who we are
staff & board
Meet the staff and board of UAC.
Meet the staff and board of UAC.
Lauren Kennedy has been working at the Urban Art Commission (UAC) as Executive Director since January 2015. Kennedy brings to the organization extensive project and event management experience and a sincere enthusiasm for contemporary art. In this role, she has been invited to speak at WESTAF's Future History of Public Art Symposium in Honolulu, Hawai'i, ArtBAB (Art Bahrain Across Borders) in Manama, Bahrain, and UNFOLD in Dubai, UAE about public art processes and the current state of public art in America.
She was previously the Partnership Manager for Ballet Memphis, where she focused on collaborative projects and opportunities with creative individuals and other organizations around Memphis. Prior to Ballet Memphis, Kennedy was the Program Manager for the Dallas Art Fair, overseeing the various logistics of the three-day, contemporary art fair. Kennedy was also the founder and director of Southfork - Memphis, an alternative space for art and conversation from 2015 - 2017. She was a Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts Fellow at Rhodes College where she received a Bachelor's of Art in Art History in 2008. Kennedy was named one of Memphis' 20<30 by the Memphis Flyer in 2014 for her contributions to the local creative community and a 2016 Young Cultural Innovators Fellow with Salzburg Global Seminar.
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Emily Rooker joined the UrbanArt Commission team in April 2017 as a Project Manager. Emily is a Michigan native who migrated to Memphis in August 2015.
Prior to joining the UAC team, Emily worked in economic development in Detroit, and in entrepreneurship and coworking space management in Memphis. In 2016, she helped create and launch The Lapel Project, a community for professional women, in partnership with Geeked Memphis and EPIcenter. Emily has a lifelong love for the arts, and studied Songwriting and Vocal Performance at Berklee College of Music. In her free time, she is an active musician with her band Name & the Nouns and freelance contributor to High Ground News.
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Kerri Malone joined the UrbanArt Commission in October 2017 as a Project Manager. Kerri is originally from Illinois and migrated to Memphis in the summer of 2017. Prior to joining UAC, Kerri was a Program Officer for the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation in Chicago, where she oversaw the foundation's Arts Learning grantmaking. Prior to this, she received a Master's degree from the University of Chicago, where she studied cultural policy and completed research with the Smithsonian Institution. Kerri has also worked as a Coordinator of the Art Showcase for the City of Elgin in Illinois. In this role, she administered the City’s cultural arts grants and organized cultural events in collaboration with local artists. Kerri also has a Bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she studied Urban and Regional Planning. She has always been an advocate for the arts and has held volunteer positions with several arts organizations in Illinois.
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The UrbanArt Commission is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Its Board of Directors sets its operating policies, organization by-laws, guides private fundraising efforts, and determines the annual operating budget. Furthermore, it serves as the primary body for determining how best to fulfill the organization's mission of enhancing the cultural vibrancy of communities through the development of public art.
Lee West Morris, Dr. Russ Wigginton, Ed Wallis III (Chair), Harley Steffens (Treasurer), Joel Halpern, Andrew Phillips, Tonya Meeks, Desiree Lyles Wallace (Secretary), Kojo McLennon (Vice Chair), Mary Haizlip, Rachel Knox, Chantal Drake, Natalie Chamoun, Amelia Thompson and Joel Parsons
Lee West Morris was born in Washington DC, but grew up in Memphis, TN. Her parents are native Memphians: Dr. William Hoath West, founder of West Clinic, and Carole Wilson West, daughter of Kemmons and Dorothy Wilson. Lee graduated from Hutchison High School and earned her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Auburn University. She is married to Samuel Eliot Morris and they have five children. Lee was a stay-at-home mom until 2008 when she and her family moved back to Memphis and she began working part-time for her family’s foundation. She is the Director of Programs and Communication for her family’s foundation, The Kemmons Wilson Family Foundation. The Foundation serves about 140 non-profits a year. The majority are Memphis area organizations with a mission towards community, education, health/research, faith, and youth. Past grant recipients include the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, Baptist Hospital’s Hospice House and Good Grief Center, The Memphis Zoo, and Memphis City School’s TEI project, also supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In addition to serving on the UrbanArt Commission’s board of directors, Lee serves as a trustee for The Brooks Art Museum.
