Urban Canvas 

Neighborhood group partners with University of Memphis for public art.

The University Neighborhoods Development Corporation has a special interest in the intersection of Highland and Southern, what it calls the heart of the University District.

"If you stand on the railroad tracks in the middle of Highland and turn 360 degrees, we'd like you to see something — a strong, visual statement about this community — in every direction," executive director Steve Barlow says.

Not that Barlow actually wants anyone standing on the tracks. But he does want community participation for public art around the university.

The university-area development corporation has partnered with the U of M's art department to create several community-driven public art installations. The project is being funded with an $18,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, the United Way, and the university.

The project will also include lighting improvements, signage, and neighborhood banners.

Currently in its infancy, the project already has included two billboards advertising the upcoming artwork. One was up very briefly. The other, in front of a newly painted mural on the wall of the Peddler Bike Shop on Highland, reads, "This temporary mural ... will be replaced by one that YOU create."

U of M art professor Cedar Nordbye says content for the Peddler mural came from preliminary meetings with neighborhood and business associations and open public meetings.

"The community's goal is to give itself some sense of a cohesive identity," Nordbye says.

Students in two of Nordbye's classes this semester will be involved with generating ideas and art for the project.

"The classes will be dedicated to making artwork that interacts with or comes from the neighborhood," Nordbye says.

As part of the 4th annual Highland Walker Festival in October, a second large mural will be installed on the wall of the Goodwill store. Other proposed sites for murals include the construction fence at the northeast corner of Highland and Central, an unused sign in the parking lot of Garibaldi's on Walker, and a north-facing wall adjacent to the Easy Mart parking lot at the corner of Highland and Southern.

Though not providing any funding for the project, the UrbanArt Commission is acting in an advisory role.

"We're providing insights into streetscape possibilities and best practices of public arts facilitation," says UrbanArt executive director John Weeden.

Weeden says community-based art projects such as this one create a sense of place through shared storytelling and group art production.

"When you have that connectedness to each other, and to one's home, you have a stronger, more vital community overall," Weeden says.

To find out how you can participate in the University District Public Art Project, visit the public art forum at www.memphisundc.com.

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