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Community L.I.F.T. and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra will activate elements of the Memphis Music Magnet plan, a collaboratively-developed, arts-based revitalization concept that builds on musical heritage and cultural assets to foster increased recognition of Soulsville USA and to fuel its redevelopment.

ArtPlace spoke with team members from Community LIFT, local intermediary tasked with working with community partners to implement the Memphis Music Magnet plan, regarding effective partnerships.

ARTPLACE: Who outside your organization has been key to your ability to move your initiative forward?

COMMUNITY LIFT: We have found that LeMoyne Owen College Community Development Corporation (LOCCDC) has been one of the most pivotal partnerships outside of our organization. Our initial plan for implementing the Memphis Music Magnet was to obtain an abandoned warehouse in order to accommodate the Symphony Soul Project and other community based shows, but after further research and planning, we realized the space would not have been ready in time for the kick-off show. This is when we reached out to LOCCDC about using a vacant space in their newly developed Towne Center, built with the hopes of attracting a grocery store to the neighborhood. Because the grocery store space has remained empty since its development, Executive Director, Jeffrey Higgs, graciously welcomed the idea to repurpose the space for the Memphis Music Magnet’s Symphony Soul Project’s yearlong residency. While the bones of the grocery store still remain, repurposing this space as a music venue will create a neighborhood amenity and allow others to see the potential of the building.

LOCCDC also owns the Memphis Slim house that will soon be renovated in to Memphis Slim’s Collaboratory. Neighborhood residents will be able to use the Collaboratory for a recording studio, meeting and office space and storytelling rooms to create an oral accounting of neighborhood history. The expectation of the Collaboratory is to regain the musical spirit the neighborhood of Soulsville had in the past.

Without LOCCDC, these two projects would have remained in the planning phase as we would have had to delay all of the neighborhood activities until appropriate spaces were found that could accommodate the needs of Community LIFT and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. We are very grateful to have partners like LOCCDC that understand the importance of community involvement and place-based projects to spur community development.

ARTPLACE: Are there secrets to good partnerships?

COMMUNITY LIFT: There are no “secrets” to good partnerships, just the simple fact that it takes work to make them successful. The most significant components of good partnerships include mutual trust open communication between organizations. When partnerships are formed, it is vital that all parties involved understand their respective roles and responsibilities, as well as the overall goal of the project. We have discovered throughout this process that it is integral to openly share information, exchange ideas, and to continuously gather input from all involved parties. For example, we were thinking of painting columns inside of The Magnet space just days before the Symphony’s first show, well when we discussed this with our partners at the Memphis Symphony, they informed us that the air conditioner would have to run all day for two to three days to ensure no fumes were remaining when the musicians took stage. But for open dialogue, we would not have known about this very necessary requirement because our expertise is not in that area.
Partnerships require trust that everyone will disclose their activities and provide helpful suggestions and critiques regularly, building on individual expertise and talents. This project has proved that collaboration amongst many different organizations in varying fields is possible and productive if done thoughtfully. The open lines of communication that we have created have made the Memphis Music Magnet a success thus far; and it is that partnership that will provide meaningful change to the community we are serving.

ARTPLACE: What has been the success of your partnership?

COMMUNITY LIFT: Glad you asked! We just held our first event in The Magnet and it was a huge success! The Memphis Symphony Orchestra performed their first show as a part of the Symphony Soul Project in South Memphis; attracting both residents and others from across the city to the neighborhood. We excitedly reached capacity and everyone had a great time! This was the start of something truly special to bring vibrancy back into South Memphis.

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