Dr. Russ Wigginton is Vice President for the Office of External Programs at Rhodes College. In this role, Dr. Wigginton oversees college grants, foundations and government relations, career services, fellowships and continuing education. Previously he was a professor in the History department at Rhodes from 1996-2004, specializing in African-American and community history. Dr. Wigginton earned his bachelor’s degree in History from Rhodes College, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2006 Dr. Wigginton published a book entitled, “The Strange Career of the Black Athlete: African-Americans and Sports” with Greenwood Press. He has also published articles and essays on African-American social history. Dr. Wigginton’s civic involvement includes Big Brothers Big Sisters, Memphis Zoological Society, KIPP Academy and Memphis Prep Program. Besides serving on the UrbanArt Commisson’s Board of Director, he also serves on the board for Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Memphis and the National Civil Rights Museum. He was formerly on the board of Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association, Memphis Literacy Council, St. Georges′ Day Schools and Buckman Boys and Girls Club.
Ed Wallis III practices exclusively in civil trial litigation as a Partner with the firm of Glassman, Wyatt, Tuttle & Cox P.C. in Memphis where he represents both individual and corporate clients in a number of litigation practice areas, including professional negligence, construction litigation, products liability, business litigation, probate and trust litigation and more. Mr. Wallis is licensed in Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky and has appeared on behalf of clients in the courts of 13 separate states from California to Massachusetts. Mr. Wallis obtained the AV Preeminent Rating from Martindale-Hubbell, an acknowledgment by other attorneys that he possesses the highest level of professional excellence. He has likewise been voted as a Mid-South Super Lawyer since 2012. Prior to entering private practice, Mr. Wallis clerked for the Hon. S. Thomas Anderson, currently a United States District Judge in the Western District of Tennessee. He earned his B.S. degree from the University of Tennessee and his J.D. degree from the University of Richmond T.C. Williams School of Law.
Harley Steffens understands the need to negotiate and advise, and he does so regularly for his clients with regard to office, industrial, and retail leasing, as well as acquisition and disposition of real property. His practice, though focused in real estate, has included general corporate transactions, health care, and securities matters. Harley represents commercial real estate developers, public and private corporations, investment companies, family offices, and lending institutions including state and national banks and insurance companies. Development clients include local, regional, and national developers, as well as landlord and tenants in retail, industrial, and office leases. A transactional lawyer, Harley is licensed in Tennessee and Mississippi, and his areas of practice include commercial real estate development and general corporate representation among others. He is a member of the Tennessee, Mississippi, and the Memphis Bar Associations. Harley is a graduate of the University of Georgia and the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, where he was an editor for the Law Review. Harley serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Mid-South Food Bank. Other civic involvement includes St. Johns Church, ArtsMemphis / Conservation Through Art, Ducks Unlimited, and Delta Waterfowl.
Joel Halpern is a native Memphian who has lived in New York, Paris and the South of France. he earned his BFA from Memphis College of Art with 2 years spent at L’cole Des Beaux Arts in Paris and The Marchutz School in Aix. He moved the New York after graduating and worked in music marketing and real estate before moving to Connecticut to work with a qualitative and quantitative research company focused on family insights. After the birth of his son, he and his wife moved home to Memphis in 2009. He worked as Creative Director for three television stations until 2012 when he founded an award winning branding, advertising and PR agency, Loaded For Bear.
Tonya Meeks is a native Memphian and life-long writer. She graduated from Northwestern University, earning a B.A. in English Literature. She is currently the chief operations officer for Freedom Prep Charter Schools. Tonya was most recently an independent writer and consultant for nonprofits and local government - specializing in grant writing, general fund development and overall strategic planning. She previously filled the development manager post for Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, where she oversaw the annual fund, major gifts, correspondence for the capital campaign, general donor relations, grant solicitations and management, and event sponsorships. Her past professional positions include: communications specialist for the Office of Mayor A C Wharton, Jr., special assistant to former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. and senior corporate paralegal in the International Division for Thomas and Betts Corporation. Tonya has served as a member of the Shelby County Conservation, Greening Greater Memphis and the Sustainable Shelby Advisory boards. She was also the non-technical lead for the Memphis Chapter of the San Francisco-based nonprofit, Black Girls CODE.
Kojo McLennon is a Portfolio Manager at Gerber Taylor, a Memphis-based diversified investment manager specializing in alternative asset management for high net worth individuals, families, endowments, and foundations. Mr. McLennon joined Gerber Taylor in 2008 and is responsible for managing the firm's private equity and real estate portfolios. He earned his bachelor's degree in Finance from the University of Dayton, and his MBA from Wake Forest University. Mr. McLennon currently serves on the boards of Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association and Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and is past board Chairman of Freedom Preparatory Academy charter school.
