Radical Storytelling Through Virtual Reality At The Define American Film Festival

“Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.

This is a liberalizing influence on me. It gives me a broader mind. It helps me to join my family of men and women on this planet. It helps me to identify with them, so I’m not just stuck being myself, day after day.

The great movies enlarge us, they civilize us, they make us more decent people.” ― Roger Ebert

At Define American, we believe that sharing our stories is the first step toward empathy, and that empathy is the first step toward positive cultural change. Right now, we need to share our stories more than ever. It will be radical cultural resistance through art and expression that will help heal the fissures that are expanding with the change in our country’s demographic makeup.

Our second annual Define American Film Festival (#DAFF), taking place at the Harvey B. Gantt for African American Arts + Culture, this Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Charlotte North Carolina, is based on that philosophy. We’ll be sharing stories like “Dolores,” “White People” and “Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America” that illuminate the intersectionality of issues ranging from immigration to race to LGBTQ and women’s rights. None of these issues exist in a vacuum. They overlap, intersect and clash in ways that, without the unifying salve of a shared story, will continue to separate us from one another.

We have seen, firsthand, the power that a well-told story can have to change someone’s perspective and open minds. After all, what could be more powerful than seeing the the world through the eyes of another?

Luckily, as technology advances, it brings us more opportunities to connect through story. That’s why at this year’s DAFF, we have partnered with RYOT (owned by AOL/HuffPost) to embrace a new, powerful storytelling medium: virtual reality.

VR is an invaluable tool for those of us in the social impact entertainment space because it quite literally places you inside someone else’s world, often in an environment that you may never otherwise have a chance to experience.

At DAFF, we’ll be sharing three extraordinary VR experiences:

Welcome to Aleppo: One does not flee from their home, unless their home looks like this. For three minutes, stand on the streets of Aleppo, Syria, a city that has been at the center of a civil war for four years. Collected by RYOT’s World Editor, Christian Stephen, this is the first 360 virtual reality footage gathered from inside a war zone. Hear the shots of snipers echo through the streets and see what life remains in this shell of a city.

For My Son: In immersive VR, RYOT and the award-winning filmmakers behind Salam Neighbor have joined forces with UN OCHA to tell the story of a young Syrian restarting his life in Amman, Jordan. Through a heartfelt letter from father to son, challenge the misconception that refugees are a burden and experience the refugee journey from the bombed out buildings of Aleppo to the historical sites of Jordan.

The Crossing: RYOT and HuffPost present “The Crossing,” a virtual reality film and immersive reporting series hosted by Susan Sarandon chronicling the refugee crisis as it unfolds in Greece. The shores of the Mediterranean see thousands of refugees every day who arrive on small boats, evidence for which is seen everywhere in massive piles of discarded life vests. Most of the arrivals are fleeing from Syria and Afghanistan in search of safety, economic stability, and a better life.

Festival attendees will be able to step into other worlds, and we are pleased to be inviting local Charlotte public school students to attend and experience it for themselves.

DAFF is our own act of cultural intervention and resistance. We’re excited to be able to continue our media and culture work with VR: an incredibly powerful tool that can be used by the film world, social justice worlds and educators to expose new realities and open hearts and minds.

DAFF Virtual Reality Schedule:

Thursday, May 11: 6:00 PM – 6:45 PM

Friday, May 12 1:45 PM – 2:15 PM

7:00 PM – 7:45 PM

Saturday, May 13 12:30 PM – 12:45 PM

6:00 PM – 7:45 PM

For more information on DAFF, including the full festival schedule, visit: https://defineamerican.com/filmfest/.

Define American

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Food Writer Jessica B. Harris on the Icons of ’70s New York

Before Jessica B. Harris launched her career as an expert on the food of the African diaspora, she was a young teacher and up-and-coming writer surrounded by some of the most famous creative minds of the ‘70s and ‘80s. “I’m not a bold-faced name,” she said while petting one of her Siamese cats at her house in Brooklyn earlier this month. “I’m aware that they were bold-faced names, but they weren’t in my life because they were bold-faced names. They were in my life because they were people I knew.”

The people Harris was talking about — James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Nina Simone — figure prominently in her new book, My Soul Looks Back, a memoir about her life writing, editing, and eating in the West Village in the ‘70s. The book, out this week, is Harris’s 13th and follows a series of critically acclaimed cookbooks and culinary histories that catalogue everything from Creole flavors to African cuisine’s many mutations in America. Harris’s memoir tells her story of growing up black and middle-class in New York City, recounts her years-long relationship with Sam Floyd (James Baldwin’s best friend, who eventually died of AIDS), and examines why the West Village and the Upper West Side were homes to members of the black intelligentsia during that time. It also features a version of Maya Angelou’s recipe for “eight-boy curry.”

Ahead of the launch of My Soul Looks Black, Harris took me on a walking tour of her old New York City haunts: from the Pink Tea Cup, a legendary soul-food restaurant that closed in 2010 then reopened with a new owner in 2013, to St. Vincent’s Hospital, where Sam, and many others, died. On her first time back to explore the West Village streets where she came of age, Harris shared stories of parties inside Sam’s apartment, the most memorable dishes from El Faro’s — caldo gallego, a sausage-and-kale soup with collard greens and potatoes — and what it felt like to be a young observer among the foremost black creative minds of the time period.

On “Club 81,” where all the biggest names met:

“I was in Sam’s apartment at 81 Horatio Street (or, as I call it in the book, ‘Club 81’) with Stokely Carmichael, I was in there with James Baldwin on more than one occasion, I was in there with Martina Arroyo. Louise Meriwether was there. Mary Painter was there. Sam did much of the cooking. He ruled his domain. He did roast goose, he made turnip greens with the turnips in them. He was a good cook. Or if he wasn’t cooking, someone would go pick up food from El Faro’s, what I’m told was the first Spanish restaurant in New York City, down the street.

“Sam and I had met as teachers in the SEEK program at Queens College and we began dating after a few months of seeing each other. That’s when I entered this world. We shared a love of cooking, travel, intellectual pursuits, and entertaining. I learned a lot of bar etiquette from him. Sit down at a bar, order your drink, put money on the bar: that lets them know to run a tab, or tells them that you want to drink until that cash runs out. Back then, the Waverly Inn had a pre-theater dinner between 5:30 and 6:15 or something like that. It was $5.95.”

Image
403 West 14th Street, ca. 1980s Photo: Collection of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

On the power of literary friendships:

“Sam and I went to France and we spent some time with Baldwin at his house there. He read a draft of If Beale Street Could Talk aloud to us one night. It was astounding, astonishing, amazing, exactly as you would expect it to be for somebody who was in their 20, sitting at the foot of the master while he reads. It was extraordinary. He read it twice in the space of my stay there. The second time, Toni Morrison was there.

“They were friends. They understood each other and they trusted each other. Having somebody read your unedited stuff, or reading it to them, is a leap of faith, and it requires extraordinary trust. That he would ask me for my feedback on the draft was one thing. It was another level, another kind of thing. I don’t think he was talking down to me, but he was asking me for something that I was unable to understand or explain. I wasn’t at that level yet–I was still young and in awe of him. I think that there was a level of trust, a totally different level of confidence and love in reading it to someone who is an equal. I think that was the relationship that Baldwin and Morrison had. She is, I have to come to learn, one of the few people he had that with. She could talk to him as an editor because she was one. Sam and Jimmy were best friends, so that’s another kind of thing. It’s not necessarily that he was speaking as an editor, he was speaking as a friend who absolutely trusted.”

On close encounters with Nina Simone:

“Everybody wants to me to say something about Nina Simone calling me ‘the bitch in the red dress,’ which happened the first time she saw me across the room at a party. Those were the first words she ever said about me, and from then on, we were in and out of each other’s orbits. We now know, which we didn’t before, from the film about her life, that she was bipolar. If you don’t know this about yourself, if no one else knows about you, you just come off as volatile, and she was that.

“When I saw her in Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire, the same thing happened. Something went wrong and she snapped. I was walking by the hotel she was staying at and I heard a raised voice and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, somebody is speaking in English, maybe I can help.’ I walked in and it was [Nina]. The argument was resolved and I introduced her to the hotel manager, and he soon gave her access to all the coveted private amenities at the hotel. He was a little in awe of her.

“We spent two days together in Abidjan in the ‘70s, or maybe it was the late ‘80s. I was traveling for work, as I was doing quite a bit back then. Nina was such a towering talent, of course, but it was an exhausting few days. At one point, she joined me by the pool, and after disrobing into a white bikini, she looked at me and said, ‘I’m older than you are, and my body’s better than yours!’”

On the Upper West Side versus the West Village:

“The buildings were taller, the people were different. There was perhaps an edginess to the West Side that may not have existed in the same way in the part of the Village that I lived in. It certainly existed in other parts of the Village. There was a nucleus of black folk on the West Side that didn’t exist in the same way in the West Village. A lot of the people who were in the black arts crowd, if you will, were on the West Side.

