Monster Drawing Rally at Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit makes art accessible, affordable with fifth fundraiser

Arts / Article

The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit now has a fifth successful Monster Drawing Rally fundraiser under its belt. The Knight grantee‘s annual event, held this year on Dec. 9, makes art accessible and affordable for a broad audience while showcasing a superstar lineup of Detroit talent.

When it comes to the Monster Drawing Rally, what goes up very quickly comes down.

Falling under the organizational auspices of MOCAD’s New Wave committee, the event is “geared toward young professionals in the 25-45 [age] range,” said Education Associate Augusta Morrison, who heads the committee. “The Monster Drawing Rally works with a lot of emerging and established artists in the community. With New Wave members being involved with the arts, they have connections and relationships with the artists–it just makes sense.” 

This year’s New Wave committee includes Jennifer Junkermeier–one part of the Knight Arts Challenge-winning Infinite Mile team–who co-coordinated the efforts of more than 20 volunteers to keep things running smoothly during the fast-paced fundraiser. Volunteers spent the evening running between the sales wall and the individual drawing stations of 70-plus artists (including this blogger), who each donated an hour of their time to create original works of art that would be sold to support MOCAD’s ongoing programming.

“It’s our second-biggest fundraiser, and it’s entirely supported by local artists,” said the museum’s Executive Director Elysia Borowy-Reeder. “Without Detroit being this incredible art city that it is, we couldn’t do it. The artists get so enthusiastic about it, they have fun doing it–and it helps benefit the museum in such a critical way.”

Artist Anthony Marcellini employs some alternative techniques, using cement block fragments to make prints.

The concept of the Monster Drawing Rally is a simple, open-source fundraising idea developed by the Bay Area collective Southern Exposure. In MOCAD’s version, two groups of 35 artists are given an hour to create as much spontaneous artwork as possible, which then travels to the large wall in the cafe area, where it can be purchased on a first-come, first-served basis for a flat rate of $40.

The potential benefits to first-time art buyers and savvy collectors are obvious, since the rally provides an opportunity to purchase original works at a rate that competes with the market price for generic posters and photographic prints. But there is a definite allure for artists who participate, as well.

“I participated as a drawer two times [when] I first moved to Detroit and was starting to get involved with the arts community,” said Morrison. “I was working at that time on a comic book series called ‘The Adventures of Kitty and Blue,’ and I remember one of my drawings sold, and I was like, ‘Wow, okay, this is cool.’”

Artists Tylonn Sawyer (left, behind table) and Jide Aje ask some young visitors to pose for portraits.

The Monster Drawing Rally has become a mainstay of aspiring collectors who appreciate, but perhaps cannot afford, some of the work shown by Detroit artists in galleries and high-end retail markets. For the artists who join the event by invitation of the New Wave committee, aside from the instant validation of seeing work go to market, there is the possibility of greater exposure, with artists ever on the lookout for opportunities to increase their visibility among art-lovers.

“This is my third Monster Drawing Rally,” said Borowy-Reeder. “In past years, I discovered Nolan Simon, Sydney James, Taurus Burns. These are three artists that are incredible, and I wouldn’t have found out about them unless they participated. I’ve watched their careers grow in the last three years, incredibly. I love it when that happens. And even though they’re growing and getting busier and busier, they still find time to do [the rally], because they have a good time doing it.”

Artists take all kinds of approaches to their time at the rally, which flies by at an incredible rate. Few artists are accustomed to the experience of creating work on the fly in front of a crowd of spectators; some find it energizing, some find the pressure uncomfortable. All agree that the 60 minutes of drawing time goes by incredibly quickly, though some, like longtime MOCAD Facilities Associate and outsider artist Chris Riddell, have gotten their rally technique down to a science, firing off gestural black ink-and-marker drawings every ten minutes.

“Monster Drawing Rally [is] providing a platform for people that, maybe you see them, but you don’t know them that well–so you’re kind of cultivating these relationships,” said Morrison. “We work with artists that we’ve worked with before, but then we bring on new artists, and I think that as a steering committee, we have to be really cognizant of that, and delicate. We want to invite everyone–we can’t. So there’s always next year.”

Watching the artists work is a major draw of the event, as is making a bid to buy their creations.

MOCAD is always trying to refine its approach to the rally, and get even more works of art off its wall and into the homes of excited attendees. This year’s innovations included a wire suspension system for the sales wall–an upgrade from the blue tape system of former years. There was also an effort made to solicit works from artists ahead of the rally and include them in a gallery of framed pieces, providing an opportunity for people to purchase ready-to-hang works—thus eliminating one of the stumbling blocks for some who turn up at the rally looking for acquisitions. Finally, MOCAD engaged members of its Teen Council—a few of whom also participated in the rally as artists—to photograph all the works as they came through the station between the artist production line and the sales wall (where they were bagged and labeled with each artist’s dedicated label). Stray submissions from the rally were put on sale at the MOCAD store for the week following the rally, and subsequently, Morrison says there will be opportunities to purchase leftover drawings through the museum’s website, so none of the artists’ volunteer efforts will go to waste. 

Rosie Sharp is a Detroit-based freelance writer and artist. Email her via [email protected] and learn more at