Articles by

Mary M. Chapman

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    Detroit house guest and musician Dorit Chrysler. Courtesy of ADULT. The Knight Arts Challenge Detroit is accepting applications through 11:59 p.m. tonight, April 13, for the best local ideas for the arts. Here, writer Mary Chapman caught up with past winners of the electro band ADULT. Detroit, with its vast stretches of quietude, is decidedly unshowy. But looks, as they say, are deceiving. In this case, they belie a rich arts scene that's vibrant and growing. It just helps to know where to look. In this case, it’s the New Center area, where Adam Lee Miller and Nicola Kuperus, a husband and wife electro-music duo, enjoy this diverse historic district north of downtown. Its mostly quiet, tree-lined streets are a mixture of older houses and modern condos and townhomes.
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    The Knight Arts Challenge Detroit is accepting applications through April 13 for the best local ideas for the arts. Here, writer Mary Chapman catches up with 2014 winner Andy Krieger. With the nation in recession, and Detroit all but broke, out-of-work carpenter and visual artist Andy Krieger read a magazine piece about an arcane art form called kamishibai. Originating in Buddhist temples nearly 1,000 years ago, it was popularized in early 20th century Japan, when cash-strapped men earned money by traveling from village to village on bicycles equipped with a small stage, and telling stories. For Krieger, a light went off.
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    Many areas of Detroit, including downtown and Midtown, are flourishing. New eateries and other businesses are opening at a pace unseen in decades. Excitement is building. But, there is much work remaining, including what to do with tens of thousands of vacant houses. Architect V. Mitch McEwen is taking one of those off the city’s hands, and transforming into a place for and of art. McEwen will use a $10,000 Knight Arts Challenge award to fund the transformation of a derelict dwelling in southwest Detroit into a neighborhood opera house, and possibly down the road, an artist residency studio. It's an exploration of performance, community and form, she said.
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    From video art that shines a light on darkened city streets to an arts incubator and Hip-Hop Mardi Gras Parade, Detroiters have dreamed big, submitting fresh ideas to the Knight Arts Challenge. With those projects taking shape in the city’s neighborhoods, the community-wide contest is now open for the third time – and seeking the best ideas for the arts in Detroit. Submissions will be accepted through April 13. Winners will receive a share of $3 million. Anyone can apply, as long as their idea follows three rules: The idea must be about art; the project must take place in or benefit Detroit; and grant recipients must find funds to match Knight’s commitment.
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    Detroit Institute of Arts illuminated as part of Dlectricity. Photo by Jon Deboer via Flickr. The epiphany came when Jonathan Lewald was enjoying a projected light installation at the nighttime arts festival Dlectricity. “Detroit’s coming back, baby,” he turned and yelled to no one in particular, his face flecked with dancing reflections. “This is what we do!” As Detroit seeks to regain its financial footing, its long-rich arts and cultural scene is emerging as a principal propeller of the city’s rejuvenation.
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    Photo credit: Knight Foundation on Flickr.  Growing up in a hardscrabble swath of Detroit's west side, Haleem Rasul had a start in life that wasn't all that auspicious. Dance was his escape. Rasul’s cousin got him into Breaking and Popping, dance forms popularized on the East and West coasts. But Rasul fell for the Jit, so much so that he got in touch with the McGhee brothers who originated the dance in Detroit in the mid-1970s. A series of filmed interviews with the three brothers led to the documentary, "Jitterbugs: Pioneers of the Jit," which debuts Friday at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The event, sponsored in part by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is free with museum admission. The movie, which took five years to make, includes appearances by luminaries such as Motown singer Kim Weston, who supported the brothers, as well as footage of the McGhees performing at local parties and events like festivals and auto shows throughout the mid 1980s. It also includes a bonus instructional on Jit steps and style, so anyone can learn the dance. Rasul, 36, said the film chronicles how pioneers Johnny, Tracy and James McGhee gained local stardom only to fade from the klieg lights, leaving a rich legacy. The brothers are scheduled to perform at the premiere, along with other area dance groups including locally prominent Jit forerunners.  The event, called “Jit Happens at the DIA,” also will feature top acts that have helped spread the Jit's influence beyond the Detroit area.
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    The Sphinx Story, via YouTube Like many other urban centers, Detroit years ago pared arts from its public school budget, reducing the exposure of students to disciplines like classical musical. But Sphinx, a Detroit-based national nonprofit, is doing its part to change that. Since 1997 the organization has been working to diminish cultural stereotypes associated with classical music and encouraging the participation of African-Americans and Latinos in the field. Last year, Knight announced an investment of $19.25 million in Detroit arts, which included an award of $1 million over five years to endow Sphinx’s national competition. In the past, Sphinx has also received a $125,000 grant toward the launch of SphinxCon, a national conference for diversity in the arts. RELATED LINKS "Detroit, where there's more to the story" by Mary M. Chapman "Announcing Detroit's Knight Arts Challenge winners" by Dennis Scholl "Detroit: building on the city's creative momentum" by Dennis Scholl Knight is “helping us remove all the barriers that typically exist to students,” said Alison Piech, the organization's chief advancement officer. Primarily through free afterschool music lessons, concerts and a national competition open to African-American and Latino string musicians, Sphinx reaches about 20,000 participants annually, including several thousand from the Detroit area. “These are first-time experiences for many of them,” Piech said. “We’re making the music accessible for students in underserved communities where they may not have music in their schools, or a family member who’s musically inclined.”
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    Urban Innovation Exchange from Model D TV on Vimeo. Detroit is one of eight cities Knight Foundation considers “resident communities.” In the last five years, the foundation has committed more than $45 million to projects there. Below, freelancer Mary M. Chapman writes about the challenges and opportunities facing the city. Some news accounts of Detroit’s woes sound like postmortems. Causes of death: financial insolvency, decreased population and unemployment, complicated by home abandonment, subpar services and high crime. Those conditions are fact. But tough, resilient Detroit has heard last rites too many times to count. After all, the boulevard to bankruptcy is long and wide. All those other times on the brink, Detroit has shrugged off its troubles and kept going. The bankruptcy filing on July 18 poses the city’s biggest test yet. But that’s only part of the story. Even as the city makes history as the largest U.S. municipality to seek Chapter 9 protection, it’s also experiencing, in some areas, a momentum-shifting surge of public and private investment and business and residential growth. People are working together to start organizations, hatch community projects, reimagine businesses, and launch creative and digital economies.  Detroit—an important, thriving center of culture—is also a community where brothers John S. and James L. Knight operated a newspaper, the Detroit Free Press. Because of that connection, Detroit will continue to receive sorely needed help from the Knight Foundation, an independent, national foundation that the brothers founded in 1950. In the last five years, Knight has awarded 59 grants totaling $43 million to efforts that have a direct impact on Detroit. It is one of eight cities the foundation describes as “resident communities,” where it has program directors on the ground leading its grant making. Investment areas include arts and culture, journalism and media innovation, community and economic development, and entrepreneurship. This week the foundation announced $2.1 million in new funding for 56 projects in the Knight Arts Challenge Detroit.