Brief History of Number: A Work in Progress
Number: began as one aspect of Robert McGowan’s efforts to revitalize downtown Memphis through the contemporary arts and artists of Memphis. His initial goals included an exhibition space known as Memphis Center for Contemporary Art (MCCA), an arts journal to provide intelligent critical commentary, and artist live-work spaces. In 1987, while running MCCA, McGowan began talking to artist Don Estes about his second goal of developing an arts journal that dealt with contemporary issues of Memphis artists. Don recommended Cory Dugan and in April these three men laid the foundation for what is now 35 years of visual arts coverage- from the Memphis region to the South.
The first issue of Number: was printed in July of 1987 with Dugan as the editor. From the first editorial in Number: One, Dugan made clear that Number: would “…serve to promote the work, the voice, and the interests of all art professionals and artists of merit in the Memphis area.” With a small group of dedicated artists, arts professionals, and the support of local businesses the regional voice of the visual arts began.
Over the years, Number: has changed considerably. Starting as a black and white publication, color was slowly integrated with the single addition of red in Number: 8, Summer 1989. With Number: 12, the publication was printed in full-color, with new editor Debra Gordon at the helm, and the first usage of the organizations stylized NO logo designed by L.D. Beghtol. Debra stayed with the organization until 2002. Leslie Luebbers took over with 43 and kept Number: going until 2008. Looking to expand our regional coverage, Dwayne Butcher stepped in as editor later that year and worked closely with writers throughout Tennessee until 2010. From the summer of 2010 to 2011, Number was left without an editor but continued to publish with the dedication of a small board. Chuck Beard joined the organization in the fall of 2011 and Number: once again had a consistent editor to guide the publication, followed in later years by Elizabeth Murphy, Sara Estes, and Mike Calway-Fagen.
In the pages of the archive, one can glimpse the vibrant but turbulent history of the visual arts in the region. Number: has captured the ebb and flow of this ever-changing community of arts. At times it has been the harsh voice of criticism and at other times the cutting edge of opportunity for artistic expression. Bringing voice to the issues are artists, educators, curators, historians, designers, and community organizers. Number:Inc. has been supported by local businesses, and nationally recognized endowments. Money from the National Endowment of the Arts helped support the publication of Number: in 1995 and 1996. In 1997, Number:Inc. was the recipient of a prestigious Andy Warhol Foundation grant. With this funding, Number:Inc. organized a public show of art throughout Memphis that featured 33 works by regional artists. In 2012, with the redesign of our website, we endeavored to provide timely coverage and commentary on the regional arts scenes. In 2013, Number: began hosting an annual exhibition entitled Art of the South at rotating venues in Memphis and Nashville. In 2018, Mike Mitchell developed the Young Art Writers Project, using Number: in classrooms as a tool to encourage dialogue about art. Today, through online content and an ability to engage personally in the visual arts conversations via our social media connections, the voice of visual arts in the region is more accessible than ever.
In the 35 years since its initial publication, Number: has not grown in size as an organization. It is still run by a small group of dedicated volunteers that bring this vital voice of the arts to the public free of charge. Many are artists or art professionals working in other capacities to keep the arts alive in the region. What has changed is the scope: starting from a visual arts focus and growing to explore the nexus with performing, literary, and conceptual arts, Number: continues to provide regional coverage of the arts throughout the South.