AWESOME PROJECT: Three Memphis high schoolers, one oh-so-blank wall

If you’re an art lover living in Memphis, hang onto your hat, because you’re in for a real treat. Coming very soon to Central Ave, right near Tobey Park, is a public mural inspired in large part by the one that local nurse practitioner Betsy Robinson – along with a team of fabulous local artists and volunteers – brought last year to the Cooper/Higbee Underpass in Midtown. The Cooper mural got quite a bit of buzz in town, and it seems to have woken proud Memphians of all ages up to the fact that they – yes, they, just as they are – can organize the community to beautify their beloved streets.


Betsy Robinson Cooper Higbee Mural

[Betsy Robinson’s Cooper-Higbee mural project, pictured above, was an inspiration to  high schoolers Caroline Ciamitaro and Margo Huber. Photo by David Leonard]

Even high schoolers! Leading the charge on this new mural are local high schoolers Caroline Ciaramitaro and Margo Huber. “I was just driving with Margo,” explains Ciaramitaro, “and I looked at her and I was like ‘this is kind of gross, someone should put a mural here.’ I was just talking, and she looks at me and she goes ‘let’s do it.’ I’m not the most artistic person, but I knew I wanted to do something for the community, and we just did it.” Today, the red tape has been sorted, and the wall is primed and ready, thanks to a small army of volunteers of all ages. Painting begins in the next couple of weeks.


[The underpass,  which will get a colorful makeover in the next couple of weeks.]


The picture of neighborhood pride

From what we hear, the finished product is sure to be gorgeous and thought-provoking. Picture this: Two geometrical faces. The first is closed-mouthed, and done in cool tones. “Not sad, but calm,” explains Ciaramitaro. The other face is open-mouthed, and done in warm, vibrant colors. The faces are distinct from one another, but interact in unexpected ways.

The design was conceived of by a third local high schooler, who drew inspiration from an album cover she’d seen. She had an interesting landscape to work with, in that the site includes some columns, and doesn’t get much foot traffic. The design had to be complex enough to engage the public, but simple enough that a person driving past could take it in. The artist, chosen from a pool of applicants through design competitions at not one but two local schools, has chosen to remain anonymous, which we think is pretty rad. Ciaramitaro suspects that that’s because the artist wants the focus to be not on her but on the work itself, and on “what it’s doing” in the community.


Sweet success

What is Ciaramitaro most looking forward to, about the mural? She remembers the energy in town when the Cooper Underpass mural was completed. “I think it just got a lot of people excited,” she says. And a big part of what she’s looking forward to is paying that forward. Showing her neighbors that if she can do it, so can they. She wants to get everyone thinking about what unique skills and gifts they have to offer the community.

“I think it will be really cool when other people drive by and know that they know someone who did that, because I think that’s really inspiring. You can go anywhere and see a place and think ‘oh, I wish someone would fix that,’ but it’s a totally different thing to go and see that someone you know has fixed it. It’s kind of sets the bar that anybody can do it. I mean clearly, I have no artistic capabilities, and yet here I am!”

This project won’t be Ciaramitaro’s last. She’s thought about community organizing as a possible career, and this experience has only whetted her appetite. It taught her a great deal about the process of fundraising, about coordinating volunteers, about getting the community excited and invested.


Advice from one high school student to her peers

So what would Ciaramitaro say to her fellow high schoolers across the country? To kids who’ve thought, at some point: huh, I wonder why we don’t have a community garden. I wonder if someone will ever start keeping bees or even bats in our town. I wonder if there are any artists who could make a cool public work for the town center. What does Ciaramitaro say to these kids, who may have great ideas, but assume that they’re not qualified?

“Ask questions,” she says, without hesitation. “I would never even have known about this if I hadn’t simply asked questions. I asked someone I knew in city government, because I’d done an internship with her, and I said ‘hey, I don’t even have this formulated at all, but I kind of have this idea, do you know anyone in the city who works with murals or art commissions?’ It just started with a simple question, and a couple more questions later, it ended up being a mural. So I would say don’t be afraid to ask questions, because you never know where it’s going to lead you.”

You heard her, all you awesome high school comrades with your inspiring ideas. More and more everyday, the future is in your hands.

Feeling inspired? If this grassroots effort makes you want to take action in YOUR neighborhood, or if you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here . We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Check out this video featuring 70 graffiti artists’ AMAZING work in North Memphis, covering a single wall. It’s a huge public project, organized by graffiti photographer Karen Golightly, and believe us when we say that you do not want to miss it.