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Artist Sought for Civil Rights History Commemorative Artwork

Posted by UrbanArt Commission ; Posted on 
Public Art; Visual - DEADLINE :  
Artist Sought for Civil Rights History Commemorative Artwork



The UrbanArt Commission and the City of Memphis are commissioning a public art installation as part of a city-wide commemoration of the Memphis Sanitation Worker’s strike and the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The selected artist will work closely with a landscape architect in coordinating the design of the new I AM A MAN plaza with the art installation.

Budget: $700,000, as follows: Design $139,100; Fabrication $560,900, all-inclusive. Up to three finalists will receive a $1,500 honorarium for a design proposal.

Any artist currently living in the United States of America. No artist may receive more than two art enhancement commissions for Memphis in any five-year period. Artists are invited to apply as a team if desirable.

Site History
The City of Memphis will commemorate the enduring legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his death and the 1968 Sanitation Worker’s strike through the building of I AM A MAN Plaza and a dedicated art installation for the plaza. The City of Memphis hopes that the space will serve as a point of reflection and invite all people to a peaceful, interactive and educational experience that supports the advancement of equity, justice and positive social change.

The site for the plaza is adjacent to Clayborn Temple, a strategic center and place of refuge for the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Worker’s strike. The famous strike protested discrimination and unsafe working conditions that led to the death of two African American sanitation workers. The Sanitation Worker’s strike drew Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Memphis to help plan and lead marches and during which the iconic phrase “I AM A MAN” was initially coined. It was on this fateful visit that Dr. King was assassinated at the nearby Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968.

Fifty years later, protestors around the world – from Ferguson, Missouri to Cairo, Egypt- can be seen carrying “I AM A MAN” signs. The battle cry derived from the struggle for dignity and fair wages of 1300 men in Memphis has become the City’s defining human rights signature.

Artwork Location Description
Clayborn Temple is located in the center of the Memphis Heritage Trail development area in downtown Memphis at the intersection of Pontotoc and Hernando, near FedEx Forum and Robert R. Church Park. A vacant lot adjacent to the Temple will be the site of I AM A MAN Plaza.

The temple was built in 1892 for the Second Presbyterian Church. In 1949, it became the home of the African American Episcopal Church and named for the AME Bishop JM Clayborn. Vacant since 1999, a local nonprofit group began an effort to redevelop Clayborn Temple in the fall of 2015.

Artwork Details

The selection committee expresses an interest in a public art piece that will:

  • Acknowledge the historical significance of Memphis, the Memphis Sanitation Worker’s strike and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly involving the phrase “I Am A Man”.
  • Provide visitors with the ability to interact with the art through tactile or technological elements or other methods
  • Create an experience that residents and tourists will want to revisit
  • Create a space for peaceful protest and positive change
  • Inspire future generations to stand up for social justice and positive change

The artists or artists teams selected are expected to collaborate closely with site engineers, landscape architects, and any necessary party for the successful installation of the project, including the community. The finished project must require as minimal regular maintenance as possible. Final artwork should complement the characteristics and neighborhood identity of the site.

Selection Criteria

The commissioned artist will be selected based on previous experience with the design of exterior sculpture projects.  Applicants are expected to have the technical capabilities to design and install such projects, including providing maintenance instructions.

The UrbanArt Commission and the City of Memphis rigorously pursue excellence in equity and inclusion. To this end, applications from ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, and women are encouraged. As well, it is expected that the selected artist will work with minority and female artists, contractors, and/or subcontractors in the project development.

Selection Process
The art selection committee will select three finalists based on their applications; professional qualifications; ability to work within a budget, meet deadlines; and successful completion of previous public art projects. Each finalist will be asked to prepare a schematic design, followed by a presentation to the artist selection committee. Each finalist will receive a $1,500 honorarium for an original design developed specifically for the site.


  • RFQ released – February 1, 2017
  • RFQ deadline – March 16, 2017
  • Notify finalist artists and release RFP – March 25, 2017
  • RFP deadline – April 29, 2017
  • Commission artist – Late May 2017
  • Installation complete – March 31, 2018


How to Apply

Please review the UrbanArt Artist’s Handbook, for detailed instructions for applying to UrbanArt projects and how the selection process works. A copy may be downloaded from the ‘Artists’ Toolkit’ section of the UrbanArt website –

Please submit the following materials online by following the “I AM A MAN Plaza” link at

  1. Include a typed letter explaining your interest in the project and your general approach/concept to its design and production. Please do not submit design proposals at this point.
  2. Up to 20 images of past work including title of work, date, medium, budget and project partners, if any.
  3. Résumé, not to exceed 2 pages.
  4. Three professional references, including current phone and email.

Completed applicant’s materials should be uploaded via the UrbanArt website only. Hardcopy packets, digital files, and CD-ROMs WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED.

Additional Resources
Visit the UrbanArt Commission’s website and download the full RFQ (PDF file).

QUESTIONS?  Contact Lauren Kennedy, Executive Director, Urban Arts Commission, 901.552.3934 or