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Annual car show gives Detroit School of Arts students a showcase for their talents

DSA students Sierra Dillard, Ackeem Salmon, and Alexandra Collier






Three years ago, retired Detroit School of Arts (DSA) art teacher John Woods got a grant to help his students create animated short films. In 2014, several student film awards later, he decided to put leftover grant funds toward something different that would incorporate many of the school's disciplines in creative new ways, and the Midtown Car Show was born to showcase the school and teach students about Detroit's automotive legacy.

The inaugural exhibition of historic cars went so well that it's being repeated this year, Thursday and Friday, April 23-24 at DSA. It's not only a car show, though. Along with presenting more than a dozen vintage cars volunteered by their owners, the students have organized a fashion show, musical performances, workshops, and a student art exhibition and auction all related to the cars on display.

Highlights among the cars in the show include a 1919 Meisenhelder Roadster, a 1950 Packard, a 1964 Cobra, a very early Volkswagen Beetle, and three different Model T's from different eras.

Four "student CEOs" from the DSA's Visual Arts Department run the show under the tutelage of Beverly Morrison-Green, DSA radio and television teacher and one of two arts coordinators brought to the school by the University of Michigan. She serves as the project's executive director, but praises the hours of hard work the student CEOs have put into organizing the event.

The four, Sabrina Ashley, Alexandra Collier, Sierra Dillard and Ackeem Salmon have divided up the work according to their interests. Ashley is CEO of fashion and is coordinating the period costumes students will model alongside their cars. Collier, CEO of history and logistics, is in charge of researching the cars as well as arranging them once they get to the school. Dillard is CEO of sponsorships and workshops. Salmon, creative director and CEO of photography, designed the event poster.

Music and dance students at DSA have regular performances to display their talents, while art students previously had not had a signature event, says Morrison-Green. Other majors at the school will still participate as well, including Vision, DSA's male classical and jazz vocal ensemble.

DSA history and social studies classes are also researching the cars and the workers who made them. Tessie Golden, historian and orchestra major is studying a 1966 Corvair that will be in the show. She will tell its story and promote its features for the public during the event as if it's a new car just on the market. "It's a way to enlighten youth on our own history, the history of our city and our families, particularly those who worked in the auto industry," says Alexandra.

DSA students have unique opportunities to grow their talents in the school's studios, art rooms, and performance halls. "Most schools aren't as hands-on as ours," says Alexandra. In fact, both Sierra and Ackeem have already won awards for their creative work at DSA.

All this was reason enough for Bill Steiner to participate. Detroit resident, Detroit Public Schools alumnus, and owner of a 1958 Edsel Citation, Steiner wanted to "support DPS schoolkids who are taking their education seriously." He admired the students for all the effort that they are putting into the event. "This needs to be nurtured," he says, calling the Midtown Car Show "something the city and the schools can be proud of." He laments that good stories about Detroit Public Schools like this don't often get enough attention. He's already got plans to join next year's show: he'll be bringing his 1955 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

"The show is not just for car geeks, but also for art geeks, music geeks, and more," says Sierra, noting the breadth of activities accompanying the car show.  So now, between winter's North American International Auto Show and Autorama and summer cruising season, there's a new auto-related event for the region to enjoy, put on by talented Detroit Public Schools students.

The Midtown Car Show is free and open to the public at the Detroit School of Arts, 123 Selden St., behind the Max M. Fisher Music Center. It goes from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 23 and 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Friday, April 24. For more information, call 313-494-6314

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All photos by Marvin Shaouni except photo of DSA students by Michael Boettcher.
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