Bountiful biennial: Get ready for Art X 2013

Well, wow. Let's get that out of the way first. More than 65 free events and exhibitions take place during the five-day Kresge Art X biennial beginning with Wednesday's opening bash at MOCAD. Go here to register for the party.
Through Sunday, there will be visual art, dance, musical and theatrical performances and literary readings featuring 38 Kresge Artist Fellows and Eminent Artists awarded in 2011 and 2012 at 15 venues, all in Midtown.
For a complete schedule of events go here.

Walter Wasacz tracked down George Jacobsen of the Kresge Foundation and Annmarie Borucki of Midtown Detroit, Inc. for this Q&A.

Model D: Let's start at the beginning. Give us a brief history of Kresge Foundation and its dedication to the arts in Detroit. 

Kresge's George Jacobsen: The Kresge Foundation is a national, private foundation headquartered in Troy that was founded by Sebastian Kresge in 1924. Mr. Kresge was a long-time Detroiter who achieved great success building the nation’s first chain of five-and-dime stores -- the S.S. Kresge stores.

Since our founding, we’ve continuously made grants in Detroit and across the tri-county area. In recent years, we’ve developed a dedicated Detroit Program, a grantmaking program built around comprehensive framework to strengthen the long-term economic, social and cultural fabric of the city. Locally, many people would perhaps be more familiar with our investments in the Detroit RiverWalk, Campus Martius Park, Eastern Market, TechTown, the Dequindre Cut, and, breaking ground this year, the M-1 Light Rail line along Woodward Avenue. Aside from those large-scale efforts, we have worked in many Detroit neighborhoods for the betterment of the city’s children and adults and in the economic development arena.

We at Kresge believe that a thriving arts and cultural community -- from organizations to individual artists -- is integral to the long-term success of the city and Southeast Michigan region. Beyond our history of bricks-and-mortar support for the area’s largest cultural institutions, we launched a general operating support program in 2007 that has since provided over $15 million in flexible capital to over 80 different arts and cultural organizations of all sizes and artistic disciplines across the tri-county area. The vast majority of those organizations operate in Detroit. 

In 2008, we began our work with individual artists and have awarded $2 million to over 70 artists living and working in the Detroit metro area through the College for Creative Studies' Kresge Arts in Detroit (KAID) office. We also provide extensive wrap-around professional development support to the Kresge Artist Fellowship recipients through ArtServe Michigan. The Art X Detroit festival was designed as a public celebration of the talented artists recognized through the KAID program but also celebrates Midtown Detroit as an exciting place to live, work, and play.

Model D: When was the fellowship program started? How many fellows have been named since then?

We named our first Kresge Eminent Artist award recipient, the master visual artist Charles McGee, in 2008. The first cohort of the Kresge Artist Fellows was selected in 2009. Since then, we’ve named five Eminent Artists -- jazz trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, award-winning playwright Bill Harris, Detroit’s poet laureate Naomi Long Madgett, and Michigan Opera Theatre’s David DiChiera in addition to Charles. The Eminent Artist award comes with a $50,000 prize. We’ve also awarded 72 Kresge Artist Fellowships to a diverse set of artists. Two Kresge Artist Fellowship awards went to two different collaborations: Design 99 in 2011 and Passalacqua in 2012. The Kresge Artist Fellowship award comes with a $25,000 prize.

Over the last four years of the program, we’ve concentrated on supporting three broad artistic disciplines: the visual, literary and performing arts. For Year 6 of the Artist Fellowship program -- and I should say that the Year 5 application period for visual and literary artists just closed a few weeks ago -- we are excited to include film/theater as a new category alongside music/dance. More information on this change can be found on the KAID website

Model D: The first Art X festival in 2011 was hugely successful: venues were packed, people were everywhere, the Cultural Center was electrified. Annmarie: how do you top that in 2013?

Annmarie Borucki, Midtown Detroit, Inc.: Art X Detroit is an artist-driven event. The very nature of this festival model means that it will never be the same -- each subsequent event will feature the newest round of Eminent Artists and Artist Fellows, ultimately showcasing new works for presentation, new collaborations, and providing a platform for experimentation.