“There was a big scene. It was music, it was dining. It was socializing. A lot of people went to the West Side just to get their hair done. The most memorable thing for me was seeing Al Green singing, right across from me, in a cabaret setting at a taping for Ellis Haizlip’s show on PBS. The places I ate at were the Cellar, the Only Child which is further downtown, and Two Steps Down. They were black-owned, so it was very different than in the West Village. There were all kinds of different places. Two black-owned restaurants downtown at the time were the Pink Tea Cup in the West Village and Princess Pamela’s in the East Village.”

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Washington Street & Little West 12th Street, ca. 1980s Photo: Collection of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

On the AIDS epidemic hitting the Village:

“I remember Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, another culinary historian, once sat me down and had me go through every picture she had of people we knew during this time and made sure I knew who was who in every single picture she showed me. ‘Because you are going to be the one who writes about it.’ That was scary. It was horrific. Particularly for someone who worked in, loved, and lived with the arts. You lost all your friends. Or certainly a large number of them.

“When you’re the youngest, you tend to outlive people. It was horrible. The way people were treated was horrible. In ways you can’t even think of today. Some people were extraordinary under pressure and some people were hideous. It was a transformational moment in the city and its history and that’s part of the importance of St. Vincent’s, which is why it’s astounding to me that it is now a condo. It was such an important place — it was the epicenter of what was a horrific time period.”

On witnessing the end of an era:

“It’s my life. I lived it. I live somewhere between Frank Sinatra and Édith Piaf. I don’t regret Sam and what happened with him. I don’t regret my youth. The road not taken is the road not taken. Do we need to dwell on it? You didn’t take it. So get on with it.

“I think Maya’s dying made me want to put all of this into context. It also made me realize how extraordinary it all really was. When she died, I wrote an article for the New York Times about cooking with her. I had done that for four decades. I’d certainly known her over four decades. I am massively influenced by the time I spent with them. As I’ve aged I’ve developed a large aura, if you will. I grew up with a certain kind of entertaining, a certain way of being, from my parents. And if anything, these people were like finishing school.

“Remember when icons could preach and boogie? I think that’s an important thing. Yes, they were icons. Yes, they transformed the world for all of us. But they could also hang out, and suck some Scotch down. It’s important to know that they had that. They had that with each other. They were a tribe. They read each other’s stuff. They sustained each other. They did amazing things together. They were my tribe, too, but now they’re gone.”

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

International Regional Writers Conference held in Benque Viejo Del Carmen

International Regional Writers Conference held in Benque Viejo Del Carmen

BENQUE VIEJO, Cayo District, Sat. May 6, 2017–As a part of the 7th International Festival of Culture, a writers conference was held today on the campus of Mount Carmel High School, in Benque Viejo del Carmen. The theme of the conference was: “The Writer as Inspiration for National Unity, Self-Confidence, and Pride.”

Several Belizean writers were present and participated in the morning and afternoon workshops which also featured writers from Honduras and Guatemala. The aim of the workshop was to amplify on the selected theme.

The workshop got underway shortly after 9:00 a.m., after the singing of the Belizean national anthem and an opening prayer.

Belizean poet David N. Ruiz, who is one of the organizers of the event, gave the welcoming address and introduced the foreign guests.

Entertainment for the occasion came in the form of a folkloric presentation by Orquidea Negra Dance Company from Belize and Ballet Folelorico de Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Following the presentation of the two dance companies, Daniel Rivera introduced the keynote speaker for the conference, Dr. Herman Byrd, who heads the Belize Department of Archaeology. Dr. Byrd’s address was focused on the theme of the conference, “The Writer as Inspiration for National Unity, Self-Confidence, and Pride.”

Before delivering his keynote address, Dr. Byrd thanked David Ruiz on behalf of the Community of Artists for Cultural and Historical Endeavors (CACHE) for the opportunity to participate in the International Festival of Culture and in particular this writers conference.

Dr. Byrd told the conference, “I am confident that it will be a time of creative reflection, mutual encouragement and rekindling of your vocation. I speak to you this morning with profound admiration for your craft, dedication, and passion and, above all, with great appreciation for the critical role you play in your countries.”

“In 1959 a psychiatrist from Martinique was asked to speak to a group of African writers meeting in Rome. In the early 1980s a Belizean archaeologist presented a paper at the American Association of Anthropologists meeting in Mexico City. What in the world, you may ask, do they have in common and what if anything do they have to do with our topic for this morning’s reflection—the writer as inspiration for national unity, self-confidence and pride?” Byrd remarked.

He went on to state, “In 1959 Frantz Fanon addressed the Second Congress of Black Artists and Writers meeting in Rome. As you may know, Frantz Fanon was born in Martinique. He graduated from medical school in France and practiced as a psychiatrist in Algeria during the Algerian revolution. However, he left the world of medicine and dedicated his life to writing about the psychoanalysis of reconstituting national identity and culture after centuries of colonial domination. In his address, Fanon reflected on the writers’ role in the struggle for freedom and independence in Africa. Fanon held that the colonial experience had left an indelible psychological trauma on the colonized that consigned the latter to a protracted struggle to determine their true self (a theme he first explored in Black Skin, White Mask and then later in his major work, The Wretched of the Earth). He would devote the remainder of his short life to writing about this immeasurably important process of cultural re-constitution.”

“Noting Africa’s status as the birthplace of human civilization and its rich ancient and pre-colonial histories, he urged the participants to reclaim what he termed the ‘mineral strata’ that was left after centuries of colonial erosion and to do this by developing a national literature. For this to happen the writer, whether through novels, essays, poems, or short stories—must seek to address the people’s greatest needs and aspirations to become whole again. Given the context and times in which he was writing—the Algerian War for independence, Fanon spoke of a national literature as a literature of combat. He wrote, ‘It is a literature of combat because it molds national consciousness, giving it forms and contours and flinging open before it new horizons; it is a literature of combat because it assumes responsibility, and because it is the will to liberty expressed in time and space,” noted Byrd.

Byrd further noted, “I humbly suggest that over a half a century later his ideas are still relevant to us in a post-colonial and post-independent world. For Fanon, the development of a national literature with its power to mold the national consciousness was perhaps the single most important task a writer could and should undertake—the mode is virtually limitless and constrained only by the creativity and talent of the individual (and increasingly today by the economics of publishing). Your efforts have the potential to yield a rich harvest: the deepening of one’s appreciation for the country’s national values.”

From discussing the revolutionary contributions of Fanon, Dr. Byrd then zeroed in on the contributions of one of Belize’s own sons, Dr. Joseph Palacio.

Referring to David Ruiz’s invitation, Dr. Byrd said that, “[it] came after I had finished reading drafts of an upcoming trilogy of books by Dr. Palacio. The forthcoming work is entitled, The Practicing Anthropologist: The Collected Works of Joseph Orlando Palacio. Volume I (Building a Nation) consists of early essays in archaeology and social anthropology and provides a window into the country’s first archaeologist exploring how best to apply his expertise to the dynamics of decolonization. Volume II (Cultural Diversity and Indigenous Peoples) explores Belize’s cultural diversity and indigenous peoples. Volume III (Garifuna Peoplehood and Barranco) examines the process of social and cultural challenges confronting peoples in their quest for social development and recounts some two centuries of change in Barranco.”

“Like Frantz Fanon, Dr. Palacio left his original training (archaeology) to take on a second passion (social anthropology) that would see him being consumed in life-long research and writing. In Mexico City, he appealed to his fellow anthropologists to focus their efforts on promoting national identity. In time, his forte became ethnographic research aimed at exploring the sinews of Belize’s multi-cultural society. He, more than anyone I know, has produced the most perceptive studies aimed at grasping the complex layers of the multiculturalism that is hailed as one of our country’s most unique features,” said Byrd.

Byrd went on to state, “It is often said that among Belize’s ethnic groups, the Garifuna has led the way in cultural retrieval, preservation and advocacy. The pride of place given to Garifuna Settlement Day, the resurgence of Garifuna music as exemplified in the late Andy Palacio and parandero Paul Nabor, the Gulisi Museum, the Garifuna Collective, the tireless efforts of Sebastian and Fabian Cayetano, and Roy Cayetano to promote their culture, are all beloved manifestations of the successful resurgence of Garifuna culture in modern Belize. In my view, Dr. Palacio’s ethno-historical reconstruction of Garifuna culture was and continues to be a driving force behind this highly-acclaimed revival of Garifuna culture.”

“The Belizean Garifuna renaissance has had a ripple effect not only among other cultural groups in Belize but also along the Caribbean coast of Guatemala and Honduras and across the Caribbean Sea, retracing the steps of those early ancestral migrations and imbuing fragmented Garifuna coastal communities with new life. I contend that the Garifuna renaissance is a great testament of the powers of research and writing, this time from the world of non-fiction to renew the peoples’ spiritual and cultural moorings and provide a foundation for profound cultural change built on a newfound sense of individual and collective self-esteem, pride in one’s cultural heritage and a love of the land within which it flourishes,” he added.

