UrbanArt chief preaches getting active for change

Feature story for The Commercial Appeal

Nov. 27, 2012

In only five months as a Memphian, Christina Lanzl has already settled into an easy routine, finding favorite coffee shops, restaurants and a safe route to bicycle to the Poplar Avenue offices of the UrbanArt Commission, where she is the new executive director.The energetic and eager Lanzl leans forward to speak excitedly about art and the public spaces so important to today’s urban planning. She looks at the creation of such public plazas as “place making” and, since moving from Boston, she has been taken with the convenience of the Shelby Farms Greenline and the beauty of a sunset over the Mississippi River.

“Walk outside your house, look around you, think of it as your living room,” Lanzl said. “And then think, do you like what you see? Is there anything you can do in your own small realm to actually make it special to you? If there are things that you wish for, then you perhaps want to get active if you have the energy or time.”

She points to local skateboarding activist Aaron Shafer, who worked hard on a grass-roots effort to create the first outdoor skate park in Memphis at Tobey Park. The park was recently ornamented with a sculpture by artist Mark Nowell, a project spearheaded by the UrbanArt Commission.

Born in Los Angeles and moved to Germany at age 2 with her German-born parents, Lanzl speaks with a thick accent as she talks about her work before Memphis in Boston where she was the director of programs at the Urban Arts Institute at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She has also been the executive director of the Brookline Arts Center and the director of the Bromfield Gallery. After more than 20 years in Boston, Lanzl says, she “was looking for a new challenge” when she came across the nationally advertised position at the UrbanArt Commission.

“I had heard of Memphis; obviously, it has an important history,” Lanzl said. “I’m interested in civil engagement, and if you know about civil rights, Memphis is a big city.” … (read more)