Did you know that Memphis has a terrible blight problem? There are currently over 8000 vacant or condemned lots throughout our city. Many of the owners of these lots will not step forward due to tax liens and therefore the city is responsible for their cleanup/upkeep. The result is a substantial financial cost to the city, and an even greater emotional cost for the residents surrounding these properties. My name is Thomasin Durgin, I'm an artist and I've decided to do something - and I need your help!
In early March I purchased a vacant residential lot in the Speedway Terrace neighborhood of Memphis for the purpose of establishing a community art space. I've dreamed of creating the Secret Sculpture Garden for ten years now and while I initiated the project I am not working alone - the 50' x 150' lot is slowly being filled with stone pathways, benches, flowers, and sculpture made by local artists and neighborhood children. I have partnered with several Memphis businesses that have offered free materials and services. We are working for the art and for the community, from the ground up, because we can.
1. create a green neighborhood space for parents and children to enjoy while exploring art, with an emphasis on outdoor sculpture made from recycled/found materials
2. provide local artists with a place to make and display their work
3. shape a space that is welcoming, fun, beautiful, and fosters a feeling of investment and partnership throughout the neighborhood
4. engage the Memphis community in art making through weekend open studios when anyone can drop in and participate using materials on hand
5. lead by example and demonstrate that a small group of dedicated individuals with dedicated backers can succeed with such a project, and hopefully encourage others to do the same in their community
For the past seven weeks the focus has been on cleaning and preparing the property as well as getting to know the neighbors and making art with the children that live on the block. We have installed three sculptures by local artist Chris Videll, a painted sign for visitors, a stone pathway, bench, and fun three-dimensional flower forms made from plastic bottles. The children have been painting a wall, they decorated old windows with colored glass tiles that we made into a freestanding sculpture, and we spent a day making percussion instruments. In addition, wooden fort making with the kids is in the works! With the help of local artist Tootsie Bell we will soon be building the "cool shack" designed by one of the boys. We are all working very hard and we need backers in order to make the garden truly successful and sustainable!
The response from the community has been spectacular. Local businesses have shown great enthusiasm and support. Many Memphis artists have visited, helped with cleanup, and offered to make sculpture for the garden. We haven't experienced any vandalism or theft of the artwork, the neighborhood watches over the space. A man who lives down the block is preparing to plant his own flower patch in the garden and hopefully more will follow. The positive impact on the children is evident every time they come running as they see my big red truck approaching the driveway (up to 15 kids at a time!) The children refer to our group art projects as "art class" and I always feel welcomed with anticipation. I've visited with all of the parents, they are wonderful and express excitement about what the kids are doing.
John Weeden is the former director of Memphis' UrbanArt Commision and currently the founder and principal of the Vita Brevis Arts Bureau. John has been highly supportive since project inception and recently had this to say about the garden:
"I think what Thomasin is doing is nothing short of an inspiration. She is proving that private citizens have the power to transform communities through people-driven public art and design practices. Her sculpture garden is essentially a case study in progress for any group that wants to take on anti-blight issues in the public realm; especially in residential scenarios using art making as a community development catalyst."
Why back the Secret Sculpture Garden?
The residents, artists, and contributing local businesses are deeply committed to this project, and the difference we've made in the neighborhood in such a short period has exceeded my expectations! I need your support to purchase the many things we need to move forward and make this community art space a place of respite, wonder, and learning for all.
What do we need?
The financial goal is to raise $5000 to purchase:
A large, secure outdoor storage unit for tools and supplies, surrounded by chain link fencing
battery operated skil saw and hand sander (no access to electricity)
rainwater collection barrels and hoses (no access to water)
2x4's, pressure treated posts, plywood
LOTS of paint
string trimmer and other yard tools
large, outdoor lidded bins for storing recycled materials
sand for landscaping
one year of liability insurance
tree removal, landscaping services
If funded, all backers will be frequently updated on the garden progress as well as the purchase of these materials, providing a thorough accounting of all contributions spent.
My heart lies in this wonderful space, there is still much to do and I can't continue to subsidize the project alone - please back us so that we all can continue to make this an amazing community garden! You can view the evolution of the property on the Secret Sculpture Garden blog. Come visit us at 1095 Forrest Avenue and tell all of your friends!
- (30 days)