(Art) Walking in Memphis
Meet Memphis’ South Main Street and Broad Avenue.
They’re not what they used to be.
But locals are using that to your advantage, reviving vacant spaces along these erstwhile main-veins as galleries, boutiques and restaurants; repopulating the streets with creatives, entrepreneurs and their devotees.
I’m one of them – a devotee, that is. I relish nothing more than driving to South Main or biking to Broad, ditching my wheels and walking about to soak in the historic storefronts, unexpected pops of green and public art.
South Main Historic District
By morning, start at Bluff City Coffee. Don’t take your order to go – the café’s walls are covered with super-sized black-and-whites of vintage Memphis from the Don Newman Collection. I like to drink in the history with my mocha.
Saturday mornings (April through October), the Memphis Farmers Market sets up under a pavilion tucked behind South Main. It’s a swarm of artists whose mediums include metal, glass, music, seeds and soil. There are seats and tables for sitting, sipping/snacking and soaking in the scene.
By night (specifically, the last Friday of every month, year ’round), Trolley Night flings the doors of the South Main Historic District wide open. The trolley rumbles up and down the street; crowds flit from gallery to shop to restaurant. It was during Trolley Night when I first discovered the work of George Hunt and Jack Robinson (Hunt, north of 70 years old, still paints and exhibits his vivid takes on the Southern African-American experience at D’Edge Art Gallery; the Jack Robinson Gallery mixes contemporary shows of local and regional artists with the iconic work of its namesake, who photographed nearly everyone who was anyone in the 1960s). Don’t end the night without shopping the 477Store – tucked inside Memphis College of Art’s graduate school on South Main, it features work by the institution’s students, faculty, staff and alumni.
Mark your calendar: RiverArts Fest, a seemingly endless stream of artists’ booths, refreshments for sale and live music along South Main, is scheduled for Oct. 26-28.
Broad Avenue Arts District
Save Mondays, just about any time is a good time to hit Three Angels Diner hungry (if you’re vacillating over whether to add bacon to the establishment’s Adult Grilled Cheese of smoked gouda, goat and cheddar, the answer is: Do you really need to ask?). Sophisticated as this sandwich is, Three Angels is uber family-friendly. For big kids only, hit The Cove for a Sazerac-soaked night of trivia, karaoke or chat.
The Broad Avenue Arts District really gets going during its signature events: Wrangle your appetite at a Sunday afternoon food truck rodeo (they’ll be back on Broad after Labor Day); attend the Oct. 7 Trashion Show, when designs featuring recycled items will rock an open-air runway; and join the next art walk (also scheduled for October), when you’re likely to meet gallery owners and their dogs (including Tom Clifton and his St. Bernard, Argus, of T. Clifton Art). If you like snapping your own art pics, bring your camera – along Broad, you’ll find photo ops in bike racks, trash bins and warehouse walls (one of which features an impossibly huge mural by street artist Guillaume “REMED” Alby).
What’s your favorite piece of public art, or art event, or creative photo op in Memphis? I’ll leave you with mine: