It is time for a new gimmick
Can we please give artists a rest? They are asked to save everything. Please paint a mural here. Please put a sculpture there. Please play my benefit for free. And my favorite of all…
“Wouldn’t these old buildings just make the best arts district?”
Memphis now has at least three arts districts. All of which are wonderful assets to this city. None of which have enough critical mass to be terribly sustainable or world-class calling cards for Memphis. And, it doesn’t help any of them (or their resident artists) to keep spreading things thinner and thinner by proposing more and more arts districts.
Art galleries are businesses and inspirational spaces for the creators they house. When these are clustered together more customers are introduced to the art and more artists can feed off of one another’s energy. Knowledge is exchanged, beauty is interpreted and sometimes money is made.
This is not terribly different than most any other business or endeavor. When there is enough activity in the cluster, the district thrives. When there isn’t enough, the district dies. We are killing potentially special places and suppressing potentially magnificent artists by constantly moving the cluster. This isn’t good for anybody.
Why don’t we try to create some new industry districts and let the artists fill out the arts districts we already have. We are building a Biotechnology District. I am asking Smart City Memphis readers for ideas of other types of districts we could use, build and celebrate as unique places that do not compete with artists. Here are four of my ideas.
Similar to an arts district but a bit more specific to the building industry, design districts attract creative talent and high-end purchasers. But this is not necessarily an artistic endeavor. Of course there can be galleries of sorts, bars and restaurants as a small piece, but interior design firms, furniture showrooms and building material suppliers are the bread and butter.
Miami has added a public school called the Design & Architecture Senior High or DASH. Cleveland has added graphic, urban and industrial design firms. Seattle is launching a Design District Association and an awards program. Wouldn’t this be amazing in Memphis?
The Los Angeles Fashion District and Manhattan’s Garment District pretty much have a lock on this category. That may be our opportunity. What if we had the most amazing fashion district outside of the major cities of the world? Why not create the anti-mall in Memphis? Why not be Mid-America’s fashion capital?
I am not just talking about shops. I am not just talking about designers. I am talking about factories that actually make locally designed clothes with regionally available fabrics and sold in district shops.
Memphis in May District
No, not a district open only during Memphis in May. This would be a district that celebrates the culture of each and every Memphis in May country that has been honored. Imagine a restaurant, an office building, and a retail location all housing authentic businesses from each Memphis in May country.
Memphis might be too small to have a full blown Chinatown or Little Italy. But, we could sure support a few businesses clustered together in an international village or global business district or world culture destination. Maybe a World Trade Center that is a few blocks long instead of several stories tall? Memphis desperately needs to be more multi-cultural and this could perhaps be a place where ambassadorial people meet.
Old Fashioned Financial District
Lawyers need to interact with other lawyers just like artists need to interact with other artists. Financiers, accountants and investors need to be clustered in an area where entrepreneurs can get a lot done fast. Memphis lawyers are no longer downtown. Bank headquarters are spread out all over Shelby County. Accountants can work off their dining room table and no one would ever know. Make no mistake, this is KILLING Memphis.
If we don’t have a dense concentration of financial and legal services, we will never, ever be the first choice for the best and brightest minds. We will never, ever be the first choice for the strongest corporations. When our children grow up, the best and brightest will certainly leave for a place that makes doing business both convenient and fun. Vibrant isn’t ordinarily how Memphis is described.
Look around, the guy next to you isn’t the sharpest tack in the box. Neither are you. Neither am I. If we were, we would likely be in a place that already has all of the cool stuff clustered together in a district that fits our needs instead of always talking about how we can improve Memphis.
But if we were artists, people would still be begging us to be part of a new district designed just for us in hopes of cultivating the best in us while revitalizing something interesting in our community. So why don’t we do this for other creatives? Why don’t we do this for global entrepreneurs? Why don’t we do this for lawyers and financial services providers?
I think we can set our sights much higher. I think we can improve our city for future generations. I think we can learn more ourselves and have fun doing it. I think some new districts may be the key to getting this moving.