A walk in Detroit's Scripps Park

arts / Article

There’s an outdoor art exhibition opening in Detroit this Saturday that will demonstrate not only the talent of participating local artists, but also the spirit of cooperation and community engagement that distinguishes so much grassroots work in this city. Access Arts Detroit, which hosted four outdoor art exhibitions on Belle Isle in recent years, partnered with Forward Arts, a nonprofit arts program management group, and the Woodbridge Neighborhood Development Corporation. Together, they are bringing art and activity to Scripps Park, an under-used public space in Woodbridge.

I spoke with Louis Casinelli, Access Arts Detroit’s founder and director, and Dominic Arellano, executive director of Forward Arts, about providing support to emerging artists and engaging the community through art in public places. Their partnership allowed Access Arts to grant stipends to artists producing work for the show and facilitated Access Arts’ ongoing efforts to reach at-risk Detroit youth through art education. (In addition to exhibiting work by the eight participating artists, the show will also feature work by three high school students who’ve participated in Access Arts’ education program.) Some highlights from our conversation are below.

Matthew Piper: Dominic, Louis mentioned that a common problem for emerging Detroit artists is they can’t realize the full potential of their work because of material limitations. How does Forward Arts help mitigate that problem?

Dominic Arellano:  Artists, at the end of the day, want to work on their projects and not worry about getting PR, funding, permitting, etc. That’s where Forward Arts steps in. We help artists with those administrative duties and walk them through the project process. We brainstorm with artists to flesh out their projects, troubleshoot hurdles or take the projects to a level they just weren't thinking about (or didn't think they would be able to do because of a lack of resources).

MP:  Louis, I'm curious about the relationship between art and park space as you see it. How do the spaces you use guide the work that gets installed in them? What are the opportunities and limitations of exhibiting outdoors in Detroit?

Louis  Casinelli:  The exhibitions are based on site-specific work in that they should somehow relate to the landscape, environment and other contextual elements. Nonetheless, artists interpret and engage the spaces through their own explorations. The environments in each park do provide certain challenges for the artists, and the challenges go hand in hand with the production of the work. With that, the opportunities are numerous because each artist takes a unique approach to his or her project. As we continue to curate exhibitions, artists will find new possibilities for these spaces. Ultimately, the seasons in Michigan and the activity in Detroit will always provide a rich canvas for local artists.

MP:  Can you talk a bit about your goals for building community around park space and changing the public's perception of Scripps Park in particular?

LC:  Access Arts Detroit is focused on developing and executing programming that is enriched by shared exploration of the city’s parks. It is infinitely important to the success of Access' programs to work with people that share and value these spaces. It’s why we communicate with numerous individuals, businesses and organizations in the process of program development. The support of Wolverine Human Services and the Detroit Public Library's Douglass Branch for our youth education program, for instance, is invaluable. Having community partners is a natural component for the type of programming we are working to achieve.

DA:  The specific goal of the show is to get people to Scripps Park on a more day-by-day basis and encourage them to take ownership of their park. Having two exhibits there this year that will stay up for a couple weeks at a time will get people to the park, and it will help change their perception of the space and its potential. The more people use the park, the less likely safety and other issues will be of concern there. We’re encouraging people to understand the value that healthy parks add to our neighborhoods and the quality of life they bring.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=oDX63WkVriQ

Scripps Park is at the corner of Trumbull and Grand River in Woodbridge, Detroit. The opening takes place on Saturday, May 14 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.; the show runs until Sunday, June 12. Donate to the online fundraiser here.

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