If Washington and Lee alumnus Charlie Santo has his way, the area in Memphis known as Soulsville is going to be revitalized through an unusual program called the Memphis Music Magnet. Santo, a 1996 W&L graduate, is currently an assistant professor of City and Regional Planning in the School of Urban Affairs & Public Policy at the University of Memphis. Prior to joining the Memphis faculty, he was a principal planner for housing and neighborhood preservation with the City of Richmond.
According to an article in the University of Memphis newsletter Update, Santo and his graduate students conceived the project that aims to attract and support musicians and the music industry in Memphis through homeownership and housing programs, and “the development of neighborhood-based amenities with the goal of turning abandoned buildings into neighborhood assets and fostering neighborhood rebirth. Amenities will include shared rehearsal space, a health center, equipment rental and a recording studio.”
Soulsville is a neighborhood in South Memphis, where Stax Records was located and where many well-known music legends got their start. The roster of luminaries included Isaac Hayes, Aretha Franklin, Booker T. Jones (Booker T. & the MGs), Memphis Slim, and Al Green, among many others.
Santo says that the Memphis Music Magnet will emphasize “retaining talent and growing talent, as well as attracting talent from the outside,” Santo said. “We focused on music because the music industry in Memphis is not what it once was. We have a lot of talent in Memphis. And people recognize it as an asset.” An article about the project in the Tri-State Defender noted that it is modeled after an arts-based neighborhood revitalization program in Paducah, Ky., called The Artist Relocation Program, and a Chattanooga, Tenn., program called ArtsMove.
“We’re putting a local spin on revitalization and tying it into the city’s heritage with specific focus on creating neighborhood-level change by attracting and supporting musicians and the music industry in Memphis,” said in the Defender piece. “We want to build on our existing assets and not try to create a new image from scratch.”