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STREETSEEN  |  Bill Branch

Photo by Steve Roberts

Bill Branch: Art is His Heart

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Bill Branch says that he has “always been a creative person.” In his professional life, he has worked for a number of museums, all the while curating his own artistic talents.

“I’m from North Little Rock, AR,” explained Branch. “I attended The University of Central Arkansas for my bachelor’s degree (in Spanish) with a minor in fine art. I received a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas - Fayetteville, with concentrations in painting and drawing, and the goal of being a college art professor.”

Ultimately, Branch’s education took him a different direction. He did not opt for a life in academia. Rather, he began working in positions that continued his arts education. First, in a job that had mechanical drawing at its core. Then he followed his heart to the world of art. first at the Historic Arkansas Museum in downtown Little Rock, to downtown Memphis and the National Civil Rights Museum.

“I had a one-year contract as the Registrar,” recalled Branch. “During that time I helped them create an exhibit about African-Americans and the sport of basketball.”

From there Branch moved to The Dixon.

“For four years, I was the weekend host,” said Branch. “I loved The Dixon, but I also worked every single weekend for four years.”

Branch also worked as Registrar at The Brooks Museum of Art, and later the Belz Museum of Asia and Judaic Art. His last paid position was at the Delta Cultural Center, a museum in Helena operated by the State of Arkansas.

Although Branch retired about a year ago, he is still “working” — this time as a volunteer,

“I volunteer as a docent at The Dixon,” explained Branch.”It’s a wonderful a way to have access to great works of art and time to be around favorite pieces. Additionally, I serve as a Volunteer Curator at Theatre Memphis,” said Branch. “They like to have original artwork in their lobby, so I sort and hang various works. They like to theme the artwork according to each production.”

Branch went on to say that the artwork is provided by members of Memphis Visual Artists, a group he has had membership in since he first moved to Memphis. Personally, as an artist, Branch has found his preferred medium to be watercolors, a decision he made while he was a graduate student.

“Most artists do not paint in this medium, they consider it to be difficult.,” said Branch. “Unlike working with oils where you can scrap paint off the canvas and start over, with watercolors, once you put the brush on paper, the pigment is there to stay. And then there’s the issue of paper versus canvas. Some artists view paper as ‘too fragile’ because it doesn’t last as long as canvas. The work of watercolorists is very delicate, transparent. And although people seem to really like that aspect of our work, sometimes they may not purchase it because it is not done on canvas.”

“I like the spontaneous nature of watercolors, as well as the fact that the paints are odorless,” said Branch, “I enjoy painting plein air, as well as in my home studio in Cooper-Young, so I also appreciate that watercolors can be easily moved from place to place.”

Since 2006, Branch has been a member of Artists’ Link, an “all-volunteer organization created as a resource and support group for Memphis Area visual artists and as a link between artists and the community.” Much of Branch’s work has showcased local scenes around Memphis, including The Pink Palace  Museum, Graceland, Memphis Botanic Garden, and points of interest at the Memphis Zoo. He also painted the image for the 2017 Blessing of the Animals flyer for Calvary Episcopal Church, which included his own beloved dachshunds, Rusty and Roxie (who passed away in 2015).

“Also, I had a one-person show at Memphis Botanic Garden for which I did a triptych, using three sheets of watercolor paper, for a painting depicting the Hernando DeSoto Bridge,” said Branch. “That painting now hangs in a special hospice center in East Memphis.”

Most recently, Branch has completed a floral collection. The series is based on bouquets he received weekly as a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group at the Cooper-Young Farmers Market. The flowers came from Brandon Pugh’s flower farm in Proctor, AR. Those 12 paintings have evolved into a 2018 calendar, called Bouquets by Bill.

To see more of the work by Bill Branch, visit his website at: BillBranchArtist.com or check out his Facebook page, Bill Branch Studio. For more information about Artists’ Link, go to www.artistslink.org.