Desiree Lyles Wallace is a native Memphian. She currently works as an HR Professional in the Greater Memphis Area. Prior to her work in human resources, she was an educator in what was then Memphis City Schools. Desiree earned her bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies for Professional Education (Elementary Education) from Christian Brothers University and her MBA from American Intercontinental University. She also holds both the PHR and HR-CP certifications. In addition to serving on the Urban Art Commission’s Board of Directors, Desiree also serves on the boards of Porter Goodwill Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Memphis (past chair) and Freedom Prep Charter Schools. Desiree, her husband (Ezell), and their Yorkshire Terrier (Collins) reside in the Greater Memphis area.
Andrew Phillips is Senior Vice President of investment and retail services with Colliers International | Memphis and has more than 15 years of experience in the commercial real estate industry. Andrew specializes in assisting and advising private and institutional clients with the leasing and disposition of retail, office, and industrial properties in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi. In addition, Andrew manages the Colliers Asset Resolution Team (CART) for the Memphis Region, providing comprehensive representation for special servicers and lending institutions on distressed and non-performing assets in the Mid-South.
Prior to joining Colliers International | Memphis, Andrew was responsible for opening a Memphis branch for Lehman Brothers, FSB in the small business finance division. As vice president and manager of the local office, he focused on business development and commercial real estate lending for both owner-occupied and investment properties throughout the Southeast. He began his career in commercial real estate working in the Memphis office of NAI. Andrew holds the SIOR and CCIM designation and is licensed in Tennessee and Mississippi. Andrew is the past president of the Phoenix Club of Memphis and a current member of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Memphis Central Board. Andrew and his wife, Maggie, have three children, Virginia, Andrew and Louise.
Rachel Knox works as the Thriving Arts and Culture Program Officer for Hyde Family Foundation. Previously, she worked for Innovate Memphis as a Program Associate working on Blight Mitigation and Remediation and Downtown Solid Waste Diversion. She also worked at the Orpheum Theatre as the Manager of Teacher Professional Development and Community Partnerships.
Rachel graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Theatre from the University of Memphis with a concentration in Costume Design and Technology and is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Policy and Administration from American University. In 2016, Rachel was nominated as one of the Memphis Flyer’s 20 Under 30 and received the Salzburg Global Seminar Fellowship for Young Cultural Innovators in the Arts. She sits on the boards of Voices of the South Theatre Company and Our Fallen Heroes Foundation. Rachel also serves on the NAACP Health Committee, the Mayor’s Riverfront Development Taskforce, and the Memphis 3.0 Design, Art and Preservation committee.
Mary Haizlip is an architect and principal of Haizlip Studio, one of the top design firms of museums and discovery centers dedicated to the education of children and families. She is a native Memphian and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Engineering Technology from The UoM. Mary parlayed her considerable talents in math, science, and design into management expertise and inspired art direction for complex architecture and exhibit design projects. After graduating from Leadership Memphis in 2009, Mary broadened her professional interest in educating children into a volunteer interest in improving the lives of children in danger. She became actively involved with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), an organization that trains and supports community volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children in the Juvenile Court system and served as a CASA board member. Mary also serves as a volunteer Ambassador for the Memphis Child Advocacy Center, helping promote public awareness and Stewards of Children training which works to prevent child sexual abuse. She served on the Board of Directors for the Memphis and West TN chapter of American Institute of Architects (AIA) since 2011 and in 2015 led the organization as President. She is currently a board member of the TN state chapter of the AIA. In 2012, Mary developed and organized the Architect’s Bike Tour to promote community wellness through art and architecture. Alongside fellow board member, Kerry Hayes, Mary was a part of the Bosco’s Cycling Team, raising funds for the National MS Society. She is also a member of the Marx-Bensdorf competitive cycling team. She and her husband, Reb, live in midtown Memphis.
Chantal Drake manages branding and marketing strategies for the Dixon Gallery and Gardens as the Director of Communications. Prior to her current role she worked as Communications Associate for the Dixon, an Adjunct Professor at the Memphis College of Art, and as gallery manager for a commercial art gallery in New Orleans, LA. Chantal received her B.A. in Art History from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She earned her M.A. in Art History and a Museum Studies Certificate from the University of Memphis. Chantal is a member of the National Arts Marketing Project Conference Committee, and was previously on the Emmett O'Ryan Award for Artistic Inspiration Nominating Committee and Association of African-American Art Museums Conference planning committee. She is the Community of Practice Accessibility Coordinator for Museums and the Web and is active on the St Georges Independent School Parent Association Board.
