Monday, July 31, 2006

The Party

In a food piece in the Observer, actor Morgan Freeman explains why he started a world-class restaurant in Clarksdale, Mississippi:
...people would travel to Clarksdale from as far away as Norway to pay homage to the Blues mecca, only to find there was nothing going on. So they set up the Ground Zero club, which in turn spawned smaller blues joints round and about, and a shop that sells memorabilia and a museum. 'So now there's a market,' said Freeman. People before arrived all dressed up for the party, but there was no party. 'Now there is, and the best place to eat in the Deep South.'
[Emphasis mine].

Freeman is referring to the restaurant and club he started in Clarksdale, but I think it's just as true for other mythic places, like Memphis. If someone's coming here, from near or far, how will they know they're here -- that they're in a special place? For me, a large part of the Party is architectural icons, both historic and evocative.

Smart City Sherman

Over at Smart City Memphis, Sherman Willmott of Shangri-La Records has made a number of suggestions about how to improve the Memphis music industry. Besides excellent ideas like greeting Memphis' airport visitors with live homegrown music, he emphasizes building the business from within, with live music, strong web presence, and homegrown TV and radio shows. He also decries the "let's lure a big record label/big record producer/big record deal from outside" approach to jumpstarting the industry (an approach the city and specifically the Music Commission have emphasized for so long), offering this real alternative:
If the band has nothing to sell, as they build up a following, the band goes into a (Memphis) studio, cuts a record, and releases the record - either with their own gig money or money from a small, independent record label. The record label spends money on design, printing, advertising, a web site and pressing the record. All of a sudden, you have a small music industry. This small, cottage industry has been growing for over 15 years and the number of independent releases from Memphis bands and labels has increased every year. With each additional strong record release, interest in Memphis music grows. As interest in Memphis music grows, major labels and major “hot” producers come scouring for talent. It is a demand driven industry. If there is interest in Memphis music, the money will come in the form of labels/producers/recording budgets etc, but the demand has to be built. It starts with the music and musicians, not by bringing in producers first.
Perhaps the folks at the Commission can't fathom a cottage industry.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Design a Designing Center in Memphis

I went to this meeting about establishing a design center in Memphis (held in the very cool Bridges Center). I got there late, so I'm not sure what I missed, and I didn't stay to the end because I got kinda bored watching one of the speakers re-enact his portfolio. It may have gotten better but not for me.

So these are my thoughts about the idea, not the meeting:
  • The more people in Memphis are working in and thinking about design, the better.
  • It's important for the center to be visionary and not just technocratic. I think most of the major design atrocities in Memphis are caused not by inferior talent or technique, but by a worldview that doesn't care about beauty or even long-term viability -- neat banality and expedient economy guide it. I would hope that the center would be an advocate and not just a counselor.
  • They should locate the Design Center in one of Memphis' renaissance neighborhoods, like Uptown or College Park district, near Soulsville USA. Good design and architecture have been key in both of those areas' economic revitalization. Each is a testament to the power of design and vision.
  • The center should design a online presence that allows real-time and asynchronous participation in their activities, especially creative activities like charrettes.
  • The center should sponsor architectural design competitions that are intentionally fantastic or visionary. A lot of designs never happen anyway (or at least the way they're originally envisioned), so why not just start with that idea and see what happens. Offer a Memphis building, site, or neighborhood as a starting point and let the games begin. Let anyone in the world, including non-architects, participate.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Great Wendi C. Thomas

This column, about the issue of race in the Ninth District congressional contest (or any election), is landmark. I hereby declare it the beginning of a new Memphis, a post-racial Memphis.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Saving the Pippin (cont.)

The Commercial Appeal has more details on the efforts of the Hendersonville businessmen who own the Zippin Pippin to save this piece of Memphis, although possibly not in Memphis.

Stephen Shutts, who with business partner Robert Reynolds bought Elvis' favorite coaster from the Mid-South Fair for $2,500, said they remain committed to "finding the right home" for the Pippin, preferably in Memphis.