Byrd then remarked, “Although his works are the fruits of a life-time of labor (the collection consists of some seventy essays), the good news is that you have the creativity and the talent to achieve similar results in just one novel, one play, one poem, or one song. Think for a moment of the impact of Zee Edgell’s Beka Lamb, H. E. Sir Colville Young’s Riding Haas, Evan X Hyde’s About Poems, Roy Cayetano’s Drums of My Father, David Ruiz’s Old Benque and A Walk Through Benque Viejo—the list could go on for a very long time (seeing that we are meeting in the home of BRC Printing and Cubola, I would like to congratulate both of them for publishing works of Belizean literature and Cubola in particular for its publication of anthologies of Belizean poetry, short stories such as If Di Pin Neva Ben and the two volumes of Belizean women writers, Memories, Dreams and Nightmares—all of which are important building blocks of Belize’s literary canon).”

He then noted, “In the early days of our independence, Philip Lewis’ poem ‘A Si Wha New Belize’ appeared to capture the nascent dreams of the young nation striking out on a new future, radically different from the past:

A Si Wha New Belize

A tink a si wha new Belize weh
di Creole man
di Mestizo
di Garifuna
an di Mayan
no separate as a lis dem
but instead all da Belizeans.
‘All a wi da wan’

di Creole man sey.
‘Todos son hermanos’
‘Asi dice el Mestizo’
‘Ubafu lun Garifuna’
A wanda weh dende mean?
When Maya man sey, ‘Koten waye’
Da ie temple ie wha sho yu.

Who sey me sey Coolie Indian no de?
Go da Punta Gorda,
Check out Yahbra,
Di smell da no sere
Da tacari an wite rice wid
Meat an some good bush.
Climb pan di mule-an-kyart
If ie no wha go, weh di hell
We gwine push it.
Dis ya time da no lakka beffo time,
Memba wen wi cudn’t si?
Now wi move di ting fra ova wi eye
An wi get up affa wi knee
All a wi da one a sey
‘Quepasa’ – yu nho yer mi big
Black mouth an mi lata brains
Man luk ya Bra – da time fi si di
New Belize.”

“Who can hear this read with passion and not be moved with this new vision of who we aspire to be as a people and not be filled with a deep sense of excitement for what we can accomplish?” asked Byrd.

He stated, “A new writer has just burst on the scene in China; she is a young woman who wrote an autobiographical novel entitled I am Fan Sousi, depicting the harsh realities of millions of immigrants like her. When interviewed by a throng of journalists, she said, ‘I never dreamed that the power of the pen would transform my life.’ Well, it has and may also change the life of thousands of others.”

“I want to encourage each of you to never and I mean never—not even in the darkest moments of writers’ block nor after your tenth rejection from a publisher—underestimate the power of your pen to deepen our appreciation of who we are as Belizeans (similarly as Mexicans, Hondurans and Guatemalans). Such individual and collective self-knowledge is the cornerstone upon which a sturdy national edifice can be constructed and enriched united, confident and proud,” observed Dr. Byrd.

The day’s event was divided into two forums, a morning and an afternoon forum. The morning forum was in English, while the afternoon forum was in Spanish.

The English forum was in the format of a round table discussion and was moderated by Myrna Manzanares, the president of the Belize Kriol Council.
Those taking part in the morning forum included Orlando Cocom, who represented the Belize History Association; Felene Swazo, the president of Belize Writers’ Guild; and a representative from Belize Book Industry Association.

In the afternoon session, writer and poet Julio Cesar Pineda, a Honduran, did a reading, as well as David Ruiz, and Carmen Carillo Amando Chan. The poets who read their works in Spanish were presented by Shamika Conorquie.

Mariianni Penados presented the prose readers, which included University of Belize English lecturer and short story writer Ivory Kelly, Felene Cayetano Swazo, Rudy Romero and David Ruiz.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

As Sox and O’s scrap, racism again rears its ugly form at Fenway

In retrospect, how much more can we make of the curious stretch of “old-fashioned baseball” the Red Sox and Orioles recently featured in successive meetings? Probably nothing, says I.  More than enough has already been sputtered, too much of it dumb.  The … RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News

‘CL’ is leaner and meaner these days — but not too mean

One thing I have gained personally from having a smaller staff at Creative Loafing these days is that it has forced me out of my comfort zone.

I can’t just sit around the office and act like an editor, delegating the reporting and writing duties to a staff of journalists. At CL today, we have exactly one staff news reporter, a feature writer who serves double duty coordinating ads, and a designer.

Where I would once assign stories, edit them, write the occasional feature and pen an editor’s note, I now have to get out and report many of the stories myself, just like I did when I was a rookie cop reporter years ago in Burlington.

And that’s a beautiful thing. It’s given me the opportunity to have more face time with you, the readers, as well as with the artists and other people we profile in our pages.

I get to meet and talk with the restaurateurs whose food I’ve written about. And while I’m no food critic, I’ve enjoyed expanding, as a writer, into areas I’ve never written about before.

I also get to do more writing in an area that I know and love very much: music. I’ve gotten out and talked to younger musicians making new music at venues in Charlotte that didn’t exist when I first came to CL a little more than a decade ago.

In this issue, I got the chance to meet with members of The Business People, a Charlotte indie-rock band whose music I discovered while editing a story a few issues ago on Charlotte actor and filmmaker Carolyn Laws. The Business People had contributed a song to Laws’ short film Damiane and Her Demons. I liked the song and searched out the band’s 2016 EP Dirty Feelings on Bandcamp. When I heard The Business People were playing at Hattie’s last weekend and at Snug Harbor this week, I decided it was time to go check them out. You can read my story in the music section.

But no matter how much more I get out of the office to report stories, there’s no way we could do what we do at CL without our staffers and freelancers. The mix of different voices and perspectives is what gives Creative Loafing its personality and scope. Take this week’s cover story on chef Donnie Simmons. It came at the last minute during our weekly planning meeting. We had plenty of material to run, but no obvious cover. Designer Dana Vindigni spoke up: “We haven’t done a food cover in a long time.”

She was right. In fact, we haven’t done a food cover since I arrived back at CL earlier this year, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for this week’s look at Simmons, a former chef at Zada Janes in Plaza Midwood who’s opening four new restaurants in Monroe. News editor Ryan Pitkin volunteered to go talk to him and he brings Simmons’ character to life in the food section.

Also in this issue, we continue Kia O. Moore’s series on five women who are shaking things up in Charlotte’s arts and culture institutions. Last issue, Kia wrote about the things Jessica Moss is doing over at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.

This week, Kia sits down with Asysia Osborne, the director of the Historic West End Initiative at Charlotte Center City Partners. Osborne’s essential role at Center City Partners is to be a human face at the Uptown boosters group, interacting with West Charlotte community members who live in the Biddleville area, less than a mile from Uptown.

Those community members are concerned about what development of the area will mean for their area’s future. Will it mean displacement? Will it mean the area will lose the history that makes it unique? Will those residents have a say?

“At the end of every policy, every law, and every decision in our community, there are people,” Osborne tells Kia in this week’s news feature. “This work impacts real people every day. So, if you lead with that thinking — that whatever I do, whatever I say, or however I move is going to impact someone else’s life — then you are less likely to have a much larger negative impact on people’s lives.”

Another thing I’ve learned with our leaner staff at CL is that it’s important not to have an intentionally negative impact on peoples’ lives.

As snarky as we can be towards Charlotte’s leaders, the ultimate goal at CL is to help make lives better, not worse. And that’s a lesson you can’t get if you’re not out talking to people.

mkemp@clclt.com

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Cover Story: Welcome to Memphis!

Last year, about 11 million people visited the city of Memphis. That’s roughly the population of Cuba or the American state of Georgia. There’s no official tourist season in Memphis, really, like spring break or summertime at beaches. But there are some high tides — Elvis Week and Memphis in May (MIM), for example.

Some 265,000 people came to the east bank of the Mississippi River in May last year for the Beale Street Music Festival, World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, 901 Fest, and the Great American River Run. About 60 percent of those visitors came from outside of Shelby County — from all 50 states and from all over the world. 

May is easily the biggest blip on the Memphis tourism radar. But Robert Griffin, marketing director for MIM, said that’s largely because the festival is a month long with many diverse events, adding that, “Elvis Week is huge, but it’s only a week.”

Hospitality is the bedrock of the tourism industry. And as I found out in reporting this story, those in the Memphis tourism industry are also hospitable to each other. The competition is healthy, but the players are cooperative, not cutthroat. That’s largely due to the many different types of tourists who come here and the many different experiences Memphis can offer them. There’s plenty for everyone, it seems.

Memphis tourism was a $3.2 billion industry in 2015, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Travel Association.

About 67,800 people are employed in the “leisure and hospitality” business in Shelby County, according to the freshest figures (April 2017) from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Tourism is the fifth-largest employer in Shelby County, only behind industries transportation (read: FedEx Corp.), education, health care, government, the very-broad “business services” category.

Where Are the Tourists?

As a Memphian, you probably think about Beale Street, Graceland, Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, and those riverboats — places you may not go to regularly. Intellectually, you know those places are filled with tourists, but as we go about our workaday world, most of us rarely see those folks. When my folks came in town for a visit last year, my stepfather wanted to see Bass Pro, so off we went.