Natalie Chamoun is a Trust Officer at First Tennessee Bank. She is a native Memphian, and earned her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from The University of Mississippi. She has been in the finance industry for over 8 years and joined the First Tennessee Trust Department in 2013. Natalie holds the Certified Trust and Financial Advisor designation, and is responsible for administering and managing trust accounts. She is a member of the Institute of Certified Bankers and very active in the community.
Amelia Thompson joined Ballet Memphis in 2017 as the associate director of development after serving as assistant director of annual giving at Rhodes College in Memphis as well as at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. She spent three years in the buying office at Macy’s, working out of the retail brand's iconic Herald Square hub in New York City, where she gained experience in corporate merchandising, marketing and financial planning. Amelia manages the annual fund for Ballet Memphis as well as helps with major gifts. She is a graduate of White Station High School in Memphis and is an active alumna of The University of Notre Dame. Amelia is a volunteer at Girls Inc. of Memphis and is a former member of the Black Alumni of Notre Dame's board of directors.
Joel Parsons is an artist, curator, and teacher based in Memphis, where he is an Assistant Professor of Art and Director of Clough-Hanson Gallery at Rhodes College. His artistic practice centers queer intimacy, and has been shown at Yale University’s Greene Gallery; Western Exhibitions in Chicago, IL; and the Yerba Buena Art Center Triennial in San Francisco, CA. He is the co-founder of Beige, an alternative gallery and performance space devoted to the work of queer artists and a founding member and current co-chair of the ArtsMemphis Artist Advisory Council. His country music performance art band, The Dixie Dicks, recently released their first album, VERS. His curatorial practice is often collaborative and driven by a desire to bring institutional resources to bear on conversations of equity and marginality. Recent projects include The Weight of Hope, No Fate But What You Make: Art and Queer Spirituality, Faith Wilding: Fearful Symmetries, and Rashayla Marie Brown: Supreme Being. As a Thomas J Watson Fellow he spent a year studying relational aesthetics in emerging contemporary art centers. He received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
UrbanArt's development would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of its Board supporters throughout its history. The following individuals have been instrumental to fulfilling UrbanArt's mission.
Marina Pacini, Robert Fogelman, Charles Shipp, Kristin Newman, Kevin Sharp, Amanda Goetze, Jim Lenschau, Kim Williams, Mary Jane Fuller, Jason Yarboro, Jeff Hudson, Krystal Johnson, Susan Adler-Thorpe, Kathy Albers, Barbara Andrews, Regena Bearden, Jack Belz, Patricia Bladon, Earl Blankenship, Rusty Bloodworth, Kirkpatrick Bobo, Doug Carpenter, Coleman Coker, Carol Coletta, Shannon Dixon, Phil Dotson, Hallie Elliot, Jay Etkin, Barbara Feibelman, Mott Ford, Michelle Fowlkes, Diane Goldstein, Leslie Gower, Cynthia Ham, Nicole Haney, Iris Harkavy, Sutton Mora Hayes, Will Hergenrader, Ethele Hilliard, Carey Hoffman, George Hunt, Kristi Jernigan, Chris Jones, Tom Jones, Dan Keel, Anne Keesee, John Kelley, Angie King, Brian Kuhn, Lisa Kurts, Scott Ledbetter, Baylor Ledbetter-Stovall, Mary Lowery, Leslie Leubbers, Jim Lutz, Jermoe Makowsky, Susan Mallory, Rick Masson, David McCarthy, Janie McCrary, Anne McGrew, Bryan Miller, Brenda Morris Partee, Dexter Muller, Greely Myatt, Jeffery Nesin, Alan New, Jackie Nichols, Robert Norcross, Chip Pankey, Beverly Perkins, Ken Plunk, Ray Pohlman, Biggs Powell, Linda Rendtorff, Frank Ricks, Diane Rudner, Nichole Saulsberry-Scarboro, Leslie Saunders, Ray Schultz, Peggy Seessel, Narquenta Sims, Ritchie Smith, Gregory Smithers, Ed Stanton, Melissa Taylor, Michael Thompson, Caroll Todd, Bob Towery, Ephraim Urevbu, Lisa Vasser, Jim Wallace, Robert Werle, Rosalyn Willis, and Luke Yancy.
UrbanArt's Advisory Council provides expertise and insight in areas relevant to the development of the organization and its efforts in the fields of public art education, non-profit fundraising, private development, and community projects.
Advisory Council members: Jen Andrews, Sandra Burke, Darrell Cobbins, Shannon Dixon, Mott Ford, Katherine Gore, Jerome Makowsky, Nichole Saulsberry-Scarboro, Marc Willis, and Dr. Cathy Wilson.