Articles by

Rosie Sharp

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    When Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) began the lengthy and involved process of applying for UNESCO City of Design status on behalf of Detroit—a goal that was successfully achieved at the end of 2015—they did so knowing it would help centralize the role that design plays in shaping cities, and the lives of their citizens. Their efforts were bolstered by $1 million in new funding from Knight Foundation to help engage community members in urban revitalization that leverages Detroit’s design legacy and creative industries.
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    Since becoming the first U.S. city to receive a UNESCO City of Design designation, Detroit has been abuzz with the potential of design to shape the future of life in the city. From the 2016 Detroit Design Festival—which included a two-day summit of panel discussions about the many concerns and influences of a design-based approach to social and cultural intervention—to anticipation of the return of DLECTRICITY in the fall of 2017, Detroit has had design on the brain. These forays into Detroit’s conceptual potential have not merely been restricted to local reflection; as Detroit joins a cohort 47 of cities in 33 countries around the globe that form the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it is more than ever the focus of international attention. And the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, a nonprofit group that acts as the steward of the city's UNESCO designation, received $1 million from Knight to support a 10-year vision of the metropolis as a UNESCO City of Design.This attention was recently crystallized with Detroit being honored as the representative city for the United States Pavilion of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. Collectively titled "The Architectural Imagination," the exhibition featured the works of 12 teams of architects, selected from more than 250 submissions, and presents a version of Detroit visible through a highly imaginative lens. Following its run at the Biennale through November 2016, the exhibition has come to the MOCAD (a Knight Arts grantee), where it will be on display through April 16.
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    The People First Project is helping to revitalize Corktown, one of Detroit’s oldest neighborhoods, by leveraging a 2016 Knight Cities Challenge grant to create a series of temporary changes along the busy Michigan Avenue corridor. The ideas help people better connect with public space, while promoting collaboration among the city’s creatives and urban innovators.“One goal of the People First Project was to see how this method of city making could transform Michigan Avenue,” said founder Chad Rochkind, “but another goal was to build local capacity and understanding about alternative methods. … I think it’s important for the people to assert themselves in the shaping of public life.”Rochkind, founder of Human Scale Studio, a consultancy that helps reshape the urban environment to better serve people, credits experiences in San Francisco, New York and London with helping inspire the idea.“A common thread between all those cities is a coherent urban fabric of walkable streets and parks and other public spaces,” he said. “Spaces where people can linger, explore, get lost, daydream... It’s the serendipity of public life that makes cities so enthralling, and ultimately leads to their economic and cultural strength.”
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    When the Sphinx Organization began nearly 20 years ago, with the mission to encourage access, inclusion and exposure for musicians of color within classical music, it was a grassroots effort that could hardly have foreseen recent events. This month, one of Sphinx's education programs, Sphinx Overture—which provides free violins and instrument lessons to elementary students in Detroit and Flint, Michigan—was honored as a recipient of the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. Sphinx President Afa S. Dworkin and Detroit Overture student Joselyn Hernandez attended a ceremony at the White House to receive the award from First Lady Michelle Obama.
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    Social practice art has gained momentum and recognition as a discipline in recent years. Artworks in this vein defy categorization, as they often combine elements of architecture, design, performance and audience interaction in their effort to create an active viewing experience—one that perhaps carries a message beyond the walls of the performance setting.All this is the ambitious aim of Complex Movements, a Detroit-based art collective that seeks to combine complex science and social justice movements into an interactive performance space that reflects the needs, strengths and stories of a given community. The group has received funding from Knight Foundation to develop its incredible touring art space, multimedia installation and organizing project, “Beware of the Dandelions,” and to take the experience on tour, with a series of shows, workshops and community events in Dallas and Seattle, to date. Fresh from the road, Complex Movements is hosting a series of sold-out performances out of its home base, the East Side Talking Dolls design studio.
