes from. So there was a directive from the board to reduce our costs. Cost restructuring is a euphemism for a lot of hard decisions that are made. And I said, “Yes. Okay, we will reduce our costs. I largely come from the for-profit sector so I very much understand when you have a deficit there are two ways to address it. You either cut your costs or you increase the revenues. It's just that simple. It's not even a magic formula, it's very basic. So the board understood that we needed to cut costs. And I think that a lot of hard decisions were made in the cost restructuring that have been demoralizing for the institution on a lot of levels. But where they were a necessary part of a larger plan to create a sustainable future.

How do you mean demoralizing?

I don't know if anybody else has spoken about layoffs. It creates anxiety in the environment that’s almost palpable the minute you walk in the door, you know? Because it signals to the people that there are issues. And they are financial issues Anytime you go through situations like that it’s fear producing. That's what I mean by demoralizing.

  • Photographs by Justin Fox Burks

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State Offers up to $10K for Information on Lorenzen Wright's 2010 Murder

Posted By on Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 1:52 PM

Lorenzen Wright
  • Lorenzen Wright

The state has issued a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for the murder of former Memphis Grizzlies basketball player Lorenzen Wright.

After Wright was shot in 2010 and his body later discovered in an abandoned field, Gov. Bill Haslam issued the first reward in 2010, but no offender was apprehended within the statutory five-year timeline.

Now, Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich has requested that the governor reauthorize the reward.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call Memphis Crime Stoppers at 901-528-2274.

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