Paint Memphis Event Aims to Revitalize Chelsea Avenue 

More than 70 graffiti artists will paint the Chelsea floodwall.

Forget the images of shady characters shouldering canvas bags filled with spray paint, working under cover of night. On July 18th, graffiti artists will descend upon North Memphis in the daylight to work on a giant, multifaceted art piece sanctioned by the city.

The one-day festival, Paint Memphis, will be a live art show. Attendees can watch more than 70 local and visiting artists as they use the Chelsea floodwall at N. Evergreen and Chelsea as their canvas. Family-friendly activities are planned, and food trucks are scheduled to be there.

Karen Golightly, one of the project coordinators, has been involved with the project since its beginning, when the plan was to tackle a downtown floodwall near Bass Pro Shops with street art.

But with the help of Golightly's Paint Memphis co-coordinators Brandon Marshall and Wallace Joiner, the idea moved to the Chelsea section of the planned Greater Memphis Greenline, which will run directly past the wall when it is completed in 2017. Right now, only the south side of the floodwall will be painted.

"We're hoping to make this not just a one-time event but to have permission all over the city, in which we do this annually," Golightly said. "We want people who may never see public art to see public art."

click to enlarge A portion of the Chelsea floodwall has already been painted by graffiti artists.
  • A portion of the Chelsea floodwall has already been painted by graffiti artists.

The area, dubbed North Midtown, is situated between New Chicago and Hyde Park in North Memphis. Project coordinators organized community meetings with surrounding residents to get their input.

While the immediate goal is to improve an otherwise blank wall with street art and create a "permission wall," which allows traveling graffiti artists to paint without legal repercussions, the overarching theme of the project is to promote the revival of the neighborhood around the wall.

"In this particular neighborhood, a lot of businesses have left. A lot of residences are boarded up," Golightly said. "It's an area that's not well-organized. There isn't a neighborhood association or a [development center] there. It's kind of a no-man's-land. You have this little section of town that nobody's looking at. The city hasn't been, and nobody is paying attention to it."

Neighbors were excited about the project, Golightly said. Requests were made of what should go on the walls, which she says will be passed on to the artists who may incorporate those ideas into their art.

"We wanted to figure out a way to get the neighborhood involved," Golightly said. "There are great neighbors who live there, and there are some great businesses that are still active there. We're hoping to bring some attention to the area with this project."

Paint Memphis used to raise funds for the project, fully meeting its goal of $2,635, on top of sponsorships from Home Depot, The Art Center, and Central BBQ, among others.

"There's a saying by a great graffiti writer: 'If you want to know about a city, look at its walls,'" Golightly said. "We have a ton of walls, but we don't have a ton of wall art. To me, that's just a blank canvas. I've looked at other places, like Atlanta's Living Walls program, which gave 75 artists [permission] to do these giant murals all over the city. After I saw that, where it's sponsored by the city, it really sends a message in this transition from street art to murals."

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