‘I Am a Man’ art project in Memphis awarded to a Los Angeles artist over any Memphis artist

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — "I Am a Man Plaza" is one of the most expensive public art projects ever in Memphis. It will go near ground zero of the Memphis civil rights movement, yet a Memphian is not building it.

An artist from Los Angeles has won the contract for the project near Clayborn Temple in Downtown Memphis.

Still, the UrbanArt Commission, which handles the selection process, claims it is committed to supporting more local artists.

WREG has been told it was not just the UrbanArt Commission that was a part of this.

A committee was selected by UrbanArt and the mayor's administration to decide who would win the $700,000 "I Am a Man" art project. At least one Memphis artist made the final cut, but it was a Los Angeles artist who won out, Memphis City Council Chairman Berlin Boyd tells WREG.

Memphis artists like Pam Cobb hoped this would be a chance for local artists to finally get a chance at the big deals.

"If once again they are going to send money out of state because they feel anyone across the line is more talented than people here in Memphis, then that is sad," says Cobb.

Cobb and others have spoken out about high-price-tag work going to out-of-town artists instead of local dollars staying here supporting artists in Memphis.

WREG first exposed the issue back in February, highlighting a $308,000 Gyro being built near the Memphis airport. That project also went to a California company.

We discovered since 2003, of the $5 million going out in project funding from the UAC, only $2.6 million went to local artists, and most of those were around $80,000.

It led the Memphis City Council, which funds the UrbanArt Commission, to cut $350,000 from the UAC's budget this year.

"I think they are cutting the budget because they are sending a signal saying you need to do better," says Cobb.

Some say this shows things haven't gotten better and it's time for new leadership at the UrbanArt Commission.

We contacted the UrbanArt Commission Tuesday, and the executive director told us they are committed to supporting local artists. They are holding a meeting at Midtown Crossing from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Tuesday to talk through everything that is going on.

The City of Memphis sent us a statement saying the announcement about the "I Am a Man" art project will be coming soon once details are finalized.

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