We stood by the gleaming glass fish tank by the kids’ section, along with 40 or so other visitors, watching as catfish, bass, and crappie swim around. Then a voice broke from the ether.

click to enlarge Bass Pro

“Hello, how are you today?”

A man in a black dive suit had climbed into the tank and was waving and talking to us from behind his swim mask. We went from amused to entranced. The man fed the fish from a plastic bag, describing the different species that were swimming around him and nipping at his fingers. 

“Thanks for joining me today,” the man said, wrapping up his show. “Let me ask, how many of you are from out of town?”

Every hand but mine went into the air. It was 10:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. Ordinarily, I’d be at The Memphis Flyer office, but on this day I had found the tourists — and I was one, myself. 

“When you got a glimpse of the visitor economy that day at Bass Pro, I’m sure you went ‘Wow!,'” said Kevin Kane, president of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That’s when it hits home: There’s a lot of power in [tourism]. It’s a $3.2 billion industry in Memphis. It’s a big deal. It’s important.”

That’s why we’re taking a closer look at the fun-having industry here. (And, look, y’all, I promise I had no idea that this week is National Travel and Tourism Week. Seriously.)

The American Dream Safari

Tad Pierson drives a time machine, a 1955 Cadillac, and he’ll pick you up from your hotel.

That’s how it works with his American Dream Safari tour company. Since 1996, Belgians, Brazilians, Taiwanese, Texans, and a whole bunch of Brits, and hundreds of others from around the U.S. and the world have piled into Pierson’s Caddy to see history through its windows and, perhaps, get a few “psychic souvenirs” (more on that later).

“It’s a beautiful town to cruise around in,” Pierson said, “Because a lot of subjects come up.”

Pierson’s clients know they’re getting a general tour of Memphis, but those conversations easily swing to the city’s music, its place in the civil rights movement, the Civil War, and, of course, Elvis. 

Pierson hones in on their interests and tailors the tours to his customers. While he hits the typical “must-sees,” he also takes visitors to some out-of-way spots — like the place where Johnny Cash met the Tennessee Two, or to B.B. King’s first house in Memphis. 

Pierson calls what he does “anthro-tourism.” It’s the same idea as eco-tourism, he said, but with history as the focus. He hopes that the upsurge of new development here won’t spoil the city’s most essential asset: “Memphis is real,” Piersaon said. “People come here for that reason. They don’t come here because it’s, say, an artificially rebuilt waterfront that rips them off. It’s an authentic scene here, and we have to protect that.”

Pierson will also send you home with a bit of that Memphis real-ness. Instead of tchotchkes or a T-shirt, Pierson hopes his clients go home with a powerful Memphis memory, like, say, the aroma of barbecue wafting over the parking lot at Cozy Corner.

“These psychic souvenirs are just moments that go by the window of the car and you’re like — ah! — I gotta remember that one forever,” Pierson said.  

Our “Big Hooks”

Kane, who is basically the mayor of Memphis tourism, would rather talk about our city’s “big hooks” rather than give some clinical listing of our top, most-visited attractions.

click to enlarge Graceland

Music, he said, is without a doubt our “biggest hook” here, whether it’s Graceland or Sun Studios or the Stax Museum or Beale Street, or the Center for Southern Folklore or the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum or the Blues Hall of Fame — all places Kane cited off the top his head.

“I think our music heritage gives us a cool factor that only a few cities can boast about,” Kane said. “Memphis, Nashville, Chicago, Kansas City, and Austin — only a handful of cities can lay claim to music and do it legitimately.”

click to enlarge Kevin Kane

  • Kevin Kane

Kane thinks another big hook for Memphis is its Southern culture and, largely, that means food. Barbecue is likely the city’s second-largest cultural export, after music. That’s evidenced by lines that stretch out the door at Central BBQ’s downtown location or the fact that the Rendezvous’ waiting area is big enough to house a bar. But, also, consider that the MIM barbecue contest drew 37,146 tourists last year, who spent about $17 million while they were here.

But Kane notes that Memphis’ culinary scene is growing beyond barbecue. Chefs here are regularly opening diverse new spots and further defining the Memphis dining landscape.

“The Southern product we’re able to roll out — with Southern art and food and friendliness — is huge for us,” Kane said.

The big hooks for Memphis tourism also include “family fun stuff” like the Children’s Museum or the Memphis Zoo. It’s also important historical attractions such as the National Civil Rights Museum, and outdoor attractions like Shelby Farms Park and Big River Crossing, Kane said. 

click to enlarge Beale Street

  • Beale Street

For the record, Memphis’ top 10 tourist attractions in 2015 were, in order, by attendance: Beale Street (5 million visitors), Bass Pro (2 million), Agricenter International (1.3 million), Memphis Zoo (1.1 million), Overton Square (1 million), Memphis Grizzlies (820,000), The Peabody Grand Lobby (750,000), Golf & Games Family Park (634,000), Mike Rose Soccer Complex (620,000), and Graceland (600,000). These figures are according to the Memphis Business Journal‘s 2016-2017 Book of Lists.  

A Tour of Possibilities

Carolyn Michael-Banks knows her tour is nontraditional — and it may even make some people uncomfortable. But her goal in founding A Tour of Possibilities was to “share the historical and cultural gems that African Americans have contributed to Memphis.” It does so with stops at Beale Street, Robert Church Park, Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, Soulsville, Stax, and more. 

Michael-Banks spent years doing tours for other companies in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. She included African-American history in those tours, as well, but her bosses felt it made some uncomfortable.

“The thing about history is that there are parts of it that are definitely uncomfortable,” she said. “But just because they are uncomfortable doesn’t make them not exist. Our tag line [at her former company] was ‘reliving history.’ I felt compelled to relive it completely and [my company] is doing that now.”

Hop on Michael-Banks’ van (which she calls the Van of Possibilities) and you may find Brits, other Europeans, Australians, and Americans, many from Chicago, Texas, and California, she said. People from all over, except Memphis (more on that later). 

Her tour is designed to stop at a place “that will probably make you feel uncomfortable” but leave within 10 minutes and head off to something else. She’s not doing a documentary, she said, and she’s not a professor giving a lecture. “So, I believe there’s a way to blend history without sugar-coating what is difficult,” said Michael-Banks. “You go through a rollercoaster of emotions, and that is intentional.”

Having a small van (10 passengers) allows her clients to feel comfortable enough to express themselves. Most respond positively to the tour, she said. And Memphians might change their minds about their own town if they’d come along. 

“If Memphians actually got why 11 million come here every year, they would feel a little different about themselves,” she said. “They wouldn’t be saying, ‘Oh, no, you don’t want to come here.’ I’m working on trying to get to them to say, ‘Oh, you have to come here.'”

How’re We Doing?

Memphis has held steady at number two in Tennessee tourism for many years. Nashville is a regional tourism powerhouse, pushed farther and faster now by the newly built, $623-million Music City Center convention center.

Kane said he uses two barometers to gauge the health of Memphis’ tourism industry: attraction attendance and occupancy room rates at area hotels and motels. The city is healthy, he said, and its future is “very, very bright.”

Last year, about five million tickets were sold for paid attractions here like the zoo, museums, and other attractions. Hotel occupancy spiked 10 percent three years ago, Kane said, and the figure has been slightly up or flat ever since (but it hasn’t receded) from about 5.4 million paid room nights per year.

Kane bemoaned some near-misses that could’ve boosted tourism, such as not attracting the Tanger Outlets to the Pinch District near the Cook Convention Center. But an update to the Convention Center is in the works. Renovation construction will begin there as soon as September, Kane said. It’s a $60-million facelift project aimed at modernizing the space with a “total interior and exterior renovation.” 

The project will bring functionality to the building, including more loading docks with easier access. It’ll also bring aesthetic upgrades, such as views of the Mississippi River and what Kane calles a “21st-century feel” to the inside of the building. 

“We’re not going to build the Music City Center; we don’t have the money for that,” Kane said. “We are going to make a substantial investment in our convention center, and I think it’ll pay huge dividends for us.”

click to enlarge Sprock N’ Roll

  • Sprock N’ Roll

Sprock N’ Roll

Call it a pedal bar, a party bike, a rolling tavern, a bar bike, or something else, but Ashley Coleman wants you and your friends to come try it.

Sprock N’ Roll brought their party bike (let’s just call them party bikes, okay?) to Memphis two years ago. Since then, hundreds have mounted the oversized bike seats and pumped the mobile bars around downtown or Midtown. 

Not clear on the concept? Imagine a small bar with five bar stools on each side, a bench in the back — under a tin roof and on four wheels. A bartender hangs out in the middle, and a driver mans the steering wheel and brakes at the front. You and your friends provide the power by pedaling. The more people, the easier the pedaling.

Coleman said the company’s most popular tours are two-hour pub crawls. But the company also offers an “Artsy Fartsy Tour” (which begins at the Art Project), progressive dinner tours, and brunch tours. 

