On April 4th of this year — the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — hundreds of Memphians and visitors from across the country gathered at Crosstown Concourse for An Evening of Storytelling, the finale event in a day-long program of MLK50 activities sponsored by the National Civil Rights Museum.
Civil Rights icons, like Congressman John Lewis, Memphis Invaders co-founder Coby Smith, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, shared a stage in the spacious Central Atrium with New Movement Makers, such as Memphis activist/politician Tami Sawyer and Oakland-based activist/writer Alicia Garza.
The speakers reflected on the Civil Rights Movement’s history and opined on where the movement is going, as hundreds listened intently from spaces all over Concourse. Some guests sat in chairs near the stage, while others leaned over railings on floors two through seven in the Central Atrium. Others still caught the remarks on multiple televisions set up around the Crosstown Arts East Atrium, where a buffet of food and multiple bars served guests.
To date, the Evening of Storytelling is one of the largest events held at Concourse, coming in second only to the building’s grand opening celebration, which saw 18,000 guests gathered in spaces throughout and outside the building on a sweltering summer day in August 2017.
These events, whether private or public, are managed by a team of six at Crosstown Arts. Stacy Wright, the director of events at Crosstown Arts, heads up that team, which includes Courtney Fly, Tori Nute, Prince Bobo (Event Coordinators), Jesse Butcher, and John Beckham (IT and AV technician).
“I am fortunate to work with such a compassionate, thoughtful group of people who all have such varying interests from music, visual art, comedy, and literature,” says Wright.
Multiple spaces within Concourse are available for rent for both public and private events. Inside, there’s the Central, West, and East Atria, Theater Stair, second floor balcony, a conference room, and Crosstown Arts’ Green Room. The Central Atrium (the main atrium) is the building’s largest event space, while the West and East Atria (Church Health’s hub and Crosstown Arts area, respectively) provide a little more privacy for evening events since they are not active work spaces at those times. Crosstown Arts’ Green Room offers a private space for mid-sized events (200 max).
The Plaza can be rented for large outdoor festivals, while the South Loading Dock (the outdoor area from FedEx Office to Madison Pharmacy) and Concourse Avenue provides a more intimate venue for outdoor events.
Another primary vehicle of the Crosstown Arts mission is the 430 space (located across the street from Concourse and reserved specifically for art-related events). 430 is a white-box style space that offers new or established local artists, musicians and performers an affordable opportunity to showcase their work and allows artists to keep 100 percent of the proceeds made from work sold.
At the beginning of 2019, the Crosstown Arts Theater (boasting modular flooring, telescopic seating and state-of-the-art lighting and sound) will also come online as a rental space. (More information on the theater to come, including the new name, in the next Conveyor!)
For anyone interested in booking any of the spaces at Concourse, please start by filling out the Event Booking Request form — http://crosstownconcourse.com/event-request — on the Crosstown Concourse website.
“Filling out the Event Booking Request form is really the first step in getting the ball rolling,” Wright says. “From there, I return pricing and general information and usually suggest a walk through of the spaces to personally chat about expectations, needs, etc., and gauge what venue best fits the event vision. The building is so uniquely incredible and versatile that it really helps to physically see the areas that are available.”
After a client decides on the ideal space, Wright and her team begin to nail down event details and execution.
“Once we have talked through the event vision, goals, and overall big picture, then we work through the basics like vendors, security, housekeeping,” Wright says. “After the contract is signed and the details are in place, we have staff on-site throughout the full duration of the event to ensure that there is help throughout every step of the logistical process. ”
As for food, Wright encourages event planners to take advantage of the catering services offered by the restaurants inside Concourse, keeping with the Concourse mission of “Better Together” (the idea that every business in the building will succeed if we work to promote one another). “We encourage everyone to utilize the in-house restaurants, as we want those businesses to be successful. It just happens to be a major plus that the food is delicious and convenient for renters. However, in order to better serve the Memphis community, not-for-profits and charitable organizations can use outside vendors when food is donated,” she says.
“There are some incredible ways that I have seen the restaurants incorporated into events. If you have a kids’ event, like a birthday, then you can opt for popsicles at MEMPopS, Area 51 Ice Cream, or So Nuts with all of their popcorn and sweet treats,” Wright says. “Some of the other amazing options for catering everything from appetizers to full menu are Next Door, Farm Burger, Curb Market, Elemento Pizza, Global Cafe, Lucy J’s Bakery, Juice Bar, and French Truck.”
To date this year, Wright and her team have put on about 450 events. The many spaces around Concourse often stay booked up well in advance, so be sure to fill out the rental form as soon as possible.
“It really helps to get started on planning as soon as possible, as that maximizes the chances of reserving a preferred date,” Wright says. “However, sometimes there are the unavoidable, last minute events that come up in everyone’s professional and personal lives, and we definitely do our best to facilitate those as well, even if they are a few weeks out.”
Those looking to put on an arts-related event may consider Crosstown Arts’ gallery at 430 N. Cleveland, which has hosted hundreds of art shows, concerts, film screenings, dance performances, theater programs, and more since the arts organization began renting to the community in 2013.
“The 430 space was created to give all artists, no matter what medium (visual art, music, performance) and skill level (self-taught, up and coming, and professional) an opportunity to curate their own style of exhibition or performance without outside curatorial censorship or interference,” Wright says. “It is really a space for creative people to bring their work to life with full artistic liberty and to reap the financial benefits of their hard work.”
Rental fees are affordable by design at $70 per day, and the renter can opt to charge a cover of up to $12 per person at the door to recoup those costs. Artists/organizers may keep 100 percent of any door fees or art sales from their event. And Crosstown Arts provides security, tables, chairs, some audio/visual, and a gallery attendant for each event.
There are only a few stipulations: The event must be art-related, open to the public, and anything sold must be of original design.
To start the process of booking space at the 430 Gallery, fill out the Venue Request Form — http://crosstownarts.org/spaces/rentals/about-430/ — on the Crosstown Arts website.
In her years at Crosstown Arts, Wright says she’s loved watching artists who got their start at the 430 space go on to achieve great things in the art world.
“I feel really lucky to have met all of the incredible artists, be they musicians, painters, or dancers, who have shared their talents in a space solely intended for the artists and their individualistic expression,” she says.
As for the most memorable events she’s helped put on through her role as events director, Wright names a few out of many — the MLK50 event, Habitat for Humanity’s Tool Box Bash, Empty Bowls, Krewes for Kids, the Friends for Life Art Dash, Vintage 901, the Garden Gala, and the recent Le Bon Apetit dinner for Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.
“Again, it is virtually impossible to pick a favorite, since everyone that I have had the pleasure of working with has brought something totally unique and interesting to the event world,” Wrights says.
“Another really meaningful moment that showcased the history, innovation, and significance of the building to the community was when we hosted the Sears retirees who previously worked in the building when it was Sears Crosstown. The event took place as construction was wrapping up in Concourse, and they immediately became overwhelmed by seeing the new incarnation of this incredible place where they’d spent most of their lives,” she says. “Being able to build our memories upon working with all of the phenomenal people and businesses in Concourse, plus being an open door to the Memphis community, truly is an incomparable experience.”