Articles by Amy Haimerl

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    Arts groups help Detroit explore how the summer of 67 changed the city forever

    June 26, 2017 by Amy Haimerl

    Arts groups help Detroit explore how the summer of 67 changed the city forever

    The Wright Museum's newly installed sculpture "United We Stand" is the first component of how they are using art to commemorate the 1967 civil unrest. Photo by Annistique Photography.


    July 23, 1967.

    Twelfth Street and Clairmount.

    3:15 a.m.

    Police raid a speakeasy.

    An uprising breaks out.

    Rioting. Looting. Anger. Frustration. Fear.

    Forty-three dead; 1,189 injured.

    Five days.

    A city forever changed.

    Changed in the way you’ve heard – accelerated flight from the city, abandonment by a generation of Detroiters – but also in ways you may not. That night indelibly marked Detroit’s future as the city’s narrative cleaved in half.

    For some, a riot occurred. “Black power militants promoting a revolution,” as one man told the Detroit Historical Society in an oral history collected for the “Detroit 67: Looking Back to Move Forward” exhibit.

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    Investing in the future of Detroit: How a nonprofit lender takes a chance on small businesses when banks won’t

    May 2, 2017 by Amy Haimerl

    Investing in the future of Detroit: How a nonprofit lender takes a chance on small businesses when banks won’t

    Photos by Jason Keen for Knight Foundation

    Four years ago, this block was dark. The streetlights were out and all of the storefronts sat empty. Residents living in apartments above the shops came and went, hoping one day the block would come back to life. But nobody knew when – or if – it would ever happen. 

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    2016 Knight Arts Challenge looks for the best ideas for the arts

    April 4, 2016 by Amy Haimerl

    2016 Knight Arts Challenge looks for the best ideas for the arts

    Photo: NorthernLights.MN, a St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge winner

    Shane Wynn had an idea.

    Well, actually, the Akron, Ohio, resident has a lot of ideas. So many ideas that Wynn, a photographer, keeps two lists: one for problems she’d like to solve and one for projects she’d like to create. When she hits on an idea that intersects both lists, she knows she’s found something compelling.


    "Upcoming workshops give behind-the-scenes info on Knight Arts Challenge" by Marika Lynch on Knight Blog, 3/25/2016

    “I start with the problem and then wait for something to intersect that works visually,” she said. “That way I am making something that someone will care about and I can exact some change.”

    For her current idea, she saw an opportunity to photograph women leaders in Akron against a backdrop of the city’s underutilized public spaces. The project, called #overlooked, was enough to earn Wynn a $5,000 grant from the first Knight Arts Challenge Akron. In the fall, she will hang nine oversized portraits in vacant windows downtown.

    “I’ve been super excited since I found out about these challenges,” said Wynn. “It has been very hard to get funding as an independent artist. This has really given people an opportunity.”

    When the Knight Arts Challenge first began in Miami in 2008, it, too, was an idea with hopes of a big impact. Knight Foundation decided to open up funding to everyone in the city with an idea for the arts, as a way to find the little nuggets of inspiration lurking inside the hearts and minds of residents.

    Eight years later, the challenge has turned into a juggernaut that launches today in four cities: Akron, Ohio; Detroit; St. Paul and again Miami. In each, it has provided the fuel for grassroots projects and big ideas to grow. This year, submissions are being accepted through May 2. 

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    ‘Art is everything’ to Knight USA Fellow Shara Nova

    April 15, 2016 by Amy Haimerl

    Knight Arts Challenge Detroit award winner Shara Nova.

    “Stop texting and driving!” Shara Nova shouts

    The My Brightest Diamond lead singer is sitting on her hotel veranda in Savannah, Georgia, and she can see a man driving past with his phone in his hand. And that, she says, is a huge annoyance. She is thinking a lot about personal freedoms, and this is not one of them.

    Nova is in town for the Savannah Music Festival and will be playing in just a few hours. Then it will be on to Dallas and other cities as the Detroit-based artist passes through the festival circuit, playing material from her past four albums as well as other work she has written and composed. Each show is different and audiences never know what to expect. After all, in addition to fronting her rock band, Nova composed the baroque opera, “You Us We All” inspired by Beyonce and Bach; toured with the indie folk rock band the Decemberists; and can sing Górecki’s Third Symphony; among many, many other things.

    On April 18, the multi-talented artist lands in Miami to perform at an assembly of some of the country’s most accomplished artists, all of whom, like Nova, are United States Artists fellows.

    Each year USA, a Chicago-based grantmaking and advocacy group, awards $50,000 fellowships to dozens of artists – no strings attached – as a way of encouraging art and artists in America. Knight Foundation underwrites fellows who are working in cities where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers. Last year, that list included Nova as well as Frank Big Bear of Duluth, Minnesota and Jonathan Muecke and Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands of St. Paul, Minnesota.