While most of Memphis’ tourists stay downtown, Coleman said she tries to lure them to Midtown with a tour that rolls between Overton Square and Cooper-Young (and several bars en route). Coleman bills the tour as “where the locals like to go.”

“Some aren’t coming for the Beale Street party,” Coleman said. “They want to see other cool parts of town. Many [tourists] aren’t familiar with Midtown. We take them off Cooper down Rembert, and everyone enjoys seeing the houses. They’ll say, ‘We love this part of town!'”

Coleman said it’s likely that more locals ride her party bikes than tourists, but plenty of tourists still ride through Midtown, she said, remembering a time a group of Australians rode down Cooper with a group of Iowans.

“They end up staying in that part of town,” Coleman said. “They’ll get off the bike and explore some more. It’s a great way for us to get the tourists to Midtown and get them spending some money there.”

May is a big season for Sprock N’ Roll, Coleman said, noting that they have to work to make sure there’s enough availability to meet the demand. 

“It’s just a fun way to see the city.” 

The Real Deal

Attracting more conventions and conferences has long been a goal of the CVB, and a theme of many of the group’s annual meetings. The renovated convention center is supposed to help with that, but Kane said the convention center still needs a large, nearby, full-service hotel. “We’ve got the Sheraton, the Peabody, the Hilton out East and, now, the Guest House at Graceland, but none of them are within walking distance of the convention center,” Kane said.

Kane added that another missing piece of the tourism puzzle is an indoor sports complex. Kane and the CVB were major supporters of a plan formulated a few years ago that would transform the Mid-South Fairgrounds into a mammoth youth sports complex, with sports fields, indoor arenas, a hotel, and big-box retailers. 

“We’re ready for that type of a complex somewhere in Memphis,” Kane said. “I don’t know if it’ll be at the Fairgrounds or if it’ll be out in Cordova or downtown. I don’t know where the darned thing will be located. But we’re really aggressively working on that now.”

Kane, who has spent more than 25 years selling the Memphis experience to potential visitors around the globe is, indeed, bullish on Memphis tourism. For him, there is a “cool factor and an intrigue and mystique about Memphis.” It’s also authentic, he said. 

“I don’t know if you saw it that day you were in Bass Pro, but overwhelmingly most of the visitors who come here are impressed by the friendliness of our people,” Kane said. “They genuinely find that Memphis is real and it’s not manufactured, not some made-up experience. It’s a real, natural, real-deal type of experience. So, we’ve kept it real, and people appreciate that.”

Welcome to Memphis!

Last year, about 11 million people visited the city of Memphis. That’s roughly the population of Cuba or the American state of Georgia. There’s no official tourist season in Memphis, really, like spring break or summertime at beaches. But there are some high tides — Elvis Week and Memphis in May (MIM), for example.

Some 265,000 people came to the east bank of the Mississippi River in May last year for the Beale Street Music Festival, World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, 901 Fest, and the Great American River Run. About 60 percent of those visitors came from outside of Shelby County — from all 50 states and from all over the world. 

May is easily the biggest blip on the Memphis tourism radar. But Robert Griffin, marketing director for MIM, said that’s largely because the festival is a month long with many diverse events, adding that, “Elvis Week is huge, but it’s only a week.”

Hospitality is the bedrock of the tourism industry. And as I found out in reporting this story, those in the Memphis tourism industry are also hospitable to each other. The competition is healthy, but the players are cooperative, not cutthroat. That’s largely due to the many different types of tourists who come here and the many different experiences Memphis can offer them. There’s plenty for everyone, it seems.

Memphis tourism was a $3.2 billion industry in 2015, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Travel Association.

About 67,800 people are employed in the “leisure and hospitality” business in Shelby County, according to the freshest figures (April 2017) from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Tourism is the fifth-largest employer in Shelby County, only behind industries transportation (read: FedEx Corp.), education, health care, government, the very-broad “business services” category.

Where Are the Tourists?

As a Memphian, you probably think about Beale Street, Graceland, Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, and those riverboats — places you may not go to regularly. Intellectually, you know those places are filled with tourists, but as we go about our workaday world, most of us rarely see those folks. When my folks came in town for a visit last year, my stepfather wanted to see Bass Pro, so off we went.

We stood by the gleaming glass fish tank by the kids’ section, along with 40 or so other visitors, watching as catfish, bass, and crappie swim around. Then a voice broke from the ether.

click to enlarge Bass Pro

“Hello, how are you today?”

A man in a black dive suit had climbed into the tank and was waving and talking to us from behind his swim mask. We went from amused to entranced. The man fed the fish from a plastic bag, describing the different species that were swimming around him and nipping at his fingers. 

“Thanks for joining me today,” the man said, wrapping up his show. “Let me ask, how many of you are from out of town?”

Every hand but mine went into the air. It was 10:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. Ordinarily, I’d be at The Memphis Flyer office, but on this day I had found the tourists — and I was one, myself. 

“When you got a glimpse of the visitor economy that day at Bass Pro, I’m sure you went ‘Wow!,'” said Kevin Kane, president of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That’s when it hits home: There’s a lot of power in [tourism]. It’s a $3.2 billion industry in Memphis. It’s a big deal. It’s important.”

That’s why we’re taking a closer look at the fun-having industry here. (And, look, y’all, I promise I had no idea that this week is National Travel and Tourism Week. Seriously.)

The American Dream Safari

Tad Pierson drives a time machine, a 1955 Cadillac, and he’ll pick you up from your hotel.

That’s how it works with his American Dream Safari tour company. Since 1996, Belgians, Brazilians, Taiwanese, Texans, and a whole bunch of Brits, and hundreds of others from around the U.S. and the world have piled into Pierson’s Caddy to see history through its windows and, perhaps, get a few “psychic souvenirs” (more on that later).

“It’s a beautiful town to cruise around in,” Pierson said, “Because a lot of subjects come up.”

Pierson’s clients know they’re getting a general tour of Memphis, but those conversations easily swing to the city’s music, its place in the civil rights movement, the Civil War, and, of course, Elvis. 

Pierson hones in on their interests and tailors the tours to his customers. While he hits the typical “must-sees,” he also takes visitors to some out-of-way spots — like the place where Johnny Cash met the Tennessee Two, or to B.B. King’s first house in Memphis. 

Pierson calls what he does “anthro-tourism.” It’s the same idea as eco-tourism, he said, but with history as the focus. He hopes that the upsurge of new development here won’t spoil the city’s most essential asset: “Memphis is real,” Piersaon said. “People come here for that reason. They don’t come here because it’s, say, an artificially rebuilt waterfront that rips them off. It’s an authentic scene here, and we have to protect that.”

Pierson will also send you home with a bit of that Memphis real-ness. Instead of tchotchkes or a T-shirt, Pierson hopes his clients go home with a powerful Memphis memory, like, say, the aroma of barbecue wafting over the parking lot at Cozy Corner.

“These psychic souvenirs are just moments that go by the window of the car and you’re like — ah! — I gotta remember that one forever,” Pierson said.  

Our “Big Hooks”

Kane, who is basically the mayor of Memphis tourism, would rather talk about our city’s “big hooks” rather than give some clinical listing of our top, most-visited attractions.

click to enlarge Graceland

Music, he said, is without a doubt our “biggest hook” here, whether it’s Graceland or Sun Studios or the Stax Museum or Beale Street, or the Center for Southern Folklore or the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum or the Blues Hall of Fame — all places Kane cited off the top his head.

“I think our music heritage gives us a cool factor that only a few cities can boast about,” Kane said. “Memphis, Nashville, Chicago, Kansas City, and Austin — only a handful of cities can lay claim to music and do it legitimately.”

click to enlarge Kevin Kane

  • Kevin Kane

Kane thinks another big hook for Memphis is its Southern culture and, largely, that means food. Barbecue is likely the city’s second-largest cultural export, after music. That’s evidenced by lines that stretch out the door at Central BBQ’s downtown location or the fact that the Rendezvous’ waiting area is big enough to house a bar. But, also, consider that the MIM barbecue contest drew 37,146 tourists last year, who spent about $17 million while they were here.

But Kane notes that Memphis’ culinary scene is growing beyond barbecue. Chefs here are regularly opening diverse new spots and further defining the Memphis dining landscape.

“The Southern product we’re able to roll out — with Southern art and food and friendliness — is huge for us,” Kane said.

The big hooks for Memphis tourism also include “family fun stuff” like the Children’s Museum or the Memphis Zoo. It’s also important historical attractions such as the National Civil Rights Museum, and outdoor attractions like Shelby Farms Park and Big River Crossing, Kane said. 

click to enlarge Beale Street

  • Beale Street

For the record, Memphis’ top 10 tourist attractions in 2015 were, in order, by attendance: Beale Street (5 million visitors), Bass Pro (2 million), Agricenter International (1.3 million), Memphis Zoo (1.1 million), Overton Square (1 million), Memphis Grizzlies (820,000), The Peabody Grand Lobby (750,000), Golf & Games Family Park (634,000), Mike Rose Soccer Complex (620,000), and Graceland (600,000). These figures are according to the Memphis Business Journal‘s 2016-2017 Book of Lists.  

