Airport arts contest for high school students 'sells' Memphis to millions of visitors

May 8, 2012

By Wayne Risher

http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2012/may/08/sense-of-place/

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Five million people who change planes in Memphis each year may never set foot on Beale Street, but they can feel the city's vibe just the same.

Images of blues, barbecue, history and attractions are beckoning in the concourse connectors, courtesy of Memphis International Airport Community Foundation's High School Visual Arts Competition.

Of 9 million passengers served by the airport this year, only about 4 million will physically leave the airport property. The rest will take home what they experienced during a layover of an hour or two.

Judges Emery Franklin (from left), Susan Miller, Ephraim Urevbu, Cathy Wilson, Julia Ormiston and Bob Boorom discuss a painting entered in the annual art exhibition by Memphis City and Shelby County high school students at Memphis International Airport. This year's theme is "Memphis, It's Music, Sights and Sounds," and subjects included in the paintings ranged from the St. Jude Marathon and the "I Am a Man" sanitation workers' campaign to blues musicians and barbecue.

Airport officials created the art competition five years ago to advertise the city's charms, while encouraging and rewarding young artists.

"What it does is give people a sense of place," said Richard White, vice president of properties for the Airport Authority. "The entire program is about Memphis, showing its music, its sights and sounds. It lends itself perfectly to that mission."

A new collection of 45 artworks went up last week in the connectors, which allow passengers to circulate among concourses without leaving the secured area of the airport. The installation followed a reception in which prizes and scholarships potentially worth $203,200 were announced.

The program is self-sustaining through sponsorships and sales of prints, T-shirts, coffee mugs and other items bearing the student handiwork.

It gained credibility last year when the Memphis College of Art began awarding five scholarships, potentially worth $40,000 each over four years. The airport joined the Mid-South Fair Art Competition and Mid-South Scholastic Art Competition at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art as important venues for identifying and recruiting local talent, College of Art vice president for student affairs Susan Miller said.

It's a recruiting advantage that can help the city, if young artists can be persuaded to stay home for college.

"You get the students who are the cream of the crop, and you have them all together in one place," Miller said. "The airport has 9 million people walking through it each year. I know as a traveler, I have walked through the concourses and thought, 'There they (the student artworks) are. It's a great forum for the students to have their works seen."

"I do think it's a great way to sell the city," she added.

This year's competition drew 329 entries, which were winnowed to 45 finalists. They will be displayed for the next 12 months.

Artists could win scholarships or cash prizes.

Scholarships went to Flannery Harper, Central; Sarah Peil, Collierville; Jessica Martinez, Kingsbury; Sophia Mason, White Station; and Jay Williams, Wooddale.

Yellow Cab Company funded awards for Kyle Owens, White Station, first place, $400; Olivia Ritter, Germantown, second place, $300; Jay Curtis II, Cordova, third place, $200; and D'von Nathaniel, Wooddale, Yidan Zeng, White Station, and Tiffany Stanfield, Bolton, honorable mention, $100 each.

HMS Host/Anton Airfood Awards of $1,000 each went to Veronica Uribe, Cordova, and Jessica Martinez, Kingsbury.

Richard White said all 45 artworks are being studied to see which might be commercially viable. Sales of prints and other items in the airport's Hudson Gifts and News and Paradies Shops generate $6,000 to $8,000 a year, money that is plowed back into art supplies for the contest.

-- Wayne Risher: (901) 529-2874

This work for the high school arts competition at the airport has silhouetted figures performing inside the Cooper-Young trestle sculpture in Midtown.This work for the high school arts competition at the airport has silhouetted figures performing inside the Cooper-Young trestle sculpture in Midtown.

This year's airport visual arts competition theme is "Memphis, its music, sights and sounds." This harmonica player is rendered in cool blues and greens.This year's airport visual arts competition theme is "Memphis, its music, sights and sounds." This harmonica player is rendered in cool blues and greens.

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