Memphis consultant to propose art center renovations for Cossitt Library

published in the Commercial Appeal
by Christina M. Wright

Six years ago, local filmmaker and startup consultant John Kirkscey came up with a $20 million idea to renovate Cossitt Library as the Memphis Art Park.

That's not the idea he'll present to the City Council Tuesday. Instead, it will be a scaled-down version that would cost about $1 million of private funds.

"It's a way to have your cake and eat it too," Kirkscey said.

Kirkscey wants to form a public-private partnership with the city of Memphis, University of Memphis and Memphis Public Library to use the second floor of the Downtown library to showcase and record art, music and theater and part of the second floor as a digital research center about local art.

Originally, Kirkscey wanted to turn the entire property, including the parking garage and fire station, into a community art center.

"It's been kind of like a chicken and the egg problem," Kirkscey said. "Donors say, ?You need the green light from the city.' The city has said, ?You need to get funds together.' So it's kind of languished in that way."

In the meantime, Kirkscey noticed city officials' annual conundrum about Cossitt. They don't want to close the venerable library branch, but also haven't found funds to upgrade it.

If the council gives Kirkscey the go-ahead, he would raise the needed funds for the renovations and manage the project with his partners. He said the University of Memphis and former Live from Memphis organizer Christopher Reyes have agreed to partner. The library system officials like the idea but haven't committed to it.

"It would be nice if they (City Council members) keep the budget for Cossitt the same," Kirkscey said, adding those funds would pay to maintain current operations while his private funds go toward the new initiative.

The local art community is sure to get behind the Art Park, Reyes said. It would combine the documenting Live From Memphis did for 13 years with a physical property to display the arts. Reyes disbanded Live From Memphis last year because he couldn't find funding. He said the Art Park removes that hurdle.

He'll attend Tuesday's council meeting, at 10:15 a.m., with Kirkscey.

"They should do it," Reyes said. "They should have done it five years ago when he first brought it up."