Now is the Time. Memphis is the Place.

Paint Memphis Honors the City’s 200-Year-Old Story with Bicentennial Event

Photo and Art: Toonky Berry (@toonky_berry)

When you walk the streets of Downtown Memphis or drive through its historic neighborhoods, you’re hard-pressed not to find remnants of the recent artistic revolution. With murals and public art projects at an all-time high, creative organizations are working year-round to ensure that Memphis is a city that boldly tells its story through color and composition.

Embracing the beauty of local art and artistic interpretation of our beloved city, Paint Memphis exists to give a voice to Memphians by empowering artists to serve as the city’s mouthpiece and show natives and visitors alike the pictures of our past, present, and future that wouldn’t otherwise be seen.

The organization hosts an annual one-day festival, providing the opportunity for artists to show off their talents and connect with other painters through collaborative storytelling. Some have lived these stories, and others have seen them unfold from the outside. Regardless, the melding of both perspectives offers a complete view of what Memphis is and what it means to the greater community. 

Art by @dustinspagnola and @sakeonedesign

Over the last five years, Paint Memphis has been the largest mural project in Tennessee, bringing together creatives, businesses, communities and art lovers of all ages. This year, the organization celebrates the city’s bicentennial with the theme of Memphis: 200 Years Together. 

“We work to transform abandoned buildings or even occupied buildings in Memphis into works of art,” said Paint Memphis Director, Karen Golightly. “We work on a small budget, but hope to make a large impact in changing not only the walls of a neighborhood, but the walls of Memphis as a whole.”

Art by @zulupainter1

The organization starts by sending out a call for artists to submit work that they’ve done in the past. Then, a committee of community members, artists, and Paint Memphis board members select the artists who will participate in the event, in order to offer a breadth of voices and input regarding the content and placement of the artwork. Meanwhile, the organization scopes out a 20,000-30,000 square foot canvas. This year’s piece will be located on and around the abandoned Lamar Theater and surrounding buildings on Lamar Avenue. This landmark and neighborhood were chosen intentionally for their historic value, meaningful past, evolving present, and promising future.

Ranging from professional muralists to graffiti writers and youth organizations, Paint Memphis has rallied more than 140 local and national artists for this year’s bicentennial event, with more than half being from the Greater Memphis area. This year, local artists include Toonky, Willie Nelson, Jesi Lee, Jorden Walker, Disciple 24K, Travis Bradley, Carlos Valverde and Bobby Spillman, and national favorites include Dustin Spagnola, Curtis Glover, Preacher, Nels and Myra Shana.

“Unlike other art organizations, we give a palette to those artists and residents who might not ever venture into a gallery or museum,” said Golightly. “We create a different kind of museum, one that is accessible to anyone, regardless of socio-economic class, transportation, location, and without any sense of intimidation.”

During a year of community, recognizing Memphis’ 200-year-old story, there has never been a better time to come together and allow multiple voices to become one. Whether we’re telling our own story or collectively telling the story that belongs to all of us, this is how a community becomes imperishable.

Paint Memphis 2019 will take place Saturday, October 5 at 1716 Lamar Ave., beginning at 3 p.m. The event will feature local food trucks, including Mempops, Wok ‘n in Memphis and Smashed Eats, as well as hoopers to celebrate World Hoop Day, children’s activities, vendors and a slew of local bands.

Donations can be made online to support the organization and event, and volunteers can sign up to help here.

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