“The MAP” is here. Here’s How It Came Together


By Mark Fleischer

“Maps are kinda our thing.”

I found myself saying this last week, talking about how StoryBoard came into being, where we are going, and how we continually capture Memphis as a truly unique, authentic place. When we approached our one-year anniversary in print, we thought what better way to honor the inspiration that is Memphis with a map that attempts to further capture some of the elements that we love about this special place.

(Get a full look at the map at the end of this story)

Memphis is a vast cityscape of over 300 square miles, so we had to start somewhere. And since Midtown was largely responsible for giving us the support we needed in our start (almost three years ago! in pre-print digital form), we knew that a tribute to Midtown was a must-do.

PRESENTED BY! The Midtown Map would not have been possible without the support of all of our neighborhoods sponsors and supporting businesses, and of course these presenting sponsors: Captain & Co Real Estate; Levitt Shell; Loeb Properties; Mail Center; Memphis Tourism & Travel; The Memphis Zoo; Molly’s La Casita; Schwartz Electric.

. . . . .

But, who would create it? Did we know any Midtown artists who might like to work on such a thing?

Wait… Did we actually combine the words “Midtown” and “artists” as a question? We did, and we immediately had one of those “duh” moments. Right away we looked due north of our small office on Cooper Street at the one and only and soon-to-be-closing Memphis College of Art. Surely MCA would be able to help us with finding artists interested in creating a new Midtown icon! After all, we’ve been helping to honor MCA’s lasting legacy throughout the year with in-print profiles of some of the young artists who have been completing out their programs in this final school year.

Enter Olivia Wall.

Olivia is MCA’s Coordinator of External Engagement. She is one of those humble servants who despite her title prefers to stay behind the scenes, to let the artists’ works speak for themselves, to be the one who helps set the stage but who lets the players play their parts and soak up the audience applause.

Late this summer, Olivia stepped in as map project manager and assembled a small team of artists to work on key elements of the map: MCA registrar and artist Emily Martinez in the lead role and as key assembler and color artist; Laura Lester for the map’s important Midtown structures; T’Merius Bell for props; Cambria Howard for lettering and additional props; Grace Siler for people.

For final touches, StoryBoard furnished the historical and points-of-interest elements of the map, as well as the placement and labeling of Midtown businesses and organizations. But without Olivia Wall’s coordinating efforts at assembling this wonderful little team of artists, this map would not have happened.

Together we have created something that we feel is pretty special. Something that feels authentically Midtown, that can be enjoyed by all ages, that entertains as well as informs. Here are some of the key elements we considered in creating this map.

The map can be yours – and can be personalized! – by exploring your options here.

A Balance of Whimsy and Accuracy

Maps of this sort must be fun, and a feast for the eyes. This requires a little bit of whimsy to go along with a slight exaggeration of scale. In other words, structures and trees and people had to be drawn a little larger than their actual real-world counterparts to be recognizable on the map. However, in interest of accuracy they could not be drawn too large to throw off the balance and essence of the map. This was an interesting balancing act for the artists: to allow their artistry to flow but within a gray area of scalable framework in a commercial/artistic venture and that met both the whimsical and accurate needs of a map, and that met the promises to all of our map sponsors.

The Flavors of Midtown

Midtown would not be Midtown without key details familiar to Midtowners: trolley tracks along Madison and past Cleveland; the curved corners at Cooper & Madison and Cooper & Young; train trestles over McClean, Central, Cooper and others; the Cooper-Young trestle; the Greensward; Joe’s Sputnik; Broad Ave’s rainbow water tower; and course, today’s bird scooters scattered all over town.

The Structures of Midtown

The structures of Overton Square presented a particular challenge in a map of this scale.

When we approached Memphis College of Art, we knew that Midtown’s structures would require special attention and detailed touches. Laura Lester’s work here met those critical touches.

We also had to be somewhat selective in our choices. Our initial count of structures to be included was almost 50! For a map of this scale, 50 exaggerated-scale structures would have overcrowded the map, not allowing us to include the landmark names, information and history that would also be a source of entertainment and learning. So we narrowed it down to the most recognizable set of Midtown structures you see here, with a nod to one future structure that is sure to be an instant staple (The Memphian Hotel, opening in 2020).

The Map as Midtown History

The Fairgrounds alone presented us with plenty of historical elements.

Midtowners love their Midtown history – so does StoryBoard! – and no Midtown map would be complete without nods to its rich history and places long gone: legendary businesses on Union Avenue; iconic places lost to demolition or fire; markers for special bygone places on the Fairgrounds.

The Map Is Yours, Custom-Made

We received request after request about whether or not we’d be selling the map. Well, of course! We certainly would not spend this much time and energy on such a map and not make it available, and in various sizes. And this is truly exciting: with today’s technology in artistry, we can also offer custom versions of the map for those interested in seeing their actual house or small business on the map. See details in the link below for information on customization.

Finally, a map of this undertaking did not come cheaply, and we have our Presenting, Neighborhood and Logo sponsors to thank for their financial help in putting this map together. Further, portions of the map proceeds will go to the student artists who worked on the map. (Between Nov. 17 and Nov. 22 map proceeds will also go supporting Memphis College of Art)

The map can be yours – and can be personalized! – by exploring your options here.

All in all, we hope this map becomes something special Midtown can enjoy for generations. As founder and publisher of StoryBoard, it’s something I have personally wanted to take on for some time now. Like I said, maps are kinda our thing. <>

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.