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The Memphis Music Magnet is arts-based neighborhood revitalization with a Memphis twist, designed to augment the redevelopment of the Soulsville USA neighborhood by making it a community of choice for musicians, music-related creatives, and other artists. ArtPlace spoke with Rhonda Causie, Director of Grants and Innovation at the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, about plans for jumpstarting the Memphis Music Magnet over the next year.

ARTPLACE: What do you have to do really (really) well to achieve your initiative?

CAUSIE: Before answering the question I just want to say the Memphis Symphony is very pleased to be a partner in this work. And I’m speaking particularly for the 80-plus musicians who make up the orchestra. MSO players are uniquely talented artists who care deeply about the music of Memphis. As performers, educators and engaged citizens with amazing creative capacity, they’re excited to see their own music integrating and directly benefitting an authentic music neighborhood. I’m sensing a little self-interest, too, from players who will consider making Soulsville home as the community reestablishes itself in the current culture and economy of Memphis.

During 2012-13, the MSO will support the Memphis Music Magnet with a year of free concerts and activities in Soulsville. Designed to excite and invite audiences to the neighborhood, each program must create a great experience, front to back, that builds on a previous experience. The idea is to keep individuals returning to the community with a growing ease that allows Soulsville to build up the kind of stickiness that occurs when people make an area one of their “places.” Then, as Memphis tunes in to the vibrant new activity, Soulsville will be positioned to secure new community stakeholders and attract new investment for the Memphis Music Magnet.

No doubt this is ambitious work, and success does depend on executing really (really) well. First, the MSO must push communications through new channels to bring in audiences. As a traditional arts organization with very traditional marketing strategies, the MSO is stretching out in new ways. For example, visuals of MSO musicians in the neighborhood are being developed into street level invitations that say “follow me” and “I’ll take you there.” Volunteer groups are being recruited to implement a cascading grassroots campaign. The MSO is also working on a smart phone app that uses geo-fencing technology to reward visitors each time they check in at a Soulsville heritage spot or attend an event.

Along with all the effort going into communications and great experiences, the MSO must support a changing public perception of Soulsville, which is largely concerned with personal safety. Changing trepidation to comfort will not happen quickly – it will be a gradual progression that continues throughout the season. Each time visitors leave Soulsville safe and satisfied, they’ll be able to use MSO communication channels to share their great experiences. One by one, barriers will fall away until there is a pervasive sense that Soulsville is safe and engaging, even beyond the MSO residency.

At the same time, the MSO will work to begin changing perspectives among current Soulsville residents. They must embrace new community activity and welcome visitors. Proactively, artistic content will be delivered exclusively in and for the neighborhood – through daycares, schools, churches, senior facilities, etc. The MSO recognizes that to achieve its initiative, it must integrate the community as an asset, and not be rejected as an intruder.
ARTPLACE: How do you expect the community to change as a result?

CAUSIE: As the MSO executes its work as a partner in the Memphis Music Magnet, Soulsville USA will be enlivened with new events, visitors and vibrant arts activity. Traffic to Soulsville will increase; positive energy will flow in and between engaged crowds; physical redevelopment will get underway; and the community will be revitalized as a fine destination for play, work and home. The neighborhood will reclaim the recognition it deserves as a place central to the cultural identity of Memphis – past, present, and future.

In addition to MSO public performances in the neighborhood, a concentration of internal programs will be delivered (education and community leadership, for example). These programs will support and enhance neighborhood development currently underway, layering onto what the neighborhood already IS and has been. The MSO fully believes in the goals of the Memphis Music Magnet to create a neighborhood where music and art tell stories, activate spaces, reclaim vacant buildings, create interaction, and connect neighbors new and old. We want to underscore that we are not attempting to create a new character for the neighborhood, but rather build on the history and identity of the neighborhood and existing local assets. Supporting current residents in reconnecting to that heritage, and sharing their stories, with others is equal in importance to helping new visitors appreciate Soulsville USA.

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