Detroit Sidewalk Festival puts a bright light on Brightmoor

Photo: The welcome center on Fenkell will host the farmer’s market and be a hub of activity for the festival.

Everyone is already buzzing with anticipation for the third annual Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts, which takes place in Detroit’s vibrant Old Redford and Brightmoor neighborhoods. An area devastated by the mass exodus from the city, Brightmoor has quietly transformed itself into a utopia of urban gardens, public green spaces and a community determined to do better for itself in the absence of much help from outside.

Taken in that context, the Sidewalk Festival, which was awarded a $35,000 grant in the 2014 Detroit Knight Arts Challenge, is a real triumph. It’s also a whole lot of fun. “Sidewalk is unique among festivals in that no traditional stages are used,” said organizer Ryan Myers-Johnson, who noted that activities instead take place in “community gardens, alleys, courtyards, sidewalks and parking lots. [It’s] a true street festival in every sense of the word.”

The homemade and home-owned aspects of the festival create a deeply genuine atmosphere, and the performance lineup makes it one of a few large-scale art events that reflect the true demographics of the city. This includes citywide favorite Gabriel Brass Band, whose performance will include a nod to the group’s New Orleans roots. According to front man Dameon Gabriel, the brass band will lead “a second-line procession with dancers and audience, from the theater into Artist Village.”

Riet Schumack, founder of Neighbors Building Brightmoor, is excited that the bounty of the neighborhood will be on display, as there will be a farmer’s market inside the welcome center on Fenkell Street. An opportunity to visit some of the neighborhood gardens will also be afforded through a bus tour of the new Inside|Out installations–a project that receives funding from Knight Foundation. The new Inside|Out works include a piece by Harlem Renaissance painter Reginald Marsh and a Fante Asafo flag from the Detroit Institute of Arts’ permanent collection.

Riet Schumack of Neighbors Building Brightmoor and Jillian Reese of the DIA, getting a garden ready for the festival.

Another 2014 Detroit Knight Arts Challenge winner, experimental theater group A Host of People, has been utilizing eight separate community garden sites to develop its newest work, “The Harrowing.” Now complete, the piece will be performed at each of those sites over the next couple months, with the debut show happening on Friday, July 31 at the Brightmoor Youth Garden, and short excerpts from “The Harrowing” to be performed during the Sidewalk Festival on Aug. 1. (The complete performance schedule can be found here.)

“This year, the Sidewalk Festival is doing more of what it does best: more artists, more diversity, more interactivity, more fun,” said Billy Mark, a spoken word artist and member of A Host of People. “What makes Sidewalk so special is that it creates a space for you to wander through different genres of art and discover something new. You’ll find lifelong Detroiters and newbies alike exploring everything from Capoeira to classical; African dance to contemporary theater; interactive installations to Shakespeare; jazz to experimental dance. It’s an inspiring community of people.”

One of Brightmoor’s green spaces on Beaverland, home to a newly installed Inside|Out painting.

Other notables lined up to perform are Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty, a slam poet and performer whose powerful readings are not to be missed; the Tzarinas of the Plane, who were recently named 2015 Kresge Visual Arts Fellows; and James Cornish, one of Detroit’s most prolific musicians, composers and performers.

These are just a fraction of the offerings that will be lighting up Brightmoor and Old Reford this weekend. A complete listing of events and attractions is available here. Make sure you plan wisely in order to absorb as much as you can from this singular and colorful celebration of life, art and summer in the city.