By Leslie Thompson
[singlepic id=166 w=320 h=240 mode=web20 float=right]In 2003, I spent my Thanksgiving holiday in Memphis. This was not my first trip to the Bluff City. I had visited once as a child, but the only thing I can recall from that trip is a hazy memory of the “Jungle Room” at Graceland. On my second trip, I spent the majority of a summer as a sullen teenager on the University of Memphis campus, where I saw very little of the actual city. Even if I had been given the opportunity to explore all I wanted, I still would have preferred to sit by myself in a dorm room while listening to The Smiths on my Sony Discman. I had not yet learned how to appreciate this city and what it has to offer.
On this third trip, I came with my husband. He grew up in Memphis and was eager to show me around, so we drove down the massive tree-lined Parkways, and he showed me Overton Park. At sunset, we sat by the Mississippi, and we followed it with a dinner of Rendezvous ribs. I saw the city from the rooftop of the Peabody, and, afterward, I saw our faces lit from the neon signs on Beale. We drove through Victorian Village, and then he showed me the sprawling mansions of East Memphis.
Back in Midtown, he said we were going to Cooper-Young, a name that sounded so bizarre to me. At the time, I thought “Cooper Young” was a person, but I quickly figured it out when I found myself driving down Cooper Street. Before arriving at our intersection destination, I can remember looking up and seeing something so curious and appealing. “What is that?” I asked in wonder as I pointed up above at what I would later learn to call the Trestle. The image of the backlit miniature row of houses hanging high and proudly over Cooper was unforgettable. At the time, I had no idea who put it there or why, but it spoke to me. I saw it as the loveliest of welcome mats dangling from the sky.
At home, I would recall our trip to Memphis over and over in my head, where the sweet scent of barbecue, the grand images of Southern mansions, and the whirling current of the Mississippi would shuffle at random, all backed by a soundtrack of blues. But the image of the Trestle and the quaint, but vibrant, neighborhood that sat behind it proved to be the most poignant of my memories. I had never seen such a public display of art before. Perhaps larger cities that I had not yet visited would have something like this—New York, Chicago, San Francisco, these are the cities I imagined to be able to have and to afford such things. Little did I know then that I would call Cooper-Young my home just two years later.
Since moving here, I have learned a lot about our neighborhood and its Trestle. One would not know it by looking at it now, but Cooper-Young was a struggling neighborhood in the 60’s and 70’s, when families found little reason to stay here, fleeing to newer neighborhoods to the east. Even when people started moving back in the 80’s and 90’s, the place was still often regarded as an unsafe eyesore. Looking to revamp the neighborhood’s image, the Cooper-Young Community Association (CYCA) applied for a grant to revive the abandoned and graffiti-covered train trestle on Cooper, which serves as a gateway to the area. With help from the Urban Art Commission, a Memphis metalsmith, Jill Turman, was selected to create her idea of twelve metal replicas of buildings in the neighborhood. The art installation was dedicated in 2000, and the trestle immediately became an icon of the spirited people, celebrated architecture, and lively businesses of the Cooper-Young community.
Although the Trestle is owned by the CYCA, this art is public. The Trestle is for you and for me and for everyone else to enjoy. It is not just a part of Cooper-Young; it is a part of Memphis. Figuratively speaking, we all own it, but who pays for it?
Any piece of art left out to deal with the elements will need repairs from time to time, and unfortunately vandalism is still a recurring problem in 2010. The cost of the insurance for the Trestle alone is huge. And besides the Trestle, the CYCA provides for many other things in our community we often take for granted. Those pretty Yvonne Bobo ginkgo leaf bike racks were not free. The equipment used for neighborhood clean-ups comes with a monetary cost. The $50 that each of our block captains receive to give the annual National Night Out Parties does not fall from the sky. The gallons upon gallons of paint needed to cover the ceaseless graffiti in Cooper-Young come with a charge. And the pending crosswalk art will not create itself. Simply put, keeping our neighborhood this awesome is costly, so the annual Art for Art’s Sake Auction was started by the CYCA in 2003 to help out with the heavy burden of paying for such maintenance and care.
This year’s auction will be held on Saturday, April 10th at 6 pm. Young Avenue Deli will be magically transformed yet again into a bustling, enterprising auction house. $20 at the door, or $15 for CYCA members, will get you inside. For that generous donation, you will receive a fun and spirited evening with some of the coolest people in town, including all of the free beer and wine you can drink. You will find a fast-paced live auction hosted by local comedian and actor Dennis Phillippi, and he might even encourage you to get a little tipsy with the hopes of you being more gracious with the contents of your wallet. And even if you are not drinking, you will be more giving with your money because you will be encouraged to bid for the beautiful artwork donated by some of the best local artists Memphis has to offer. If the larger art pieces are too expensive for your budget, then check out the silent auction tables, where many have scored great pieces of jewelry, pottery, gift baskets, and who knows what else for as little as $5.
For the cost of one night on the town, you can have your night out and do it guilt-free by knowing your money is well spent on something worthy. All you have to do is head south on Cooper Street from Central Avenue to realize this charitable auction truly is for a good cause. Please help us keep Cooper-Young beautiful and inviting by attending this year’s Art for Art’s Sake Auction. Bring your friends, invite your coworkers, or buy someone special a ticket to the event as a gift. Even if you do not live in the neighborhood, remember that it is your Trestle, too