A Tour of Possibilities

Carolyn Michael-Banks knows her tour is nontraditional — and it may even make some people uncomfortable. But her goal in founding A Tour of Possibilities was to “share the historical and cultural gems that African Americans have contributed to Memphis.” It does so with stops at Beale Street, Robert Church Park, Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, Soulsville, Stax, and more. 

Michael-Banks spent years doing tours for other companies in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. She included African-American history in those tours, as well, but her bosses felt it made some uncomfortable.

“The thing about history is that there are parts of it that are definitely uncomfortable,” she said. “But just because they are uncomfortable doesn’t make them not exist. Our tag line [at her former company] was ‘reliving history.’ I felt compelled to relive it completely and [my company] is doing that now.”

Hop on Michael-Banks’ van (which she calls the Van of Possibilities) and you may find Brits, other Europeans, Australians, and Americans, many from Chicago, Texas, and California, she said. People from all over, except Memphis (more on that later). 

Her tour is designed to stop at a place “that will probably make you feel uncomfortable” but leave within 10 minutes and head off to something else. She’s not doing a documentary, she said, and she’s not a professor giving a lecture. “So, I believe there’s a way to blend history without sugar-coating what is difficult,” said Michael-Banks. “You go through a rollercoaster of emotions, and that is intentional.”

Having a small van (10 passengers) allows her clients to feel comfortable enough to express themselves. Most respond positively to the tour, she said. And Memphians might change their minds about their own town if they’d come along. 

“If Memphians actually got why 11 million come here every year, they would feel a little different about themselves,” she said. “They wouldn’t be saying, ‘Oh, no, you don’t want to come here.’ I’m working on trying to get to them to say, ‘Oh, you have to come here.'”

How’re We Doing?

Memphis has held steady at number two in Tennessee tourism for many years. Nashville is a regional tourism powerhouse, pushed farther and faster now by the newly built, $623-million Music City Center convention center.

Kane said he uses two barometers to gauge the health of Memphis’ tourism industry: attraction attendance and occupancy room rates at area hotels and motels. The city is healthy, he said, and its future is “very, very bright.”

Last year, about five million tickets were sold for paid attractions here like the zoo, museums, and other attractions. Hotel occupancy spiked 10 percent three years ago, Kane said, and the figure has been slightly up or flat ever since (but it hasn’t receded) from about 5.4 million paid room nights per year.

Kane bemoaned some near-misses that could’ve boosted tourism, such as not attracting the Tanger Outlets to the Pinch District near the Cook Convention Center. But an update to the Convention Center is in the works. Renovation construction will begin there as soon as September, Kane said. It’s a $60-million facelift project aimed at modernizing the space with a “total interior and exterior renovation.” 

The project will bring functionality to the building, including more loading docks with easier access. It’ll also bring aesthetic upgrades, such as views of the Mississippi River and what Kane calles a “21st-century feel” to the inside of the building. 

“We’re not going to build the Music City Center; we don’t have the money for that,” Kane said. “We are going to make a substantial investment in our convention center, and I think it’ll pay huge dividends for us.”

click to enlarge Sprock N’ Roll

  • Sprock N’ Roll

Sprock N’ Roll

Call it a pedal bar, a party bike, a rolling tavern, a bar bike, or something else, but Ashley Coleman wants you and your friends to come try it.

Sprock N’ Roll brought their party bike (let’s just call them party bikes, okay?) to Memphis two years ago. Since then, hundreds have mounted the oversized bike seats and pumped the mobile bars around downtown or Midtown. 

Not clear on the concept? Imagine a small bar with five bar stools on each side, a bench in the back — under a tin roof and on four wheels. A bartender hangs out in the middle, and a driver mans the steering wheel and brakes at the front. You and your friends provide the power by pedaling. The more people, the easier the pedaling.

Coleman said the company’s most popular tours are two-hour pub crawls. But the company also offers an “Artsy Fartsy Tour” (which begins at the Art Project), progressive dinner tours, and brunch tours. 

While most of Memphis’ tourists stay downtown, Coleman said she tries to lure them to Midtown with a tour that rolls between Overton Square and Cooper-Young (and several bars en route). Coleman bills the tour as “where the locals like to go.”

“Some aren’t coming for the Beale Street party,” Coleman said. “They want to see other cool parts of town. Many [tourists] aren’t familiar with Midtown. We take them off Cooper down Rembert, and everyone enjoys seeing the houses. They’ll say, ‘We love this part of town!'”

Coleman said it’s likely that more locals ride her party bikes than tourists, but plenty of tourists still ride through Midtown, she said, remembering a time a group of Australians rode down Cooper with a group of Iowans.

“They end up staying in that part of town,” Coleman said. “They’ll get off the bike and explore some more. It’s a great way for us to get the tourists to Midtown and get them spending some money there.”

May is a big season for Sprock N’ Roll, Coleman said, noting that they have to work to make sure there’s enough availability to meet the demand. 

“It’s just a fun way to see the city.” 

The Real Deal

Attracting more conventions and conferences has long been a goal of the CVB, and a theme of many of the group’s annual meetings. The renovated convention center is supposed to help with that, but Kane said the convention center still needs a large, nearby, full-service hotel. “We’ve got the Sheraton, the Peabody, the Hilton out East and, now, the Guest House at Graceland, but none of them are within walking distance of the convention center,” Kane said.

Kane added that another missing piece of the tourism puzzle is an indoor sports complex. Kane and the CVB were major supporters of a plan formulated a few years ago that would transform the Mid-South Fairgrounds into a mammoth youth sports complex, with sports fields, indoor arenas, a hotel, and big-box retailers. 

“We’re ready for that type of a complex somewhere in Memphis,” Kane said. “I don’t know if it’ll be at the Fairgrounds or if it’ll be out in Cordova or downtown. I don’t know where the darned thing will be located. But we’re really aggressively working on that now.”

Kane, who has spent more than 25 years selling the Memphis experience to potential visitors around the globe is, indeed, bullish on Memphis tourism. For him, there is a “cool factor and an intrigue and mystique about Memphis.” It’s also authentic, he said. 

“I don’t know if you saw it that day you were in Bass Pro, but overwhelmingly most of the visitors who come here are impressed by the friendliness of our people,” Kane said. “They genuinely find that Memphis is real and it’s not manufactured, not some made-up experience. It’s a real, natural, real-deal type of experience. So, we’ve kept it real, and people appreciate that.”

Poppy Delevingne on setting her sights on Hollywood

In the Kensington branch of The Ivy, Poppy Delevingne and I are checking each other’s teeth for asparagus. I’ve ordered the vegetable risotto and the 31-year-old model — an ambassador for Chanel and the London Fashion Council, sometime party girl and sister of Cara — is way too nicely brought up and English to let me eat alone. 

We are meant to be discussing her role in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and whether she is jealous of crayzee Cara’s success. Not to mention what it’s like being part of one of London’s best-connected clans, which includes her late maternal grandfather, Jocelyn Stevens, publisher of Queen magazine and chairman of what was then English Heritage; her grandmother Jane Sheffield, lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret; her philanthropist step-grandmother, Dame Vivien Duffield; and her mother, Pandora, who was a personal shopper at Selfridges and a heroin addict in her youth, and struggled with depression and medication dependency after her three daughters were born. 

I also want to know what married life is like for Delevingne with her husband James Cook, after nine years together and a 2014 wedding in London and Marrakech. Oh and I want to ask about those photos — the ones that showed her and a worse-for-wear David Beckham stumbling out of a Hollywood club in February. 

But for the moment she’s too busy tucking into her risotto. ‘I’m a pig,’ she says, with a big, guileless grin. ‘It’s annoying too, because I’m a beanpole. No one will ever believe someone thin is a foodie, but I am.’ Later she says she is ‘a bull, and fiercely loyal’, a reference to her star sign, Taurus, represented by a tattoo on her nape, just below a heart that Cara apparently drew. ‘Helped with,’ Delevingne corrects me: she may love her little sister but she isn’t daft enough to let her loose with a needle on her neck.

poppydelevingne-0.jpg

A.W.A.K.E. top, £408; trousers, £456, both at boutique1.com (Credit: Benjamin Mallek)

Later, she says she is ‘basically a giraffe, I have never in my life been told to lose weight’, in response to my question about whether she has experienced the brutal side of the industry since she was scouted at 15 by Sarah Doukas of Storm Models. ‘I was lucky and never really encountered any trouble,’ she adds, although the constant rejection at castings is tough, ‘and it’s not once a week, it’s five times a day. That builds up, it begins to grate on you.’ But that, she says, is balanced by meeting wonderful, creative people, such as Karl Lagerfeld, who made her wedding dress.

