Memphis Citizens Call for End to New Art Museum

Memphis Citizens Call for End to New Art Museum, Claiming That It Takes Land Away from Property Owners On the Riverfront Land.

Sep 23, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Memphis Citizens
The Brooks Museum of Art. Via Anthony Cooley.


Memphis citizens are leading a legal battle against its city. Overall, the question in focus is wether Tennessee has a permission to construct a new museum on a sliver of riverside property. A sliver of riverside, or otherwise the promenade, could end soon. What’s going to happen next? Will the citizens be able to save its natural goods and habitat through the legal battle?


The Town Manages, but Memphis Citizens Own it

Memphis Citizens
The Brooks Museum of Art’s new campus on the promenade. COURTESY HERZOG & DE MEURON


The Friends for Our Riverfront organizatio and Memphis citizens together organized a legal fight against the city of Tennessee. In a formal papers alluded they are “the heirs” of the city and that they descend from Tennessee’s founders. They want to stop the construction of the Brooks Museum of Art. They contend that even though the town manages the> waterfront, Memphis’s residents own it.


The descendants claim that constructing there goes against the Memphians’ ownership privileges. A page titled “Legal Issues” on the Friends for Our Riverfront website says: “When the owners of the land where Memphis now sits laid out tracts to be sold for homes and businesses, they set aside the land along the riverfront as a public common space for all to use and enjoy”.


late period egypt antelope head
Antelope Head, Dynasty 27, 525-404 BCE, from Memphis, via the Met Museum, New York


It compares the promenade’s construction to the town’s administration grabbing property through the act of eminent domain. The group brought a claim in the Shelby County Chancery Court in August. They filled a lawsuit against the town and the museum. Three injunctions—a permanent one, an interim one, and a restraining order—are part of the case.

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The Museum Did Not Respond

egyptian goddess amunet mother father
Colossus of Amunet at the Karnak Temple in Luxor, via Wikimedia Commons; with Rameses II being led by Monthu and Atum into the presence of Amunet, in a scene at Hypostyle Hall, via The University of Memphis


A “dilapidated fire station” and a parking structure once stood on the property. Both were demolished in June after the city launched construction on the upcoming 122,000-square-foot institution. Those constructions allegedly broke the easement as well, and Friends for Our Riverfront says that their destruction “created the first opportunity in over 70 years for the Heirs to legally enforce the easement without causing the removal of structures”.


Requests for feedback from the museum’s representative went unanswered. Advocates of the concept compare the museum, which will contain open areas, to a communal playground. Memphis Brooks Museum of Art’s executive director Zoe Kahr called the project “a transformative moment, not only for the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, but for all of Memphis” that would “redefine the visual arts in the Mid-South for generations”.


ramses ii monthu atum amunet hypostyle hall karnak
Rameses II being led by Monthu and Atum into the presence of Amunet, in a scene at Hypostyle Hall, via University of Memphis


Jim Strickland, the mayor of the city, described the planned institution as a “tourist magnet” and likened it to Crystal Bridges, an American art museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, which welcomed over 350,000 visitors in 2020. Shelby County Chancellor Melanie Taylor Jefferson, who, according to Commercial Appeal, has not said when she will reach her final ruling, will decide whether construction will proceed.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.