Spotlight On: Carpenter Art Garden

The April 2015 focus of Orion Gives Back is the Carpenter Art Garden.  

cag logoThe Carpenter Art Garden, located at 301 Carpenter Street, partners with Binghampton neighborhood children and adults, as well as local artists, to transform a blighted lot into a place of beauty. Each Tuesday volunteers work with approximately 70 children on permanent art installations, take home art and the tending of the garden boxes. The space is an actual garden of artwork.

We recently spoke with Erin Harris, Founder, and Megan Banaszek, Director of Programs and Community Outreach, to learn more about this initiative and the hope it has brought to the Binghampton neighborhood.

Orion:  Tell us how you got involved with the Carpenter Art Garden.
Erin Harris:  After I retired from teaching, I wanted to get involved with bringing beauty to blighted areas through children’s art. I live close by and have a friend who works with the Binghampton Development Corporation, so I talked to him about the idea, and he offered us this property on Carpenter Street. We started the Carpenter Art Garden in 2012 with just an empty lot and some picnic tables, and it’s grown quite a bit since then. It’s right across from Lester School and near Cornerstone Prep, so we have kids coming here from both campuses, and we do art both indoors and outdoors now. The kids do mosaics, paint murals in the neighborhood, and make art with repurposed wood and other materials. Some of the art they take home, other pieces stay in the Art Garden. We were able to purchase the house next door to the original lot, but it was in such disrepair that it had to be torn down and a new one built. People in the neighborhood helped, and we painted it purple like the original house. Now we have not only the house and art garden, but a vegetable garden a couple of doors down which is open to the community. We provide the seeds and help people learn to grow their own food. We’ve just expanded to another empty lot across the street, so we’ll be able to offer more space for gardening. We hope to grow enough vegetables to have a mobile produce stand that can be used to get fresh food to more people. There’s not much access to that in this area—just corner stores.

Megan: I moved to Memphis in September with no ties and started volunteering throughout Memphis with a job seekers program called Volunteer Odyssey. My first volunteer assignment was the Carpenter Art Garden. I hit it off with Erin and she explained they were growing enough they were thinking about hiring full time staff, and two weeks later I started when we opened the “Purple House.”

Orion:  You’re now in your third year with this amazing project.  What do you consider your biggest success to date?
Megan: The biggest success is the children’s involvement and growth. People will remark how the street has changed, and how the children are changing too. They speak nicer to each other and have a desire to stay involved in art garden programs. There is no art at these schools, and opportunities to keep the neighborhood children occupied after school and during the summer are few and far between. There are a lot more opportunities for them to get caught up in the things happening on the streets, which they witness every day. We have the chance to take kids out of this neighborhood and see other parts of Memphis, provide them with new experiences, to see new walks of life and realize there are other options for them through art. Students have been able to speak in public about the art garden and their involvement. It’s hard to measure success in terms of tangible numbers but giving these kids a safe place to spend their time is very rewarding.

Orion: The difference you are making to the children in this community is priceless.  We love reading stories about you in the news and hope you’re able to continue your initiatives for years to come!  Can you tell us about what the future holds for CAG?
Megan: We want to purchase another house on the street to turn into a workshop for furniture restoration and bike repair.  We’re very close to the Greenline, so if kids learn how to repair and maintain bikes, some of them will be prepared to apprentice in bicycle shops when they’re older.  In addition to these projects, we also offer tutoring after school. In the summer, there will be activities here all day every day, including tutoring, art, and field trips. I am just overwhelmed and amazed at how everything has fallen into place. We’ve been able to get what we’ve needed when we’ve needed it.

Orion:  What would help you reach those goals?
Megan: We’re in need of a GED course connection, local artists willing to come in and teach students. We are always in need of financial support! We are fully funded on grants and donations from the community. As the only full time staff, I balance my time between programming and seeking funding throughout the community. Operating funds will help us continue to nurture this movement of pride and ownership on Carpenter Street and bring even more beauty to Binghampton!

Orion: What would you tell someone who is thinking of volunteering at Carpenter Art Garden?
Megan: Volunteering at the Carpenter Art Garden….no two days the same! We need volunteers for our Tuesday’s after school at the garden where children from Lester and Cornerstone Prep work on take home art projects and permanent art installations. We have tutors every day after school meet one on one with students to work on school work, which will continue through the summer.  We also need help in the form of chaperones for field trips, artists to teach small group art lessons for adults and children, adults to ride bikes with kids on the Greenline, and mentors.

Erin and Megan, THANK YOU for the beautiful difference you make to Memphis!

To learn more about the Carpenter Art Garden and the ways you can help, please visit