Public art at the heart of CY revitalization

By Susannah Acuff

If you’ve lived in this neighborhood awhile, I know that you are more than familiar with the Trestle Art over Cooper Street, and you are probably aware of the Art for Art’s Sake Auction that takes place each April to raise funds for its upkeep. This year the Art Auction will take place on Saturday, April 9, at Young Avenue Deli from 6-9:30pm, where treasures created by local artists and contributions from area businesses will be up for grabs. Radio personality and CY resident Ric Chetter will be the auctioneer for the live auction, and there will be a silent auction as well. We all know what a great time the Art Auction is, but perhaps you have never considered the importance of this event or why maintaining the Trestle Art matters.
When I first moved to Cooper-Young in 1990 as a seven-year-old, it was a community on the cusp of revitalization. It was a struggling crossroads in Midtown. The main reason for my family’s entry into the neighborhood was that my single mother was able to buy a nice-sized, extremely affordable home for us at the corner of York and New York. Back then old hippies, single-parent families, artists, and elderly residents who had lived in their homes since the 1940s and 50s were the norm. CY was working class but on the rise. There was still a considerable amount of crime, but despite these incidents there was a sense of promise and belonging which cemented residents firmly to their turf.
The neighborhood was always a magnet for artists and creative-types. If the low cost of property and central locale didn’t give that fact away, it could easily be determined by a look around at the plethora of quirky yard art and porch decorations. Tie-dye was a particularly common theme, if my memory serves me correctly. Much like today, creative expression was everywhere – open-mic nights, live local music, off-beat festivals, and unusual businesses a plenty. Cooper-Young welcomed everyone, particularly alternative-types looking for an open-minded community. It was a place where diversity was unapologetically embraced.
By the mid-90s, houses were flipping and new businesses were moving in at a moderate rate. The Cooper-Young Festival was attracting floods of people, and CY was gaining validity in the city. The late-90s ushered in unprecedented advances. Homes were sold and renovated seemingly overnight. Crime diminished. Community residents and advocates were streamlining the look of things as a reflection of neighborhood pride.
At its dedication in 2000, the Trestle Art served to crown the Cooper-Young gateway at the apex of both the millennium and the revitalization movement. The lights inside the Trestle’s houses shine brightly at night. The inclusion of such a detail seems a befitting nod to the artists and creative spirits who played a major role in the neighborhood’s collective identity and relentless advancement.
I look back on my youth in Cooper-Young with nostalgia. In a sense, I grew up alongside the neighborhood. Now at 27, I’m preparing for my first solo show as an artist. I feel that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the neighborhood artists who demonstrated that creativity is valid and necessary. Though most of the artists who lived on my street in the 90s have moved on (from the set designer who lived behind us and sculpted timber on Saturdays, to the musicians practicing on their porches in the summertime), I want to take this moment to say thank you. Thank you to all of the artists who have contributed to the community.
Artist Jill Turman, the CY Community Association, the Community Foundation, and the Urban Art Commission are responsible for gifting Cooper-Young with the Trestle Art. Who is responsible for maintaining it? The art is public, even though the Trestle is officially owned by the CYCA. Those of us who enjoy public art have a responsibility to support it. After all, “higher levels of cultural participation change the social environment by fostering a sense of collective efficacy – the willingness of people in a community to act together in public matters of collective and individual interest,” according to the Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP), a research center at the University of Pennsylvania. SIAP also found that, “neighborhoods with an active arts scene were nearly three times more likely to see their poverty rates decline and their population increase.” I know my community pride soared when I first saw the Trestle Art. In light of such evidence, I urge you to do your part to support the public art that Cooper-Young has and to encourage more.
You can help the CYCA finance the maintenance, insurance, utilities, and repairs of public art like the Trestle Art by attending this year’s Art for Art’s Sake Auction on Saturday, April 9. Auction entrance is $20 for non CYCA members or $15 for members. The best way to purchase your ticket is online at cooperyoung.org. You may also email info@cooperyoung.org or call 901-272-2922 to arrange the purchase of your ticket. Please come out and show your appreciation for and support of public art in our community!

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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