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Two Memphis arts organizations receive $150,000 grants

The Blues City Cultural Center and Soulsville Foundation will use the money to further their programming.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A big check with relief funding is coming to two Memphis arts organizations.

The Blues City Cultural Arts Center and the Soulsville Foundation will both receive $150,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts and the organizations said the money couldn’t come at a better time.

The money is a portion of funds from the American Rescue Plan. 

The Blues City Cultural Arts Center has been in Memphis since 1979, originally founded by Levi and Deborah Frazier. Their daughter, Ayana Williams, took over as executive director two years ago and has been running the organization by herself.

She said it's been tough taking over the organization in the midst of a pandemic. The relief funds are timely.

"That was a lifesaver to me, for us," Williams said. "This was a huge win for me to say that, ‘yes, I can do this' and we’re going to keep moving forward and Blues City Cultural Center will go from surviving to thriving."

The center, which puts on productions, and the Soulsville Foundation that runs Soulsville Charter Academy and the Stax Museum will each receive the grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

As a “place-based business”, Soulsville CEO Richard Greenwald said they've had to navigate the pandemic without consistent visitors. They moved much of their programming from the museum and the Stax Music Academy virtual.

"Not being able to be in person for the first part of the pandemic was really painful for those who like to come to our campus," Greenwald said.

Soulsville will use their grant money for programming, facilities and marketing. 

They said the immediate impact will be seen in their February Black History Month programming from the music academy. Williams said she'll use hers for strategic planning, but both said their money will go towards jobs locally.

"It's not just the people who work at Soulsville that benefit from the work we do, but the economy around us and in our community and South Memphis in general benefit from us so a lot of people depend on us for jobs and income," Greenwald said.

"Instead of being a one woman show that’s trying to run this organization. I’m able to hire, even if it’s contracted, hire a few people to help us through this process and push the Blues City Cultural Center forward," Williams said.

Despite the past hurdles, they can’t help but be thankful to Memphis. Greenwald said Soulsville saw an increase in the number of donors this past year. The donation money equaled out to past year, but it felt good to know people were giving what they could.

"More people in Memphis gave what they could to us, whether it was 5, 10, 25, 50 dollars. It made a difference and we’re grateful," Greenwald said.

Memphis congressman Steve Cohen voted for the American Rescue Plan and was happy to see the organizations receive the grants. In a statement, he said: “I am pleased to announce these grant awards to the Soulsville Foundation and the Blues City Cultural Center. Stax Music Academy, one of the premier musical institutions, inspires our next generation with the legacy and skills of a Memphis music tradition, and the Blues City Cultural Center has been a jewel in the Memphis arts scene for more than four decades. We are sure to see the fruits of this investment.”

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