Monday, July 21, 2014

25 SQ South Memphis Lead Artist Darlene Newman: A Portrait

25 SQ Mural by Darlene Newman, team artists and volunteers at Knowledge Quest in South Memphis, one of several projects in the neighborhood
By Alexis Becton

Memphis native Darlene Newman has been painting since 1998 and launched her own art studio in 2001. She was invited to be the lead artist for the 25 SQ Public Art Initiative in South Memphis in fall 2012, because of her past achievements and the required neighborhood residence for the project. Darlene received her Master of Arts in Illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design and graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana with a degree in Business Management. Prior to receiving the invitation to be the South Memphis lead artist for 25 SQ, she painted her first mural for the local AME Church and completed a series of architectural paintings based on Orange Mound neighborhood. Her work has been published in numerous magazines.
Darlene Newman leads the community discussion of vision and narratives for the 25 SQ Public Art Initiative murals at the third South Memphis charrette held at LeMoyne-Owen College's Walker House on March 9, 2013
Darlene Newman shares the same vision as the originators of the 25 SQ Public Art Initiative, which is to uplift the community through positive art: “I strive to bring a mixture of positive messages and spiritual concepts to life in my paintings.” says Darlene. The purpose of the mural is to target neighborhoods that have been suffering from economic disinvestment, something Newman hopes will decrease over time.
Darlene Newman and a fellow artist plan sequencing of plywood mural vignettes for empty buildings during the Paint Day held at the Stax to the Max festival on April 28, 2013
Newman invited other artists to join her in her efforts. Team artists are Henry Ford, Meredith Olinger, Artiek Smith, Nelson Smith, III and Amie Vanderford. Further, Cat Normoyle and her Memphis College of Art students also painted mural vignettes for a Knowledge Quest building. The artists have been assisted by volunteers of all ages on wall-size murals and mural vignettes for the Soulsville neighborhood. Public paint sessions took place at The Hub on August 3 – see the Facebook photo album, at the Stax Museum's Stax to the Max Festival on April 28, 2013 and on other dates. Children active with the non-profit Knowledge Quest and its community programs volunteered to assist with the painting of a mural. The Knowledge Quest mural at Jeannette Place has been completed as of October 18. It promotes unity and family with expressive colors and houses that represent the community.

Darlene Newman, 25 SQ lead artist for South Memphis, and Frank D. Robinson, 25 SQ lead artist for Binghampton, at their jointly organized Paint Day at Caritas Village on July 12, 2014
Darlene Newman reveals the philosophy behind her work: “Through my art I would like to educate people about the area, instead of seeing teddy bears hanging and ribbons as a memorial; people would like to learn more about the neighborhood from the art they see and see that this neighborhood still has hope.” Newman took great pleasure in working within her own neighborhood and is appreciative of the opportunity provided by the 25 SQ Public Art Initiative.


Interim Report, May 2013
Project Summary, Fall 2012
Soulsville Call for Participants, Spring 2013
Hart, Joe. "The New City-Makers." Public Art Review, Winter 2013. 50-55.
Focht, Karen Pulfer. "A Thousand Words." Commercial Appeal, Apr. 21, 2013. 5V
Phillips, Bianca. "Make Memphis." Memphis Flyer, Mar. 21, 2013

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Dorian Spears and the 25 SQ Public Art Initiative: A Portrait

Dorian Spears (center) with artist Cat Normoyle and her husband
at the 25 SQ Crosstown festival in fall 2012.

By Alexis Becton
Since moving back to Memphis from Atlanta, GA, Dorian Spears has been known for her involvement around the city of Memphis. She has been active in a variety of organizations including Women of Achievement and Give 365. For the past two years she has been part of the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team (MIDT). The initiative is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s charitable foundation. The $4.7M grant addresses both challenges of reducing handgun violence among young black males and increasing neighborhood economic vitality. 
The Innovation Delivery Team is comprised of eight members including Spears. The team initially researched and then focused on three areas in Memphis: South Memphis, Binghampton and Madison/Cleveland/Crosstown. Under the 25 SQ programs the Mayor’s team began to partner with neighborhoods that suffered from economic disinvestment for an extended period. Each area is comprised of 25-square blocks, hence the title of the program. The Division of Public Works – Office of Neighborhood Improvement stepped in to discard trash and other unwanted items in the neighborhoods. The next phase entailed working with local artists. For this purpose, the MIDT partnered with the UrbanArt Commission, which led the artist selection and public art process. The 25 SQ Public Art Initiative was launched and neighborhood artists were selected following a curatorial review by the team.
Dorian Spears at one of three 25 SQ neighborhood charrettes held at the
J.E. Walker House of LeMoyne-Owen College in winter 2012/13.
Public art for the three 25 SQ neighborhoods began with neighborhood meetings and charrettes in South Memphis. In Crosstown, a public call for ideas and artist recruitment process was held at a 25 SQ street festival on Cleveland Street in fall 2012. In Binghampton, partner meetings took place at Caritas Village and a 25 SQ festival was organized on Broad Avenue in spring 2013. For the 25 SQ Public Art Initiative, a series of high-impact, low-budget public art projects has been commissioned in 2013 and 2014.
Community-based artists Darlene Newman of South Memphis / Soulsville, Frank D. Robinson of Binghampton and Shea Colburn Midtown along with other artists have been creating public art at a number of sites. Murals on plywood boards were painted at the Stax to the Max Festival in April 2013, destined for abandoned buildings, as well as at Caritas Village and at the Carpenter Art Garden in Binghampton, where the mural vignettes will be installed along fences at Binghampton Park, Howze Park and at Caritas. Darlene Newman and Shea Colburn led the painting of several wall-size murals located at Knowledge Quest, at the Hub and at 989 Looney Avenue. More works are in progress.
Dorian Spears, a South Memphis native, and Darlene Newman, who also lives there, share the same vision by uplifting the community with positive art. Newman shared her goals: “I strive to bring a mixture of positive messages and spiritual concepts to life in my paintings. Through my art I would like to educate people about the area, instead of seeing teddy bears hanging and ribbons as a memorial. People would like to learn more about the neighborhood from the art they see and see that this neighborhood still has hope.”
Spears also connected with Cat Normoyle, an artist who teaches at Memphis College of Art, to help with the South Memphis project. Students and neighborhood residents volunteered to help paint murals. The murals were created in partnership with Knowledge Quest, where they fill the windows of a currently vacant building at 1042 South Lauderdale Street. The pictograms there promote healthy eating, education, ambition and literacy. These messages are identical with the goals of the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, says Spears: I employ current knowledge and acumen, while making a meaningful impact on the 25 SQ organizational mission, vision, and values.” Spears and her team continue to make meaningful impacts in Memphis, although the grant funds will be depleted in October 2014.