Personally, I’m seeing Delevingne more as a unicorn, singular and admired, trotting through life unmarked by mean emotions or misfortune. Although she claims to be clumsy, she always seems to fall on her feet. In her early 20s she shared a flat in New York with Sienna Miller. ‘Sienna is someone who always wants to help you find your way and she was always like, “You need to be acting, you need to be doing comedy” — always truly very supportive and loving and nurturing. And she makes the meanest risotto, probably the best in the world.’

poppydelevingne-1.jpg

Mulberry top, £560; trousers, £625 (mulberry.com) (Credit: Benjamin Mallek)

Delevingne is untouched by envy of her (very slightly) older sister Chloe, also 31, a sometime fashion buyer, party organiser and married mother of two; or of Cara, 24, who she introduced to Storm and whose career as both a model and actress has somewhat outstripped her own. ‘I am not jealous of her, unfortunately for you,’ says Delevingne, who lived in the basement flat of her family’s home with Cara until her own marriage. ‘I always knew she was going to be something special, since she was a child. She knew the words to every song, the routine to every dance. She was a little actress, we’d bring her out to do a performance after lunch and she was just the apple of all of our eyes.’

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Jil Sander blazer dress, £1,980 (jilsander.com). Mulberry Palace bootie, £450 (mulberry.com).Sophie Lis earrings, £425 (sophielis.com).Jessica McCormack rings, small £2,200; large £4,500 (020 7491 9999) (Credit: Benjamin Mallek)

Cara has spoken about her own teenage problems with dyspraxia, depression and self-confidence, which might not make modelling seem like the most sensible career, but Delevingne was sure Storm would look after her little sister. ‘As soon as she got Burberry, it was written in the stars for her and I am proud of her every day.’ Cara not only won further campaigns for Chanel, Tom Ford, La Perla and Tag Heuer, she also scored decent parts in the films Paper Towns, The Face of an Angel and Suicide Squad.

‘As regards acting, we are lucky we are quite far apart in age,’ says Delevingne. ‘Six years is quite a jump. We are very different. We have a different look. At least we are not a year apart and competing for the same roles. She has been so supportive. In terms of the acting she has taken a big sister role.’ The morning we meet, a tabloid reports that Cara is back with her ex-girlfriend, the singer St Vincent, from whom she split last year. ‘I can’t go there,’ says Delevingne, firmly but sweetly, raising a slim hand in a girl-scout salute. ‘Sisters’ code of honour!’

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Burberry shirt, £450 (burberry.com). Jessie Harris earrings, £245 (jessieharris.co.uk) (Credit: Benjamin Mallek)

Despite her mother’s mental-health problems during their childhood — which Pandora herself has been open about — ‘we did really have a happy childhood. If anything it made me understand things like depression or addiction better. That’s the only thing I took away from it: a deeper understanding that those things are diseases.’ Delevingne’s parents (her father, Charles, is a Belgravia-based property developer) have been married for more than 35 years. They ‘are both forces of nature. My mum is quite a shy person, very gentle and very loving, with the biggest heart ever. She always taught me I could wear what I like as long as it made me happy. She was always, like, “Be wild, be bonkers, be louche, it doesn’t matter”. So she taught us to be ourselves. And my dad has tremendous amounts of courage and patience. When I was modelling he always saw me at my worst. He’d be like, “Another day on the battleground darling? Perseverance darling!”’ 

She knows it was a blessed upbringing, with access to international travel, high culture and visits to Princess Margaret at Kensington Palace. ‘No one compares to Princess Margaret. To me she was a real live princess and when you are a little girl it doesn’t get much better than that. I thought she was sensational.’ But deep down the Delevingnes are an ordinary family who ‘sit on the sofa, bicker and laugh and argue over whether we watch Broadchurch or Miss Marple, or throw the Monopoly board across the room.’

So there’s apparently not been much unhappiness in Delevingne’s life and nary a breath of scandal either until those pictures of a squiffy-looking Beckham helping her into a car in West Hollywood in February. To be fair,  Cara and countless others were at the party too. But the fact it happened on Delevingne’s husband’s birthday, and that she later Instagrammed him a gooey greeting (‘HaPpY bIrThDaY to you, my husband, my true blue, my forever boy…’) caused some tongues to wag. The truth is prosaic, according to Delevingne: she’s known Beckham slightly for years, through a mutual friend, Dave Gardner, who is Liv Tyler’s fiancé. 

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Jacquemus top, £495, at net-a-porter.com. Beaufille trousers, £630, at net-a-porter.com. Jessica McCormack earrings, £20,400 (020 7491 9999). Alighieri bracelet, £1,200 (alighieri.co.uk) (Credit: Benjamin Mallek)

About the only real cloud to cross Delevingne’s horizon recently came when she shot a video for Tory Burch’s clothing line in which she and two other white girls emulated a viral dance routine to the song that inspired it, Zay Hilfigerrr & Zayion McCall’s ‘Juju on That Beat’. Since both the song and the dance were created by black artists, Burch was accused of ‘cultural appropriation’ and the video was withdrawn. ‘I was a girl that got hired to do a job,’ Delevingne says. ‘I didn’t have a say in who got cast, what we danced to, what routine we did. When you are a model, all those things are out of your control. You don’t really have a voice and that can be quite suffocating and frustrating.’

At 31 she wants to scale back the modelling in favour of acting — although she hopes to keep her ambassadorial role for Chanel. In Ritchie’s film, a knockabout mockney reboot of the Camelot legend, she is ‘an ethereal queen’, the mother of Charlie Hunnam’s hipster hunk Arthur, seen mostly in sorrowful flashbacks. ‘I get harpooned in the first 10 minutes,’ she smiles. ‘I haven’t counted my lines, it’s probably six or seven, tops.’ At least the person doing the harpooning was Jude Law, whom she knew from his days with Sienna Miller, and who made her feel at home. Ritchie was ‘jovial, but ever the professional’. He laughed at her overacting on the first take but in the end she felt ‘I died quite reasonably’. 

She’s also in Matthew Vaughn’s forthcoming Kingsman sequel The Golden Circle. ‘I’m a baddie, which is such fun, a naughty, out-there, wild spy,’ she says. Does she last longer in this one? ‘Not much. I’ve got to stop dying!’ After our lunch, she is flying straight to LA where she has an acting coach and attends castings. 

She says she’s knocked her party habit on the head. ‘I will always love the pub — I am a pints girl — but strapping on eight-inch heels and going to a nightclub fills me with dread. And acting is a whole new ball game in terms of being hungover: you just can’t do it.’ She still enjoys ‘dancing uncontrollably, flapping my hands around’; that, along with SoulCycle, Pilates and running help her work off a propensity for anxiety. ‘Actually, I hate that word and my husband will kill me for using it,’ she corrects herself. ‘I am more of a worrier. I worry about people, about the world, life generally.’ Cara, by contrast, is ‘a hustler. She sets her sights on something and she goes and gets it.’

Being married, Delevingne says, ‘is such a nice feeling, knowing you have got someone who is always on your side’. She slightly cringes at the memory of her lavish wedding and says that on the three-day Marrakech leg, she only changed outfits three times, actually — not the reported 75, which was a joke. Today, she and Cook divide their time between their house in Cranleigh (where he grew up and works for his family’s aerospace engine company, ATC Holdings) and Ravenscourt Park. 

She would like children, but they already have two nieces, one nephew and 14 godchildren between them, and she is in no rush. ‘You know when you have a roast dinner?’ she says. ‘My favourite bit of a roast dinner is the potatoes and gravy. So what I do is I eat around them and save them till last, because that’s the best bit. And that’s kind of how I feel about having children.’ And first, she wants to give acting a proper crack, in a film where she doesn’t die, ideally in a role where she wouldn’t be the pretty, thin, blonde girl. ‘I want to be cemented in that, before I take my roast potato step.’ And with that last improbable image, she heads off to LA. Good luck to her. 

‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’ is released on 19 May

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Christina Coleman at WEST 2017The artist gives voice to the blackness in creation stories and personal histories

Christina Coleman (Photos by Sandy Carson)

Local artist Christina Coleman has imagined her staffs of braided black hair as figures or trees making a forest deep and rich enough for a person to walk “in the midst of.” In order to display the staffs in such a way, she’d have to drill holes in the floor of a gallery; the complicated process has made it so that thus far the forest of staffs hasn’t seen the light of day. I told her I like the idea of that forest. I’ve seen the singular version, a lone black staff leaning against a wall like a lazy figure but ramrod straight, made from braided black hair, dangling from countless places like playful tails, encapsulating figures themselves. The staff is also decorated with plastic balls and barrettes, so that at its crown, Staff #4, for instance, looks like a collection of shining red, white, brown, and yellow gumballs (and other colors besides), giving the staff an organic, messy appearance, like a head, a busy organism packed tight with life. Continuing down the body of the staff are the plastic barrettes, more bright colors, purple, white, green, and in various shapes, some like bows, others spelling out “ABC.” The singular staff is strong, charismatic, but all the same, I like the notion of the forest of staffs/figures, silent members of a knowing, hairy clan.

