Everyone’s an artist, at least this weekend in Midtown. Figment returns for a third year to Jackson and its second year in the Millsaps Arts District just south of Fondren. In 2012, Midtown hosted this small, family-friendly, interactive festival building on the momentum of 2011’s inaugural event at the Coca-Cola plant on Highway 80. Figment began in July 2007 on Governors Island in New York Harbor with over 2,600 participants. This year, with nine locations nationwide, Midtown rejoins the ranks with a core group of willing volunteers centered around the idea that everything – and anything – can be art.
Producing the festival for a second year is Whitney Grant, a 28 year old architecture school grad who is now the Creative Economies Coordinator for Midtown Partners in a position funded through the Kresge Foundation. We met her at 126 Keener Avenue, a building that will soon be bustling with up-and-coming creatives, part of a co-op of sorts and part of the rebuilding of a neighborhood. This weekend, it will serve as an anchor for over 40 participatory projects and a blank canvas for those willing to show up and create.
The logistics of an event like Figment are Grant’s forte. From permits to web updates, she makes it happen. And on the day of the event, who knows what will happen, creatively speaking at least. “Figment is kind of a surprise for me, too,” Grant says. “I show up and think, “Oh? That awesome thing is happening? Great!”
Grant joins a core group of about 15 including co-producer Melvin Priester; Daniel Johnson, who is the curatorial lead; Samantha Ledbetter; and Jamie and Julia Weems, musical coordinators and performers. Others, like Fondrenites Rachel and Chris Myers, have been helpful in planing throughout the whole process and bring their own creativity to the weekend. Rachel will host an Eruv, a project rooted in Jewish heritage, a symbolic demarcation of the area, one that communities come together to create. Lining the Figment perimeter with string, Rachel will man stations featuring the eleven principles of Figment.
Grant says the idea is simple: “We treat everyone like an artist.” She says relationships are formed over the weekend as people from various backgrounds bring their common interests to the Figment table. “It’s amazing how it’s taken hold as something creatively substantial,” Grants says. “We start with an October meeting at Sneaky Beans every year, and then, who knows where it could lead.”
Figment doesn’t take corporate sponsorships so Grant says fundraising is tricky, yet can be clever. Fondrenites Ian Hanson, Leslie Galloway and Garrad and Catherine Lee recently hosted ‘Up For Crabs,’ a backyard crab boil that raised almost $350. It’s a great testament to how friends pull together for the event,” Grant says. Hanson also donated his time as designer of the Figment Jackson poster and made connections with a band out of Chicago, Scuttlebugs, for the Figment after party. Cody Cox will also perform along with a host of other musical acts Saturday night.
Fondrenites Frank Henn and Liz Nosen have been fixtures on the Figment scene. As co-director of SkateMS, Henn brought skate boarding to Figment in its first year and Nosen brings bike polo and her Thunderdome to the 2013 event. Henn’s involvement has morphed into the planned future construction of a skate park at Benjamin Brown Park in Midtown. Other Fondren residents like Pearl River Glass Company owner Andy Young, are stepping up. Young is giving free reign of his Midtown space for the weekend. Wade Thompson poured concrete for Nosen’s Thunderdome and Scott Allen, who offered a live mural demo last year, will print banners and signs for this year.
Figment, then, is tied into the whole selling of the story that the creative economy is growing. From an Our Town grant through the National Endowment For The Arts, funding from Kresge and The Greater Jackson Arts Council, Grant says it’s proof that something big is happening in Midtown. “It’s substantial,” she explains. “It’s no longer just a bunch of crazy artists (doing something) on the weekend.”
Add to that a $7 million dollar Low Income Housing Tax Credit that will rehab 38 homes into affordable Midtown rentals. “It should be appealing to young people who are just getting going,” Grant explains. “I definitely think young artists should see this as an opportunity for a live/work space on an artist’s salary.” Construction on the LIHTC project is slated to begin May 30.
Further proof can be found in the work of Millsaps College through their One Campus One Community (1C1C) program, a long-term, mutually beneficial partnership between the college and their off-campus neighbors. “They have become really involved and I believe that will be huge,” Grant says, calling Millsaps a bridge between Midtown and Fondren. “I’m excited at where I have seen this go.”
Even though the Millsaps Arts District and Midtown have been around since the 70’s, it seems to be rapidly expanding in an organic way. Grant says it’s to the point where there’s no warehouse space left. “I’m fighting people off,” she explains. And that’s a good problem to have. “We’ve done a lot of exciting things in a few months.”
The weekend points to a bigger picture that others may not see, but Grant is confident this is heart of a new Jackson. “When I give tours to people from out of town, I bring them to Midtown and then to Fondren,” she explains. As planning wraps on Figment and the weekend comes into play, Grant is proud of her friends and neighbors and what people accomplish when they work together. “Fondrenites and Midtowners are an amazingly talented team. We’re imperative for each other.”
Figment Jackson is Saturday May 18 from noon to 6pm and Sunday, 11am to 6pm. The event area stretches along Wilson Street from McTyre (at the 121 Millsaps building) to 126 Keener Avenue. A 21 and up after party will be held Saturday night at 6pm. All events are BYOB and free. Nothing will be bought or sold and, as a core principle of Figment, you are asked to “leave no trace.” Park at NUTS. Official volunteers get food, drink and free tee.