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A City of Murals
A City of Murals

A City of Murals

While the city of Memphis has struggled in recent years with abandonment and economic problems, one of the bright spots has been an explosion of public art. Old, drab walls have been replaced by bright and colorful murals, many of them telling the city’s story, celebrating its African-American history and heritage, or bearing uplifting slogans.

Most recently, the Bickford neighborhood north of the Greenlaw Addition has seen an explosion of beautiful murals along the length of North Second Street. This neighborhood was known as “Bear Water” to its African-American residents for reasons that have been lost to the ravages of time, although as recently as 2014 a black bear was seen in rural Shelby County, so it is possible that bears were seen in the area, or on the river islands nearby. In addition to the murals, the area now features a walking and biking trail, and the new Grind City Brewery, which also features attractive Memphis-themed artwork on its perch overlooking the Wolf River Harbor.

More murals have appeared near Booker T. Washington High School in South Memphis too, celebrating the Clay Street School and Kortrecht High School, predecessor schools to BTW, and Lucie Campbell, a pioneer gospel singer in Memphis. Particularly beautiful and expressive of the Memphis ethos is the slogan “Keep On Going Through Hard Times” at the bottom of the installation.

While some public artwork in Memphis has been controversial in the past, the current effort seems to have artists familiar with the neighborhoods to create works that express the feelings of area residents rather than to have outsiders come into the community to paint. The resulting works are worth a visit.

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