Let me start by saying that I have neva EVA seen that many people in the Lamar-Airways shopping center in my life, especially at night and IN THE RAIN. Y’all know “we” don’t do rain!
This was always our “shopping center.” My Big Mama and I went to Belote’s, where I cracked my head after spinning on the stool (it still had a malt stand!); I got toys at Skagg’s (where my mama laid out the folks for not having black dolls in a black neighborhood – best believe they got ’em pronto) and later on frequent trips to C&P Beauty Supply. Lots of memories for me coming in the neighboring community.
Now I can add the opening of the CMPLX to my collection of memories. It was very well executed.
The quite sizeable gallery was packed tightly with every type of category represented – black bohemia, millennials, Gen Xers like me, boomers, my church members, my homies, collectors, media and not a small number of white folks. This is only relevant because most people in Memphis can attest to the very powerful lines of demarcation that exist. Whether it’s by race, age or sexuality, everyone has “their” spot. Very rarely do we have a truly diverse gathering of like souls. Verrrrry rarely. That’s also a part of what made this evening special.
The space was full of so much light, life and energy; so much beauty and so much art. The walls were adorned with a beautiful cross section of multimedia pieces, photography and paintings featuring works from my guy Carl Moore, Benin Ford, Nubia Yasin, Natalie Eddings and several others. Probably the most stunning piece (in my opinion) came from artist Jared Small, who turns out to be my neighbor. I stood in front of that painting for quite some time.
Bringing the CMPLX to fruition was undoubtedly a labor of love and a beautiful collaboration between the core members of The CLTV, which resulted in a multi-use space for photographers, artists, musicians and other creatives. It was an evening of celebration that included a DJ and performances by NuJas, Erlee, Magnolia, Ricky Davaine , Don Lifted, Cameron Bethany, Rudy Rhymer, Cities Aviv, and AWFM.
For the past 4 1/2 years, The CLTV has worked tirelessly to build out the foundation to support local black artists in an effort to leverage their creative expression as a tool to uplift the black community. The team is comprised of artists from the very communities they seek to serve, making them uniquely positioned to tackle issues of inequity, misrepresentation and gentrification. The heart of the mission is to upend paradigms, empower communities and create a space for black artists to control their own narratives.
The decision to drop anchor in “da Mound” in particular is a direct extension of their mission. This is an important move culturally and optically at time when the city is focused on revitalizing and re-energizing blighted and/or neglected areas, of which Orange Mound is one. Victoria Jones, executive director and founder of The CLTV, spoke with us about the decision to plant roots in Orange Mound.
“We had been looking for a space for about two years. We looked at a lot of different spaces but they didn’t reflect the communities we want to serve. We had already been doing programs out of Orange Mound Gallery and working with Unapologetic Records, whose CEO imakemadbeats is from the neighborhood.
“We have also been working on several different programs with Melrose High School. We wanted to bring our energy to this space. We wanted to go to a place where we’re not just tolerated but celebrated. And the civic pride (in Orange Mound) is like 10x the energy of any part of the city.” All facts.
My friend, entertainment and contracts attorney Lee Rankin, was in attendance. She was taking in the vibe, getting her fill of the positive energy that was bouncing from wall to wall, floor to ceiling.
“I have been admiring this movement for a minute now. To see it in all its glory gave me LIFE! The opening was a creative explosion in Orange Mound. I’m thankful to see a space dedicated to nurturing the black creative genius that has placed Memphis on the global stage a century ago and continues to do so.”
As a product of the Glenview community, I felt a surge of pride and gratitude as well.
Through the CMPLX, The CLTV honors the more left-brained individuals among us in a very real way. It’s a source of support. It’s an ally and advocate. It’s a place to call home for black artists.
Darrell Cobbins, owner of Universal Commercial Real Estate, is a patron of the arts and a very vocal advocate for the City of Memphis.
“The collective vision and communal cohesiveness on display at the grand opening of the CMPLX has raised the bar for the Memphis arts landscape,” he said. “The energy and enthusiasm brought to the historic Orange Mound community that evening set a precedent for what we should expect in terms of diversity, access and equity in the arts.”
Congratulations to the CMPLX and the CLTV for your part in changing the complexion and rhythm of the larger arts community in Memphis.
And, of course, “Welcome Home!”
(For more information or to support, visit www.thecltv.org.)