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    In past years, the Detroit Design Festival has had a playful tone, with crowd-pleasing events like DLECTRICITY, that delight viewers with spectacles focused on the more ephemeral aspects of design. But this year, Detroit has a lot to celebrate.In late 2015 Detroit became the first city in the United States to receive City of Design status from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)—making it part of an elite club of 47other cities from 33 countries that are members of the UNESCO Creative CitiesNetwork. The 2016 Detroit Design Festival programming embraced this new status, and brought together a powerhouse cohort of thought leadership to unpack ways that design and architecture may be used in pursuit of equity, adaptation and innovation—not just functionality or beauty.“The thing about the City of Design distinction is transforming from disparate designers to a ‘cityof design,’” said Garlin Gilchrist, a native Detroiter and director of innovation and emerging technology for the city of Detroit, speaking on a panel about sustainability. This and many other panel discussions were staged during the two-day Detroit City of Design Summit last month, organized by the Detroit CreativeCorridor Center and Creative Many Michigan. Before a packed crowd at the Jam Handy building, moderators and panelists tackled issues that might typically be considered outside the range of architecture and design: gun violence, education, economic pluralism, and the history of hip-hop as allegorical feedback on the lived urban experience. The perspectives presented by the panelists opened the field of what constitutes design, and what interventions can be made through a process of redesign.
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    “The Truth Booth” at Cranbrook Art Museum. Photos by Rosie Sharp. Since July 31, the Detroit metro area has been visited by “The Truth Booth,” an ongoing interactive project conceived by Cause Collective, and brought for a two-week intensive visit to Michigan by a $60,000 Knight Arts Challenge grant awarded to the Cranbrook Art Museum. Laura Mott, curator of contemporary art and design at Cranbrook, worked previously with artist Hank Willis Thomas and Cause Collective’s Ryan Alexiev to help get the project on its feet, nearly eight years ago. “We had done a show with Ryan at Mission 17, where I was working,” Mott said. “I met Hank [Willis Thomas] through that. And they were working together already in Cause Collective–‘The Truth Booth’ was an idea they had that was sort of on paper, and I wrote a grant to get funding to build it. And then I moved to Sweden! So I essentially sourced them some seed money to build the prototype.” Fast-forward eight years, and Mott is finally getting to see the vision she helped seed in action. “The Knight [Arts Challenge] is interesting,” she said. “It’s a challenge in terms of the money, but it’s also a challenge in terms of what’s an interesting public project for this context.” For Mott, the timing and the location of “The Truth Booth” could not be more exciting. “To me, ‘The Truth Booth’ in this year in the city of Detroit, when there’s so much conversation and very little opportunity for individuals to be heard, it seems kind of perfect. So it’s on its own correct karmic timeline, in terms of coming together as a project.” “The Truth Booth” at Cranbrook Art Museum. The project itself has required intensive organization and effort to reach out to a number of different host locations. Wherever it goes, the booth serves the same function–offering an open opportunity for any passerby to step into the recording chamber and video record a statement of up to two minutes, beginning with the prompt, “The truth is...” The project has been extremely high-profile, even touring internationally, and this visit to Michigan is the most lengthy stop on what has been a nationwide tour for the better part of 2016. Mott and Cause Collective anticipate recording at least 2,000 video testimonials in Michigan alone, which will form the basis for an exhibition at Cranbrook (opening Nov. 19 and running through March 17, 2017), called “The Truth Is I Hear You.” Previous Cause Collective films arrange “Brady Bunch”-style grids of individuals speaking, with certain sections brought to the forefront, offering a range of submissions and showcasing what they sound like taken en masse, as well as highlighting moments that may be very personal and individual. Ultimately, the power of the Cranbrook show will be determined by the nature of the myriad truths shared by Metro Detroiters and residents of Flint, Michigan, where the booth is also traveling.
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    Above: A DJ set kicks off at Talking Dolls during the Progressive Art Jam. The Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts has made its name, over the last four years, as one of the most organic and homegrown celebrations of Detroit’s artistic and cultural landscape. Founded in 2012 by Ryan Myers-Johnson, who now serves as its artistic director, the festival presents original, place-based and traditional performance, installation art and land art. It received a $35,000 Knight Arts Challenge grant in 2014, and a second $40,000 grant in 2015, which has enabled an increasingly ambitious roster of performances and participants. “This Sidewalk Festival, we’re really thinking about the idea of play and mobility,” said Myers-Johnson in an email interview. “Those are really different things, but they are very present themes in the work that we are presenting this year. We’ll be featuring about 15 installation projects throughout the festival–these are things that people can get involved with. We also have a number of pieces that are dealing with mobility, whether they are literally traveling throughout the festival locations or giving people an opportunity to comment on mobility.” But with Knight Arts Challenge funding comes the obligation to raise matching funds–a challenge that the festival’s Curator and Manager of Artist Relationships and Special Projects, Billy Mark, chose to tackle, in part, by arranging the first-ever Sidewalk Progressive Art Jam–a wild, all-night revel and bus tour that featured three different artist-run spaces and a cavalcade of Detroit artists, both performing and in attendance. “I feel like Sidewalk is about honoring places off the beaten track, where people from all types of backgrounds can meet and be shocked, inspired, engaged and encouraged by art,” said Mark. “Sidewalk is an explosion of artistic diversity, and the Progressive Art Jam was a lead-up and a reminder that sometimes we need to go outside of our comfort zone to meet brilliant work where it is at.”