"It's not in anybody's best interest just to come in
and knock it down," Shutts said.


Shutts said last month he planned to list the Pippin on eBay, mainly to spread the word about its uncertain future. That may not be necessary, however.

"We've gotten calls really from all over the country. We've had several in Memphis," said Shutts, adding that the local queries have come from private individuals rather than corporate entities.

It would be great to keep it in Memphis, but I'd much rather it go out of town than have it bulldozed.

Mid-South Fair Funnel Cake

Monday, July 10, 2006

How creative is Memphis?

Commercial doorway on Madison Avenue, MemphisThis post doesn't answer that question. Instead, it will point you to this report [pdf alert] on creative cities featured in the Tennessean.

How does Memphis stack up?

Arts Businesses: 1,118; Rank: 31st

Arts Employees, 7,832; Rank: 29th

Percent Change in Arts Businesses, 2004-2005: 5.77%; Rank: 44th

Arts Employees Per 1000 Residents: 11.66; Rank: 56th

Arts Businesses Per 1000 Residents: 1.66; Rank: 76th

3 things:
  1. the report is based on Dun & Bradstreet business registrations so tends to underreport non-profits and those not versed in matters business. Whether that would tilt the numbers for or against Memphis is left as an exercise for the reader and/or me.
  2. I would like to know how fertile a city is. How does a city stack up creatively when money isn't a factor? If you took away the patrons, would a city still create, or would it sit on the couch and watch TV? Perhaps by taking the numbers from the report and dividing by each city's disposable income per capita we'd have an idea. I'd like to think Memphis would be near the tops on such a ranking, but who knows? I believe, but I don't know.
  3. Memphis drops in the "Per 1000 Residents" categories, but it appears they're using the population of the cities, rather than metropolitan areas, for these rankings. This would skew the rankings against Memphis, since even today most of the Memphis metropolitan area is the City of Memphis. Memphis arts businesses serve a metropolitan area that's less than twice the size of the City of Memphis. San Francisco, on the other hand, which has about 75,000 more citizens in its borders than Memphis does, serves a metropolitan area nearly 5 times its population.
Anyway the report is interesting and not bad news in my opinion, which is good news.

Monday, July 03, 2006

3 things I love about Deep South Wrestling (and I haven't even seen it)

  1. They call themselves "the world's first spare bedroom wrestling league."
  2. They have characters like the Memphis Creep and Bruce Loosebum, Male Nurse.
  3. Their work is an homage to the dream that was (and will be?) Memphis wrestling.

I couldn't make this show at the Hi-Tone tonight, but I'll be watching Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on Time Warner Cable's channel 17.

In case you don't have cable or don't live in Memphis, their myspace site has some clips of their work.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Great Moments in Memphis Cultural History: the Overton Park Ruling

Occasionally I'll be talking to some Goober from East Bugtussle (to mix my sitcom metaphors) and they'll opine that "they should have just built that interstate through the park." Besides making me despair of the ignorati who live at the far edges of our shared metropolitan area, I'm pretty sure that they wouldn't have used this fast lane to downtown (or even a transporter beam if they could find a friend who knew how to turn it on and fill it with gasoline) except once or twice, and then only to give them a chance to complain about parking or crime. Then they would move further away from Memphis, but never away.

Here's a recent story on the Supreme Court case which stopped I-40 from passing through Overton Park. It's a very modest story given its importance at the time and it's historic importance to Memphis. The Citizens to Preserve Overton Park attorney Charles Newman states:
"Interstates are wonderful between cities and around cities," he said.

"When they're built through cities they become Chinese walls dividing one part of the city from the other and doing a great deal of damage."

Adding a physical divide to Memphis' economic and racial divides wouldn't have killed Memphis, but it would have reduced it to a constant vegetative state, minus the vegetation.

The Citizens to Preserve Overton Park saved Memphis.