Luckily for us, we have some very talented artists to present this year and a diverse range of experiences to offer the public: we have jazz, a heavy metal festival in the Scarab Club parking lot, a small film fest at the DFT, a festival of solo experimental sound and art at MOCAD, a gospel showcase at First Congregational Church, world music and good old-fashioned rock, hip-hop and prop-hop, theatrical  productions, poetry readings and spoken word, a salsa dance party, a T-shirt making workshop, a contemporary art exhibition at MOCAD, and other experiences that cross multiple creative disciplines that defy any type of label slapped onto them. In other words: some pretty cool stuff.

AXD13 promises to be as exciting and innovative as 2011. The event has clearly grown -- we have even more performances (20 percent more to be exact) and are featuring a more substantial schedule of panel discussions and exchanges, covering topics such as community engagement through the arts, creative placemaking, arts coverage in the media, and higher education in the arts. We have brought on more partners to help us curate some of these conversations and create social networking opportunities, including the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Drinks x Design, and the Urban Innovation Exchange along with Model D.

Model D: Talk about the opening reception at MOCAD. What can we expect there on April 10? 

Borucki: As Art X continues to get bigger, so does the opening reception, now a multi-venue celebration with MOCAD serving as the hub. Shara Worden will get the festivities started with an über fun performance with My Brightest Diamond and the Detroit Party Marching Band at 7 p.m. Worden will then lead a procession out the door and over to the First Congregational Church and continue her performance in the sanctuary. Kris Johnson and Friends will also heat up MOCAD playing classic jazz tunes at 8:15 p.m.

The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art will feature Ken Meisel and Passalacqua, together performing a rendition of Meisel’s poem, "John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillun," as well as a featurette entitled "Never Alone" at 9:30 p.m. Passalacqua will then kick it up with a set as you know them best. For dance aficionados, Laurie Eisenhower will present a newly choreographed dance performance, "Alice and" in Wayne State's Allesee Studio Theatre at 8 p.m.

The opening reception also presents the first opportunity to check out the Art X Detroit Exhibition featuring all 12 2011 Kresge Visual Arts Fellows, as well as 2012 Literary Arts Fellow, Heidi Kaloustian. Videos of all of the Fellows and the Eminent Artists created by Stephen McGee Films will also be screened in MOCAD’s Woodward Gallery. 

Model D: Shine a light on exhibitions and events we shouldn't miss on Thursday? Friday? Saturday?

Annmarie Borucki: 
Literary artist Lolita Hernandez has teamed up with notable mixed-media and performance artist, Pat Oleszko, to create "Butterflies, Roti, Tornadoes Oh My," a multimedia performance developed from the initial chapter of Hernandez' novel-in-progress, scheduled for Thursday night at MOCAD. You may just be swept away by this presentation featuring a colorful cast of characters, a flock of butterflies, a hummingbird and a tornado.

Writer, musician and music historian Michael Hurtt will present "Angels Watching Over Me: A Detroit Gospel Showcase," featuring some of the longest running gospel groups in town, including the Trumpelettes, The Pure Heart Travelers and the Silver Harpes at First Congregational Church on Thursday. In the first hour Hurtt will interview the artists, moderating a discussion about the history of Detroit gospel. This will be followed by a 30-minute performance by each group. This is a rare opportunity to enjoy some of Detroit’s most overlooked and influential music artists.

On Friday, Art X is presenting its first ever film fest at the Detroit Film Theatre. Films that will be shown include visual artist Corrie Baldauf’s project in partnership with Stephen McGee, "Frames for the People: A City of Halos," "Never Alone,” a short film documenting the collaboration between Ken Meisel and Passalacqua, "Star By Star: Naomi Long Madgett, Poet & Publisher" and the premiere of Maria Costa’s "¡Viva America!," a comedy about immigration in the U.S. On the other end of the spectrum, Chris Pottinger will present an evening of experimental sound and art at MOCAD, with live performances by Cotton Museum, Nate Young, Bill Nace, Christopher Forgues and Mat Brinkman.