We are talking about black hair here. That cannot be denied. The staff, despite its rigidity, its authority (Coleman points out that the staff can be a status symbol), calls to mind little girls too young to know their own race, to know they even have a race, or that a race will be forced on them – that it has been forced on them already. Before, as Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, the “ominous clouds of inferiority [begin] to form in her little mental sky.” “The sculptures,” Coleman says, “stem from me thinking back to when I was younger and growing up, and all the materials I use, like these barrettes or these hair accessories that girls use in their hair. Questions about black women’s hair culture and equality in terms of texture of hair and blond versus brown hair. It also had to do with thinking about maturing and how getting one’s hair straightened is like your rite of passage.” She describes being young and having her hair straightened for the first time. It had to be done for a special occasion, but it wasn’t a choice she made for herself.

I see some reflection of Coleman’s experience in my Mexican-American family. We’ve had a tradition of taking formal portraits of the kids when they reach the age of 13. In their portraits, my sister and niece have long, flowing, dark brown hair, hair which would eventually be cut short. I see young girls with that long, straight hair all the time, hair that comes to the bottoms of their backs and which will, someday, be cut away to signify an admission to womanhood, a transition, conscious or not, into adult life. Coleman’s work signifies a more specific, underacknowledged cultural shift into adulthood that is thoroughly American but less mainstream. This underacknowledged and underappreciated voice is exactly the kind that should be highlighted and celebrated at a time when anything unfamiliar or culturally and politically challenging is deemed accusatory, politically correct, and even dangerous. Even without the razor sharpness of Coleman’s work, it would be important, because it tells us things we need to hear. Today. Right now.

“It became important for me to think about the spaces black people exist in, to make these drawings about the beginning of things,” says Coleman. “To say that we’re in that space, too, and that we’ve been in these things since the creation.”

Coleman, 32, was raised in Los Angeles, attended the art program at the University of California at Los Angeles, and eventually came to Austin to attend the MFA program at the University of Texas. Last summer, she took part in the “One / Sixth” show at de stijl | Podium for Art, the politically conscious gallery where she also works. “One / Sixth” featured the six (later amended to seven) African-American artists who had graduated from the program over the course of its history. Coleman has high praise for the program and found, to her surprise, that it fostered a rich black community. “I didn’t go into it thinking, ‘Where are my black people?'” she says, but the presence of artists and faculty like Dr. Cherise Smith, Michael Ray Charles, and John Yancey, among others, was invigorating. “Having everyone there and being able to talk with them was pretty enriching.” She was also impressed by the caliber of her fellow students, artists she “became really close with and got to know really well. I liked being in that whole atmosphere and going to those lectures and being in the studio late, sleeping there sometimes, that whole lifestyle.” She also appreciated that the MFA program included three years of study rather than the usual two, which allowed her to cement relationships within the school and space to develop her style and voice.

It should come as no surprise that the world of contemporary visual arts, at least in the West, has not traditionally been the most welcoming to artists of color or, for that matter, artists who are not straight and male. Coleman, a black woman who identifies as queer, is an outlier in terms of demographics in the visual arts, particularly in Austin, where the shrinking of the African-American population has been a disheartening trend. This makes her work – her skill, the flare of her imagination, the force of her vision – all the more precious. When I ask if she feels any particular responsibility to address those issues, she recalls the panel discussion that accompanied the “One / Sixth” show and how, when the notion of art and social responsibility came up, the artists on the panel were sympathetic but not altogether convinced. For her part, Coleman understands the necessity for art to reflect life, but she demurs from the suggestion that artists should be required to address anything beyond their own interests. “I’m not going to knock an artist who chooses to do that or doesn’t want to. We [as artists] have a particular place in society, but we are also self-licensed to live off the grid.”

In an earlier interview for the Blanton Museum of Art, Coleman referenced a 1987 essay, “Black Hair/Style Politics,” by Kobena Mercer, in which Mercer wrote: “As part of our modes of appearance in the everyday world, the ways we shape and style hair may be seen as both individual expressions of the self and as embodiments of society’s norms, conventions and expectations. By taking both aspects into account and focusing on their interaction we find there is a question that arises prior to psychological considerations, namely: why do we pour so much creative energy into our hair?” Mercer is talking about the phenomenon of individuals and the hair on their own heads, but Coleman’s strategies for “pouring creative energy into her hair” is on another level. This is notable in one of her more spectacular works, Arch, a sculpture made from thick, shaggy hair that is large enough to walk beneath. It is simple and demanding, a solid, sophisticated shout. Like her staff sculptures, Arch, for better or worse, implies questions of race, but I don’t want to pigeonhole it. Arch is a cleverly abstract work, and while it does ask those questions, it also leaves room for questions about structure, gender, beginnings and endings, space, openings, transport, and power.

The scale of Arch seems to echo Coleman’s imagined forest of staffs, the one she hasn’t been able to make yet. It also suggests the conceptual scale of her latest work, a still-in-progress series of drawings dealing with the Bible’s creation story. Coleman, who considers herself a Christian, says she “was drawn to that story because it breaks things down to literally black and white, and it’s very graphic the way it’s told.” The new drawings reflect the starkness of the creation story by working mostly with black and white, but even those basic elements, for Coleman, can refer back to race and identity. “It sounds ridiculous,” she says, “but even using the color black is sometimes a way of thinking about a black figure.” Coleman continues to work within her experience, but the work itself is open enough, loud enough, that one need not relate specifically on the matter of race in order to access it. All the same, race is there, a fact that is especially relevant as it pertains to Coleman’s use of the Bible as source material. “It became important for me to think about the spaces black people exist in, to make these drawings about the beginning of things. To have an association between me as a black person and the beginning of time. To say that we’re in that space, too,” she explains, “and that we’ve been in these things since the creation.” It is a necessary idea, now more than ever: that the stories we know, the vetted, chaperoned ones we’ve been raised with, are not lies – not all of them. Instead, they are incomplete, which may, at times, be just as harmful as a lie. To some degree, then, it is up to artists like Coleman to complete those stories, to speak them in their entirety. And it is up to us to listen.


WEST artist Christina Coleman (128) will exhibit at de stijl | Podium for Art, 1106 W. 31st.

A version of this article appeared in print on May 12, 2017 with the headline: Completing Tales

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MUNA’s Total Honesty

In 2017, mainstream pop acts should well understand that playfulness needn’t come—entirely!—at the expense of a message. In recent years, it’s mostly been black artists (Beyoncé, Killer Mike of Run the Jewels) who have succeeded in marrying these two approaches. White pop stars, on the other hand, usually err in one of two ways. Often they fall prey to the self-aggrandizing slip-ups of, say, Macklemore and Taylor Swift, for whom advocacy of their own brand always overshadows whatever cause they’re trying to support. Then there’s the hollow empowerment pop of Sia and Katy Perry, which aims high to mask the low emotional stakes, and trades in endless triumph against odds that are seldom defined. Having come of age against a backdrop of these gaffes, and having become politicized by movements like Black Lives Matter, the LA trio MUNA have thought carefully about advocacy in their work as musicians.

Singer Katie Gavin and guitarists Josette Maskin and Naomi McPherson met while studying at the University of Southern California. At their first jam session, Gavin informed her new bandmates that they would be making pop music. All three members identify as queer, and their lyrics often focus on sexuality, sanctuary, and abusive relationships—themes that rarely figure explicitly in mainstream pop. MUNA’s willingness to be explicit is a tonic, but they’re wary of accepting credit for what they see as other people’s advocacy.

“I think pop music has always had a relationship to activism, but I don’t want to say that we’re on the forefront of organizing social change,” Gavin told the online magazine Coup de Main last year. “I think we have to be really clear about what our role is and where the possibilities start and stop.” Maskin has said that the band wants its music to be intersectional and liberating—recasting the old line about journalism, she says that “the purpose of art is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”—and they titled their debut album About U as a way of bringing the listener into focus.

It’s a modish way of vacating the frame (Christine and the Queens’ Héloïse Letissier has also spoken of wanting to be a contagious energy rather than an idol), though it’s upset by the fact that MUNA’s members make excellent pop stars. Although cautious about misinterpretation, they’re mostly bold and unapologetic. They self-produced About U, which shares DNA with the music of fellow LA trio Haim but trades the latter’s West Coast breeziness for darker synths—more Pat Benatar and Cyndi Lauper than Fleetwood Mac. There is subtext to their choice of era: “Pop musicians gave people so many new experiences in the ’80s,” Gavin said. “When you look at what was going on politically and socially—the AIDS crisis, ‘broken windows’ theory, Reaganism—the times match up in a lot of ways in the way we’re being sold fear. There may be a connection between everyone being scared and needing to hear big, melodramatic, escapist pop music.”

It’s a connection that MUNA is keen to reinforce: On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the trio pointedly released “Crying on the Bathroom Floor,” a song about Stockholm syndrome that judders ominously. During a recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, they performed the euphoric “I Know a Place,” a tribute to gay clubs as safe havens and to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. It’s a song that would sound as appropriate in a club as at a hand-waving community sing-along; against a backdrop featuring the famous lines at the base of the Statue of Liberty, MUNA added a new verse that rebuked Trump’s immigration ban. “Even if our skin or our gods look different / I believe all human life is significant,” Gavin sang. “I throw my arms open wide in resistance / He’s not my leader even if he’s my president.”

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