Memphis Music Initiative opens new building to give back to Memphis arts and community

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A music program for minority youth in Memphis is making a new home in a landmark location.

The Memphis Music Initiative officially opened its doors Thursday in the old fire station at BB. King Boulevard and Martin Luther King Avenue. The building was originally built in 1910 and has had many lives, including a recording studio.

The Memphis Music Initiative provides in-school and out of school music instruction for about 4,000 minority youth at 49 schools in Shelby County, as well as summer programs and opportunities to work in the music industry.

“Its part of our work of making music in the city remains relevant and that music in this city is connected to the community that produces it,” said Darren Isom, executive director of MMI.

Isom said he hopes the new location downtown becomes a successful space for arts and community organizations.

“It’s a proper space and proper neighborhood, and a proper building that people can use for various events,” he said.

Amber Hamilton, chief operations and strategy officer for MMI, said the space will work in three ways:

It will be a place where MMI’s music fellows, who are professional musicians that work within schools, can come and get some work done before or after their school visits; the place where students who are part of their MMI works program can come and work or meet with their internship teams; and a place for MMI’s organizational partner’s like Memphis Black Arts Society, Stax Music Academy, or Heal the Hood that can use the facility for whatever they might need.

Isom said the new building and location will allow them to increase their impact in the city and extend their vision for the organization — to provide a strong and minority arts ecosystem in the city.

MMI started as just an initiative inside Arts Memphis, but Isom said it became clear that they need to be their own organization. MMI has been independent a little over a year now.

Isom said the work itself has been happening for a very long time.

“What was very clear was the need to engage the community and the thinking,”

He felt that lots of decision where being made within the city without engaging the community that would be benefiting those decisions.

“For us, it was really important that community engagement guided our work,” Isom said.  “Community engagement changed that plan to some degree the same way it created that plan and our work has been community engaged focused every since. Constantly evolving.”

Hamilton said they are actively seeking funding partners to help expand their “excellent model” they’ve built.