Section Title: Art Doesn't Happen Here

1:40 Desmond Lewis, "Grit and Grind: Memphis Bred Me"


As a twenty four year old African American sculptor, a year out of graduate school, establishing a studio and a studio practice dedicated to creating public art in mostly underserved and minority areas can be quite challenging. When I first started graduate school, I was heavily focused on the idea of creating large public sculptures that could be seen in high traffic areas around the country. Receiving my graduate education in Memphis, Tennessee, which remains as one of the most segregated cities in the United States, forced me to forefront of understanding the racial divide that exists within the public art world. It is while living here as a student that I became dedicated to making devalued communities visually more pleasant through low budget sculptures. This presentation will describe why I became dedicated to a city that is known for its “grit and grind” and how I became so committed to a very specific public art practice that helps many that face so many daily challenges.


Desmond Lewis, a sculptor, grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. Desmond is currently the Studio Technician for the Department of Art + Design at Austin Peay State University.  He received his Bachelor of Science from Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee and his Associate of Arts from Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He graduated in May 2017 with a Master in Fine Arts in Sculpture from The University of Memphis. At the University of Memphis, he was the recipient of the Graduate Purchase Award from the 34th Annual Student Exhibition at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis, while additionally being the recipient of the Tom Stevens Scholarship, Haystack School of Crafts’ Minority Scholarship, and the RiverArts Scholarship. He was also named one of the 100 Interesting and Influential People of Memphis.  Lewis’ work has been exhibited in Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, South Dakota, and Massachusetts. His public work can be found at Penland School of Crafts, Carolina Bronze Sculpture Park, the City of Lenoir, North Carolina, the City of Hickory, North Carolina, Vermont Carving and Sculpture Center, The University of Memphis, Soulsville USA (Memphis, TN), NexAir LLC, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and Orange Mound (Memphis, TN). His studio is based in Memphis, Tennessee.