STREETSEEN  |  Ryan Watt

Photo by Steve Roberts

Ryan Watt: Lights, Camera, Action

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Ryan Watt has a job that others might envy — he watches movies for a living. Now in his third year as Executive Director of Indie Memphis, it seems that many of his past experiences were preparing him for this starring role.

“I served as a volunteer for Indie Memphis for seven years, screening feature films and working on the marketing committee,” Watt said. “As a film producer, I have produced six feature-length films. As a marketing consultant, I have handled independent social media and online advertising.”

A native Memphian, Watt graduated from Briarcrest High School. He went to the University of Tennessee - Knoxville where he majored in marketing, with a minor in psychology. Both educational endeavors have served him well to help Indie Memphis expand its footprint in the city.

Watt oversees year-round events for Indie Memphis, including Indie Wednesdays which offers weekly independent films, rotating between Malco theaters and Crosstown Arts. The films are curated by Watt, which means he has to try to “get inside people’s heads to figure out what they would like to watch, then market those films to draw an audience.”

The Indie Wednesday movies are supported by an annual membership. “As attendance continues to grow for Indie Wednesdays, we expect to add more screenings, more than once a week, next year,” said Watt.

There’s also the Artist Development program which is centered in a grants program to find sponsors to help put cash and in-kind services in the hands of local filmmakers to enable them to make short films.

But undeniably, the organization’s best known event is its annual film festival. This year’s Indie Memphis Film Festival marks the festival’s 20th anniversary. It will be presented by festival sponsor Duncan Williams Inc. (presenting sponsor for the seventh year) Nov. 1 - 6. In addition to offering more than 200 movies that have never been seen before in Memphis, over 50 of the films are expected to have a film maker in attendance for Q & A sessions.

“And, for the first time in its history, this year’s Indie Memphis Film Festival will feature a ‘Block Party’ during the three-day weekend portion of the fest (November 3-5), closing off traffic along Cooper Street between Union and Monroe Avenues,” said Watt. “We will have a huge tent in the middle of the street and panel discussions will take place there.”

Watt continued, “Back in 1998, we started with about 40 people in a room showing some movies,” said Watt. “Then the films were shown downtown at the movie theater in Peabody Place. Several years ago we relocated to Midtown and have based the film festival out of Overton Square.”

When Watt stepped into the executive director’s role, he was the only full-time employee. Now, three years later, the full-time staff includes Joseph Carr as Artist Services Director who “works with all the filmmakers.” Additionally, two part-time employees, Marketing Coordinator Macon Wilson and Youth Program Administrator Bertram Williams, Jr., have joined Watt in the organization’s offices on the top floor of Playhouse on the Square.

“It takes all of our efforts, plus that of part-time employees who work as Festival Coordinator, Volunteer Coordinator, and Events Coordinator, to put together the Film Festival,” explained Watt. “We start in January, when I travel to Sundance for a conference, followed by treks to other regional festivals, like South by Southwest in Austin, TX. We also work with Brandon Harris, a festival programmer in New York City, who takes the lead in curating the movies and bringing top talent to Memphis for the festival.”

Watt described the upcoming festival as a perfect storm of local content. With on-going efforts to include new voices, new media, and new audiences every year, he expects over 15,000 people to attend the 2017 Indie Memphis Film Festival.

“This festival is just a lot of fun, and it is one of the only festivals in the world to feature live music in the theater before each movie,” said Watt. “That’s something we really hang our hat on. John Miller, from Shangrila, is curating the music. It gives our event a more authentic feel — connecting local music and film. For our venues, it will mostly feature acoustic guitars and singers.”

Among other changes in store, Watt explained that, “Indie Memphis will join in a collaborating partnership with the National Civil Rights Museum for MLK50, a special program of films new and old which will commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis while addressing the various legacies, completed and still unfinished, of the Civil Rights icon’s work.”

For more information about Indie Memphis Film Festival, visit www.indiememphis.com.