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    Detroit’s history as a center of design reinvigorates its renewal

    August 25, 2016 by Amy Haimerl

    Detroit’s history as a center of design reinvigorates its renewal
    Art Deco design figures prominently in the skyline of downtown Detroit. Photo by Anthony Barchock. Detroit is the cradle of American design.  The region started as the place for cast iron stoves, railcars and bicycles at the turn of the 19th century, and then became the hotbed of the automobile, industrial design and midcentury modern furniture. That’s right: Eero Saarinen and Charles and Ray Eames, designers of such icons as the Tulip Chair and molded plywood lounge chair, met at Cranbrook Academy of Art in the suburbs of Detroit. “This isn’t a backwater that we just decided to be a design capital,” said Olga Stella, executive director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3), an accelerator and advocate for Detroit’s creative economy. “From the beginning, we’ve influenced the future choices of people around the world.” And design is about to influence the future of Detroit. 
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    Detroit youth explore culture and history of West Africa on trip funded by Knight Arts Challenge award

    March 14, 2016 by Amy Haimerl

    Detroit youth explore culture and history of West Africa on trip funded by Knight Arts Challenge award

    Above: Heritage Works took 10 current or recent ensemble members to Dakar, Senegal, with funding from the Knight Arts Challenge Detroit People’s Choice Award. Photo credit Cary Junior II via Heritage Works on Flickr.

    When Cary Junior arrived in Dakar, Senegal, last December, his first concern was the bugs.

    “It was late at night,” he says. “We were in a small airport and our bags were piled up and we were each trying to find our bag. It was already hot and muggy. It didn’t really stick to me yet just how surreal it was for me to be there. I just didn’t want to get bit by any bugs.”

    That fear quickly subsided as the power of Dakar pulled at him and the other nine youth who traveled to Senegal with Heritage Works, a cultural arts organization that shares West African traditions, particularly dance, with Detroiters. Typically, Heritage Works brings “tradition bearers” to the Motor City, but for the organization’s 15th anniversary, Executive Director Rhonda Greene asked the youth program how they wanted to celebrate.

    “The idea that floated to the top was to travel and tour,” she says. “So our board met and got behind the goal.”

    Still, raising the money for 10 members ages 16-22 to travel to West Africa for 10 days would be a huge undertaking. So when Greene discovered in August 2015 that the organization was both a finalist in the Knight Arts Challenge in Detroit and one of four competing for the People’s Choice Award, everything changed. She knew the $20,000 prize that came with a People’s Choice win (supporters text their votes) could make the trip a reality for Junior and others.

    The night of the awards, Greene told her friends and board members that she would text them the minute Knight President Alberto Ibargüen announced the winners. The first good news came when Heritage Works was awarded $100,000 to bring a West African “grio” to Detroit to mentor local artists and youth in the oral traditions of Malie and Senegal. But when Ibargüen called out the People’s Choice winner, he named the Hamtramck Free School.

    It was then, Greene says, “grace in action” intervened. Instead of just collecting their win and cash, the Hamtramck Free School offered to give their $20,000 to one of the other winners if Knight Foundation would fund the other two People’s Choice finalists. Ibargüen shocked them all by giving $20,000 to all four organizations.

    “It was a spiritual moment for me,” says Greene. “We went from losing—I mean, I’d already texted people—to winning.”

    Six weeks later, she was on a plane bound for Senegal, where the group would study with the Baklama Danse Ensemble, a Dakar­-based youth­ ensemble, go back stage with the Ballet National du Senegal, visit Goree Island and the Maison de Esclaves (House of the Slaves), and spend time at an orphanage.

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    The youth poets of Michigan have something to say

    March 29, 2016 by Amy Haimerl

    The youth poets of Michigan have something to say

    Photos by Justin Milhouse/Courtesy Louder Than a Bomb: The Michigan Youth Poetry Festival.

    The youth poets of Michigan have something to say.

    “My city taught me what it means to survive, despite.” – Ashley Carson, 18, Citywide Poets

    They aren’t spending their Saturday night in a Detroit auditorium just to talk about the Kardashians or other trifling things. They are here on Wayne State University’s campus to drop the mic, to bring some truth. This mix of more than 100 students from across Southeast Michigan – African-American, Caucasian, Indian, male, female, some in hijab, others in brightly colored kicks – are here to watch and compete in the final battle of Louder Than a Bomb: The Michigan Youth Poetry Festival.

    “I am afraid to go to college. Scared I won’t fit in. Scared I won’t get in. … I’m scared to go to college. I don’t know what it will be like. I don’t know what I will be like.” – Dzifa Adjei, 17, Pioneer High School

    Four teams have made it to the championship bout – The Elements from Troy; Citywide Poets from Detroit; Arts Academy in the Woods from Fraser; and Pioneer High School from Ann Arbor – and all are looking to bring home the title. They compete in five rounds – four individual slams and one group poem – that force them tell the audience their innermost thoughts, ranging from the impact of gun violence to fighting the demons of depression. Bar by bar, they bare their souls for the judges, showing off their writing prowess and their performance skills.

    “It’s been exciting,” said Benjamin Alfaro, who organizes Louder Than A Bomb as part of his work with InsideOut Literary Arts Project, a multiple winner of the Knight Arts Challenge that teaches writing and poetry to Detroit students. “I’m reminded how much artistic activity is in high school. But they have so few venues to express themselves.”