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    Above: Gregory Pickup, stills from “Pickup’s Tricks” (1973). Photos by Rosie Sharp. If you lack the tolerance for Hollywood blockbusters, here’s a tip to beat the heat in Detroit this summer: Take in “CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in-Progress,” the full-gallery installation of a work by Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida. Tucked away in the furthest reaches of “Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia” at Cranbrook Art Museum, the installation comes complete with gratifying tunes, soothing visual projections and hammocks. Along the way, you’ll have a chance to soak in an astonishing array of materials assembled initially for the Walker Art Center by Andrew Blauvelt; fortunately for Metro Detroiters, the exhibition seems to have followed on his heels as he assumed the mantle of director at Cranbrook Art Museum. The full-floor exhibition is a heady chaser to the massive survey of old and newly-commissioned works by Nick Cave, which was funded by a 2014 Knight Arts Challenge grant, and will be followed by a Knight Arts-funded Detroit tour of Hank Willis Thomas’ “The Truth Booth,” opening in November of this year. Hélio Oiticica and Neville D’Almeida, “CC5 Hendrixwar/Cosmococa Programa-in-Progress.” Hippie culture has mainstream associations with the San Francisco Bay Area or upstate New York, but “Hippie Modernism” recasts this period of intensive culture shift from the mid-1960s through the early ’70s in a global light, and shows how hippie aesthetics and values informed and absorbed global trends in design, politics and environmentalism—not just the sex, drugs and rock-and-roll that are the movement’s trademarks. “The period under consideration is a historical transition from one epoch to another: from an industrial to a postindustrial society and from a culture of an ossified high modernism to a nascent postmodernism,” writes Blauvelt in his introductory catalogue essay, which prefaces a weighty tome assembled by the Walker Art Center—a must-have for anyone wishing to absorb the full measure of this incredibly dense exhibition.
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    Above: Hostess and director Satori Shakoor, guiding the night with her trademark enthusiasm, grace and humor. Photos by Rosie Sharp. For Father’s Day weekend, The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers in Detroit presented “Fathers & Figures” on June 17–an evening of storytelling in honor of dads, presented by fathers and sons. The show is part of an ongoing series funded by Knight  Foundation, which takes place monthly at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. This set of “true stories told live,” under the direction of organizer Satori Shakoor, was particularly poignant, given the absence of recognition for father-son relationships. One aspect of toxic masculinity dictates that males do not openly acknowledge feelings of kinship or love for one another; simply to hear five men talking candidly about their relationships with their fathers and/or sons was something of an outstanding event. Additionally, the evening’s tales helped to explode a damaging stereotype about men of color: that they are not good fathers, or not present for their children. Though the stories of the evening touched on moments of struggle and strife–because Secret Society presents life issues, and life can be tough–they also highlighted the power of the bonds between father and son, and the emotional aspiration of every man to make his father proud. Ron Ford talked about how it wasn’t until his father passed away, that he was forced to become a man and fully grow into the space made by his absence. Minister Loren Harper combined storytelling with gospel singing, to punctuate the journey he made through the ravages of addiction and back, over the course of years, into his aging father’s graces. Metalsmith Carlos Nielbock took us on a sprawling tale of his personal history, which included two fathers—the father who adopted and raised him in Germany, and the biological father and former WWII G.I., whom he came to the U.S. in search of and found in Detroit, along with his ultimate destiny. Nielbock is a Detroit original, and has an astonishing craft installation tucked away in the unassuming fringes of the Eastern Market district, where he continues to practice his art.