Project Overview

Hickory Hill Gateway Sculpture | Blight Out

Artist: tobacco brown

Most recent benchmark/update: Schematic design approved. Initial fabrication is underway.

Upcoming benchmark/update: Awaiting completion of fabrication and installation.


Blight-Out is an UrbanArt Commission program supported by City of Memphis’ Percent-for-art funds that invites artists to help fight blight in neighborhoods throughout Memphis. This program applies a collaborative, innovative approach to tackling the complex and widespread issue of blight. Local artists are paired with neighborhood-based organizations and partners to develop project ideas from a series of resident-driven conversations. This process is facilitated through a series of UAC-led workshops in which neighborhood stakeholders share the history of the neighborhood, discuss needs and assets, and reimagine blighted properties and forgotten spaces. Selected artists participate in these workshops so that conversations and feedback from residents inform the development of project ideas. Relevant training and resources are provided to artists throughout each stage of the community engagement, project design, and implementation process.

Project Description

tobacco brown’s sculpture Healing Tree seeks to remediate the Hickory Hill neighborhood by erecting a metal and botanical replica of a baobab tree on a grassy patch of City of Memphis land on Lichterman Street. The sculpture will be a temporary installation created from steel rebar, covered in Carolina Jasmine branches with bright yellow flowers. The sculpture will be anchored and welded into a concrete plinth with a core shrub planted at it center. tobacco encourages the public to envision themselves being part of a greater community, made of people who are as passionate about healing as she is. In these challenging times it is vital for communities to work together to critically examine places of shared trauma and transform them into spaces for shared healing.

About the Artist


tobacco brown is based in Memphis and New York City and travels between artist residencies, fellowships, workshops, conferences, and communities with shared philosophies. She is a TED speaker, Art21 Educator, and environmental activist. tobacco brown creates works with professional artist paints, natural materials, wood, paper, metal and industrial by-products. In relationship to her social practice projects, civic engagement platforms, and collaborations, we see how the journey of experimentation, small and great triumphs, creates space for new excavations and insights. By inviting local communities to participate in a shared environmental art that combines nature, installation art, written content, and oral history, her art form creates spaces for collaboration, creative problem solving where innovation is born.

In Summer 2019, Tobacco completed a scholarship at the Art21 Summer Institute at Columbia University Teachers College in New York City. She is booked this Fall on Story Corps, New York City documenting new content that chronicles how urban communities heal one another within their collective ecosystems. She is collaborating with the FLOW MUSEUM and Jay Etkin Gallery in the 2019 ArtSpace Immersion Program, from Minneapolis, MN, which is funded by a grant from the Kresge and Mellon Foundations. 

Brown's work for the Urban Arts Commission includes the Douglass High School Archival Art Series, illuminated historic photographs in the auditorium and gymnasium lobby, and the Garden Mural, nontraditional porcelain tiles digital photographic images of the historic neighborhood within the garden for the main entrance.