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Overton Park Going Heavy Metal

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The next few years could see some big changes in Memphis's artistic landscape. The Brooks Museum plans to leave Overton Park after more than a century.

But the void will soon be filled by the National Ornamental Metal Museum, which has been located south of Downtown on the Mississippi River since 1979.

This week it signed a lease on Rust Hall, the 80,000 square foot building formerly occupied by the Memphis College of Art.

The Metal Museum's director, Carissa Hussong, spoke with WKNO about the move.

Christopher Blank: This was formerly a college campus. And I remember there were classrooms and offices. What makes it a good fit for the Metal Museum?

Carissa Hussong: Really the building is incredibly versatile. Structurally, for anyone who's been in the building, it's basically held up with columns, and so we can open up the spaces. It's perfect for showcasing fine metalwork. And so I think the building just really was a perfect fit.

Blank: Renovation of Rust Hall is gonna cost something like $35 million and then, of course, there's the maintenance. It seems like the Metal Museum isn't just getting a new building, it's really scaling up as an organization. Why did you think this was the time to go big?

Hussong: We have completely outgrown the space that we're in and there is so much more we would love to do and so much more our supporters would love to see us do. We went through a process of looking at what we could do at the existing location and it really would have completely changed the feel of that campus, and I think in a detrimental way. The other issue was that it's just hard to get to the museum and we want to be more accessible. We want people to be able to get to us by bike, on foot, with public transportation. And that's really impossible where we are now. And so by coming to this new location will really be able to serve much greater part of the population, be able to provide different types of programming and really expand everything we're doing. And so it's really exciting to be thinking about all the things we can introduce to the Memphis Community the Partnerships we can provide in a larger facility.

Blank: For the uninitiated, and I think I might be one of them where does an appreciation for artistic metalworking begin. Where do you start?

It starts from a lot of different places. I mean, I think that you don't realize how much metal is a part of our life. I'm wearing rings and earrings and a necklace. So appreciation can start with just body adornment. Appreciation can be the chair that you're sitting in and the bench that you're sitting on. It can be a piece of sculpture.

I think that what the metal Museum offers is sort of that pathway to really understanding how an object is created — what those techniques are, what really goes into making that beautiful object that you see. You understand the skill and the craft that goes into making that object. And I think that's really what the museum has to offer. You can see the beautiful work displayed in the galleries, but then you can also go out into the shop and watch somebody making it. Or you can go into a classroom and actually make it yourself.

And I think that's really what makes the Metal Museum so special. You really get kind of that full experience and appreciation.

Reporting from the gates of Graceland to the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, Christopher's favorite haunt is the intersection of history and cultural change. He is WKNO's News Director and Senior Producer at the University of Memphis' Institute for Public Service Reporting. Join his conversations about the Memphis arts scene on the WKNO Culture Desk Facebook page.