MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - An old Memphis theater that was part of a famous federal pornography trial in the 1970s will be getting a makeover this weekend. And the group doing the work is also no stranger to upsetting government officials.
The Lamar Theater at 1716 Lamar Avenue was at the center of the Memphis Pornography Trial in 1975. It was targeted by the feds for showing the movie "Deep Throat." Paint Memphis was at the center of mural-gate a few years ago, vilified by city council members who called some of their artwork "satanic." So the irony cannot be missed now that the new owner of the Lamar Theater wants Paint Memphis to help turn it into a new venue.
Abandoned since 1979, the historic theater will come to life on Saturday, Oct. 5 during the 2019 Paint Memphis.
"We try to transform communities through murals," says Paint Memphis Director Karen B. Golightly, "so that anybody in any socioeconomic class in Memphis can have access to beautiful art without having to go to a museum or gallery where they might be intimidated."
This year’s Paint Memphis will transform both the inside and the outside of the theater, along with five nearby buildings. It’s the first time California artist Omar Martinez has participated in Paint Memphis, and it’s his first visit to the Bluff City.
"It's actually overwhelming, he tells WMC Action News 5, "in a good way, to hear that over 100-plus artists are going to be taking over this whole area."
About 150 artists will participate, using free supplies. Sherwin-Williams and Farrell Calhoun provide the paint and the brushes. The ladders and scaffolding are donated. Even the houses where the out of town artists stay are made available by generous Memphians who support this event.
"It's really a community involved," says Golightly, "that all these people in Memphis have come together in order to make this happen."
There are rules dictating what kind of murals the artists can paint. No nudity, profanity, gang images or guns are allowed. Zombies, say a few of the artists, are also a no-no this year.
Two years ago, an Elvis mural with a serpent coming out of his face, and a giant zombie, maggot-covered mural upset Memphis City Council members who ordered the murals be removed. But city crews painted over the wrong murals, and that upset the Paint Memphis artists who then sued the City of Memphis.
"We're doing a much better job," says Golightly, "of engaging with the community and getting their input."
David Lee Pritchard has lived near the Lamar Theater more than 50 years now. He says he welcomes the new artwork.
"I have no problem with it," he says, "makes the neighborhood look better."
It’s something Paint Memphis veteran Toonky Berry says he hears all the time.
“I have a lot of people come tell me about my murals,” he says, “and they say it makes them feel good on their way to work to see some color on the walls.”
Get ready for lots of color and camaraderie this weekend as Paint Memphis transforms another part of town.
"I hope you enjoy what we create," says Omar Martinez, "and that you take it all in."
Golightly says the artists’ lawsuit against the City of Memphis has been settled and that the artists are satisfied with the outcome. She says more details about the settlement will be released at a later date. This year’s Paint Memphis murals, like last year’s, are going up on private property. But Golightly doesn’t rule out working with the city again to brighten up blighted public property.
Paint Memphis is open and free to the public. It runs from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5.
For more information, log on to www.paintmemphis.org.