The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Apr 12, 2011

A banner weekend for art in Detroit

Posted by matthew.piper

It was an amazing weekend for art and community in Detroit. This was thanks in large part to the first ever Art X Detroit, a remarkably successful, five-day festival in Midtown showcasing the work of 38 local Kresge Arts grantees and several guests.

But the festival coincided with much else:  gallery openings at 71 Garfield and Art Effect, a rousing performance at the DIA by New Music Detroit and Vicky Chow, the opening of two plays by local playwrights at the Matrix Theatre, the premiere of The Magic Flute at the Opera House, and the celebratory return of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which performed two free concerts to packed, jubilant crowds. What did I miss?

Photo of installation/performance "Dear Detroit" by Russ Orlando

Practically everyone I talked to over the weekend expressed the same sentiment: if only we each could have been in five or six places at once to experience everything we wanted to. The festival opened on Wednesday night with a party at MOCAD that drew a crowd of over 1,300. It continued through Sunday with free literary readings, music and dance performances, lectures and panel discussions, the unveiling of new public art, a multimedia performance at the DIA about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and a visual art show at MOCAD (a must-see, on view until April 24).

From what I saw and heard, nearly every venue was packed.  I'd never seen MOCAD as full for a concert as I did on Thursday night, when I went to hear music by composer Joel Peterson and the fabulous experimental harpist Zeena Parkins.

Those of us who made it to Leopold's Books for a reading by Steve Hughes on Saturday night found ourselves just about elbow-to-elbow, but all the better to experience his barefaced tales of human folly, as hilarious as they are stingingly tragic.

Poet Vie Francis said she'd never seen as many people turn up for a poetry reading in Detroit as came to the Scarab Club Saturday night. I chatted with her on Sunday afternoon at the Cafe 1923 in Hamtramck. It was sunny and warm, with a perfect breeze coming through the open front door, and Francis was jubilant about the festival's success. Never, she said, had she experienced such buzz, such enthusiastic participation, surrounding so much exceptional work across so many disciplines in Detroit. Never had she seen Detroit come closer to the connected, vibrant city she's dreamed of and worked toward for 20 years. "I don't even have words for it," she said.

We talked about the excitement of seeing so many more people walking the streets of Midtown, and about the legitimizing effect the festival has had on homegrown artists, who are building fruitful new networks as a result of the Kresge fellowships. We also talked about the generosity and cooperation of the city's cultural institutions, and about the challenge the festival has presented to the arts community:  to keep this momentum going, to keep working toward the city's transformation through the human connections that art can inspire. Francis thinks that this transformation is more possible now than ever before, and after last weekend, I believe her.

Back to top