MLGW Board - Eric

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: What has been the thorniest issue you’ve faced to date? How have you dealt with it?

After receiving the announcement from ArtPlace that we had been awarded support, we launched into the details of securing and preparing the main performance space for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra (MSO) in Soulsville, USA. We had settled on a building that was originally constructed to house a grocery store, and is owned by LeMoyne-Owen College Community Development Corporation (LOCCDC), a Memphis Music Magnet (MMM) partner. The building is in a perfect spot –on one of the main commercial corridors of South Memphis and across the street from the Stax Museum and Music Academy.

Due to the challenges of recruiting a grocery store operator, the building had been left in an unfinished state that required a greater investment and retrofitting than we had anticipated. Coordinating the construction and building code approvals within the time constraints of a set date for the first concert was a herculean task that required the involvement of all the partners involved. A major challenge in time and funding resources came in the need to install a water main to the building within the short timeframe and the ability to pay installments that matched better with the grant allocation. Several other portions of work depended on having the water main attached, and couldn’t continue until that was done. The idea of getting the implementation from Memphis Light, Gas, and Water (MLGW), the local utility, to align with our schedule kept our General Contractor up at nights.

After pushing as far as we could through the administration of MLGW, we were directed to make the case for a quick turnaround and payment arrangements for the project directly to the Board of MLGW. Fortunately, Community LIFT, had previously presented to the Board about their work in the community, so the Board was familiar with the organization and their goals and initiatives. Representatives from Community LIFT, MSO, and MMM attended the board meeting. Eric Robertson, President of Community LIFT, made the case to the Board for the importance and urgency of the project. The Board voted unanimously to agree to the needed arrangements, and voiced their overall support and excitement for the MSO performances in the neighborhood. Although there were a few more hurdles along the way, MLGW was able to get the water main installed, and the rest of the work was completed in time for the first performance. By virtue of this behind-the-scenes hard work, an over capacity crowd enjoyed the rousing performance of STAX! The Memphis Sound!

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