With the addition of a new mural on University Avenue and Oxford’s arts center, the Powerhouse, located there – this semester Oxford Stories is embarking on a small solutions journalism project. Our reporters are starting a community conversation about the possibility of a continued arts emphasis in the University Avenue area.
University Avenue is in an area that is transitioning with new business developments, and the street has experienced new business growth, but some also view it as the older part of town. Opinions are mixed on whether an arts district, or area of arts emphasis, would be beneficial.
Local photographer Merideth Roberson, a longtime Oxford resident, serves as the city’s animal control officer and, as a side hobby, owns and runs Southern Soul Imagery, a photography company.
Roberson said University Avenue could be aesthetically improved and restored. She thinks the mural is one of the town’s newest, colorful additions, and doesn’t think Sonic and Kroger’s eventual renovations, or an arts district on University Avenue, would attract more people to that side of town.
“An arts district shouldn’t be restricted to one spot,” she said. “Lamar Park has art, so why not make it all over town.”
Aynslee Smith is originally from Oxford and a part-time resident of Downtown Memphis. Her family, Brent and Laura Smith, own Chaney’s Pharmacy on Bramlett Boulevard off University Ave. Chaney’s includes a cafe, salon, home decor, cosmetics and other areas.
Smith, an interior designer, is also the visual merchandiser, buyer and marketing designer for Chaney’s. She spends time in the Memphis Arts District when she is not home in Oxford. Smith attended the University of Memphis after graduating from Ole Miss to study interior design.
She thinks accessibility and proximity to the Square are good attributes of University Avenue.
“People have appreciated not having to travel to West Jackson and fight the traffic versus the University Avenue side of town,” she said. “Our close proximity to the Square, but the added ease of parking has contributed to our business. People appear to appreciate the easiness of getting in and out of this area. Our location is very accessible.”
Smith runs and owns Aynslee Smith Designs. She designs the interior and exterior of people’s homes and commercial businesses. She completed the architecture and interior design for Homeward Bound’s Dog Spaw. She is also the newly elected president of Mississippi Critterz animal shelter in Oxford.
Smith believes the University Avenue is the older, more established part of Oxford along with the Square.
“I feel strongly that the area will continue to thrive and grow,” she said. “In regards to the Kroger renovation, I feel as though it will have a positive impact as well.
“An arts district would definitely add extra character and personality. It would be a way to get the community of Oxford together and have interaction without being glued to cell phones and social media.”
Micheal Dormody is a New Orleans native who moved to Oxford roughly four years ago for school. He spends much of his time painting landscape views of Oxford and selling them to friends and family.
Coming from New Orleans, he said the whole city is a giant piece of art and wishes Oxford could start intertwining more local art throughout the streets, not just at designated festivals or pop-up sales.
“In terms of businesses, I feel like it was pointless to put another Sonic,” he said. “I feel like that could have been a great lot for local artists to display and sell their work, especially with it being so close to the Square.”
Dormody considers University Avenue the older side of Oxford. With more housing complexes being built elsewhere, the more businesses might decline, he said. He also feels that with Walmart already on Jackson Avenue, the newly renovated Kroger will not have an impact.