5 Star Story: ARTSMemphis celebrates 60 years

Published: Oct. 3, 2023 at 10:42 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - ARTSMemphis believes “arts are the foundation of our culture,” and they’re the organization behind this 5 Star Story, highlighting the people, places and things that make us proud to call Memphis home.

ARTSMemphis has helped thousands of local arts groups and artists throughout its 60-year history.

There’s magic happening at the old fire station at the corner of Pendleton and Lamar.

As one Memphis pastor put it: “A place known for putting out fires is now a place known for igniting fires in young people.”

“We name it The Harriet, after Harriet Tubman, because she was an abolitionist that led slaves to freedom,” Young Actors Guild Executive Director Sabrina Norwood said. “And so our job here at the Harriet Performing Arts Center is to lead youth to freedom through the arts.”

Harriet Performing Arts Center in Memphis
Harriet Performing Arts Center in Memphis(Action News 5)

The building is also the headquarters for the Young Actors Guild, a 30-year-old arts organization with satellite locations in Southaven, South Memphis and in the Uptown-North Memphis area on 7th Street.

It was founded in 1991 by Chrysti Chandler, who’s the assistant director and founder.

“She used the arts as a tool and an outlet when she was growing up, so she felt like it was important and imperative that young people here in Memphis had that same outlet and were able to dance away and perform away the negativity that they deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Norwood said.

Norwood says all of their spaces are multi-purpose spaces so children have an opportunity to experience singing, acting, dancing, music production, singing, set design, costuming, hair and makeup.

“And from there there’s a lot of team building and youth development that takes place, and there’s an opportunity for young people to hone their natural talents that they have and we proudly celebrate a 98% graduation rate from college.”

Sabrina Norwood
Sabrina Norwood(Action News 5)

The Young Actors Guild has so far helped more than 30,000 youngsters in the Bluff City to apply what they learn here to not only the stage and screen, but also other occupations.

“We do have students like Jalen Hunter that go on to Broadway and he’s currently... he was Little Simba on Broadway, and he’s currently traveling with the Michael Jackson show. But we also have success of students that are now nurses, they’re teachers, they’re principals, they’re anesthesiologists.”

A lot of the good done by the Young Actors Guild, even the beautiful firehouse transformation, wouldn’t be possible without the help of ARTSMemphis.

“Everything costs, but when you have organizations like ARTSMemphis that’s behind you and supports the work that you do, you’re able to be creative and you’re able to operate without worrying about that bottom line,” Norwood said.

YAG is one of many arts groups that ARTSMemphis has helped through the years.

“ARTSMemphis was started in 1963 actually, by volunteers with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra,” ARTSMemphis President and CEO Elizabeth Rouse said. “They were seeking federal support for the arts and needed a local arts council. And so this 501(c)(3) was started and has now gone on for 60 years.”

Elizabeth Rouse
Elizabeth Rouse(Action News 5)

In that time, ARTSMemphis has invested more than $94 million into the arts community.

“Last year we made grants to 63 Shelby County nonprofits and also supported hundreds of individual artists,” Rouse said.

As the ARTSMemphis motto goes: “We don’t create the art. We make it possible.”

“We are the go-to for coordinating and connecting arts organizations and artists with Memphis, but we’re also the go-to for promoting what’s happening in the arts community,” Rouse said.

ARTSMemphis also provides grantees with ongoing workshops and networking opportunities, all with one purpose in mind.

“So the arts play a critical role in our community and youth development and bridging differences and offering opportunities for healing and connection,” Rouse said.

And that’s something the folks with the Young Actors Guild understand.

“People are looking at our city. They’re seeing a lot of crime and they’re wondering, ‘What is the answer?’ The arts is the answer. Put them on the stage, put them in positions of leadership, and watch them grow... because they will,” Norwood said.

ARTSMemphis will hold a big 60th-anniversary party on November 9 at the Kent, a Downtown event venue.

To learn more about ARTSMemphis, click here.

To learn more about the Young Actors Guild, click here.

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