Sunday offers up a special one-woman show by Marsha Music based on her blog essay on the life and times of her father, Joe Von Battle, who opened his pre-Motown record shop in the mid-1940s on Hastings Street. This performance will provide Music’s unique perspective on Detroit’s musical history -- not to be missed.

Model D: We're circling Friday's panel discussion on creative placemaking at MOCAD. How important is the quality of place, as Detroit moves forward, seen through the lens of artists?

That will be a really interesting conversation. As a field of practice, "Creative Placemaking," is fairly young but there are a number of very interesting projects in Detroit and across the country that have effectively integrated arts and culture into community and economic development projects. The core idea behind creative placemaking is that a meaningful integration of the arts into community development projects yield better outcomes, ultimately having a greater impact on place.

, one leader (and funder) in the creative placemaking arena, has supported a number of projects in Detroit, including work coming out of Power House Productions, Midtown Detroit, Inc., the Detroit Institute of Arts, and MOCAD. As a matter of fact, Midtown Detroit was recently cited as one of the country’s most vibrant neighborhoods as per research conducted by ArtPlace.

At what really is a challenging time for the City of Detroit, quality of place is imperative. The arts -- and therefore artists -- are uniquely positioned to help foster and strengthen community engagement efforts, to animate neighborhoods with new ideas, and instill hope in place through creative works as ways to directly and indirectly help stabilize and strengthen neighborhoods. One of the main charges coming out of the Detroit Future City strategic framework plan is to help create regionally distinct and competitive neighborhoods in Detroit. The great thing about Detroit is that creative practice of many of its artists is already firmly rooted in place, providing an authentic level of distinctiveness in many neighborhoods across the City.

Model D: There are a few events centered around Kresge Eminent Artist Naomi Long Madgett. Tell us a little bit about her literary work and its importance to Detroit creative life.

Naomi’s events at Art X are clearly reflective of the influential role she’s played in the community over her decades-long career as a poet, an educator, and publisher in Detroit. Her work -- her presence, really -- has reached across generations of Detroiters. Last year, Kresge published a fantastic monograph on Naomi, covering her career and her influence in the discipline. She’s been a true champion for the African American voice in poetry. A number of peers contributed to the monograph and expertly describe her role in influencing not just their writing, but their development as human beings. A PDF version is available on the Kresge website. Physical copies will also be available at Art X. 

We have also published monographs on nearly all of the Eminent Artist award recipients, including Charles McGee, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, and playwright Bill Harris. A publication on the 2013 Eminent Artist award winner David DiChiera will be published later this year.

Model D: How does Art X compare to other large-scale Midtown festivals: like last year's inaugural Dlectricity and the annual Noel Night?

Art X has added to Midtown’s cachet for being a district that embraces the arts and other creative practices. All three events are similar in that they are feeding the public’s hunger for quality arts programming in Detroit, they showcase the city and its cultural assets in a positive light, and provide a platform for artists to share their talents with the public. Each event is also distinct in its mission. Noel Night is the Cultural Center-wide holiday "open-house" with a huge economic impact for Midtown’s restaurants, bars, and businesses. Dlectricity transformed Midtown into a spectacular nighttime environment of temporary, site-specific public art, demonstrating the growing vibrancy of this district and the power of contemporary light-based art to improve the quality of place. Art X is a glimpse into the Detroit arts scene, a reflection of a city in change -- many of the featured 38 artists are diving into new territory, or are at a turning point within their careers where their art is shifting. Art X is a unique catch-all type of event that encourages its artists to be more introspective about their creative practice, to take risks, to create something new.

Model D: We're looking forward to a fab weekend in Midtown. Any final thoughts on what we should plan for?

We highly encourage people to review the schedule and plan ahead what you would like to experience. AXD13 is one of those festivals where you are forced to make difficult decisions on what you want to see due to the overlapping schedule. We also encourage attendees to arrive early to ensure access to some events due to capacity at many of the venues. Seating will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Walter Wasacz is Model D's managing editor and plans on sleeping only a little bit this weekend. 

Read more articles by Walter Wasacz.

Walter Wasacz is a writer and the former managing editor of Model D. You can find more of his writings here.
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