Paint Memphis wants to shift the paradigm on street art

MEMPHIS, Tenn — Director of Paint Memphis Karen Golightly worked for three years to convince the city that public art could change the city, the neighborhood and even make the community safer.

"They finally agreed and so they gave us the wall at Chelsea and Evergreen," said Golightly.

That was back in 2014. Now Golightly estimates they have covered 33,000 square feet of mural space in Memphis this year alone.

"We don’t just want to go in and overwhelm the neighborhood," said Golightly.

Golightly said this year's location, a storage warehouse on Lamar Avenue and a nearby railroad underpass on Willett, was the first one that involved a business owner.

"This is the first time we have an individual property owner participate and he was more than willing and accommodating and helpful and, you know, he used his own resources to help us clean it up and it's his property," Said Golightly.

The entire project cost less than $10,000 and has taken one week. Which Golightly says is far cheaper, faster, and maybe even more effective than "large-scale developments that cost millions" and take years to finish.

"So to have that kind of change happen in over one week, to change the face of a neighborhood in one week makes a huge difference whereas some neighborhood associations are working on this for twenty and thirty years to try to change their neighborhoods to try and make it safer and try to make it more beautiful," said Golightly.

"We think public art is a great way to make that happen."

Golightly explained it's important to them to find locations that can incorporate local artists and people in the neighborhood to get involved.

"I do research and try to find places that may be overlooked in someways or obviously not painted on," said Golightly.

Golightly said they usually look at dilapidated building or buildings that aren't used anymore or have previously been covered in graffiti.

She then presents the location to city officials who then approve it.

From the beginning, Golightly assured the city she would not need any money from them.

"We did a bunch of fundraising on our own and wrote grants and we made it work the first year," said Golightly.

All the staff and board of Paint Memphis are volunteers and all the funds raised go to supplies and to artists.

Golightly recognizes that not everyone will like it but says that a lot of love went into making the art and even though you may not love every single piece.

"I bet you they'll find something that they do like."