7 outdoor summer events to celebrate: Art festival connects people with Detroit parks

With summer underway, the Detroit Parks Coalition is preparing to launch its annual festival series celebrating arts and culture in the city’s great outdoors. The free community celebration starts on July 8 and spans seven Detroit parks, with events through September.

The Freedom Arts Festival aims to connect — and reconnect — Detroiters to their
neighborhood green spaces. The festival series highlights themes of freedom, racial justice, history, and connection to place through music, dance, storytelling, and art, reflecting Detroit's multicultural tapestry. 

“Parks provide magical spaces to experience music, dance, and the arts that empower our imaginations and uplift our sense of well-being,” says Barbara Barefield, Chief Curator for the event. “The Freedom Arts Festival seeks to connect us with challenges to our freedom in history, inspire us to continue fighting for freedom for all, and explore the diversity of ways we express and share our stories and lives through the arts.”

The Freedom Arts Festival series is supported by the Knight Foundation and the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.

Last year’s inaugural events welcomed more than 1,500 visitors to eight Detroit parks and showcased the talent of 29 local artists and arts organizations. This year, the festival series will span seven of Detroit’s regional parks and pop-up activations in Detroit’s neighborhood parks, developed in partnership with CultureSource and the Gilbert Family Foundation. 

Detroit fine artist Asheber Macharia, whose chosen Ethiopian name means “creative vision” and “true friend,” is the creator of this year’s festival poster. The 72-year-old is the nephew of Rosa Parks, the mother of the civil rights movement. His subjects vary widely from landscapes to historical scenes to art influenced by Egyptian motifs and paintings that reflect general life and struggles in the United States.

The Clark Park Coalition will kick off the series’ first event on July 8. The festival will celebrate the reopening of the beloved neighborhood green space after a year of significant renovations and improvements. Guests can enjoy the park's new features while taking in performances from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Playback Theater, and local arts organizations, including  Ballet Folklórico Moycoyani Ize, Living Arts, Matrix Theater Company Playback Theater Troupe, and special entertainers from Southwest Detroit Musicians from the DSO.

Festival goers can find a complete list of free events below:

Clark Park: Saturday, July 8, 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Clark Park Coalition hosts the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Playback Theatre, and local performers from Southwest Detroit as they present Free to Be You and Me!, a mix of musical and theatrical performances about freedom of expression.

Palmer Park: Sunday, July 9, 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.

In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Detroit Walk to Freedom that culminated with a moving address by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which is widely considered a preview to his “I Have a Dream” speech, People for Palmer Park will commemorate the historic event with various art displays. Guests can also enjoy musical performances from Marion Hayden and Freedom Sounds — featuring Marion Hayden on bass, A. Spencer Barefield on guitar, Alvin Waddles on piano, Tariq Gardner on drums, and Isis Damil on vocals.

Chandler Park: Saturday, July 15, 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Chandler Park Conservancy hosts the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and local artists as they pay homage to musicians, artists, and activists who contributed to the freedom of Black Americans.

Belle Isle: Sunday, July 23, 12 p.m. – 4 p.m.

Belle Isle Conservancy hosts the second annual Community Fun Day at the Belle Isle Aquarium featuring an exciting afternoon of art, music, dance, storytelling, games and activities, food trucks, and more!

Detroit Riverfront: Friday, August 11, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

In celebration of what would have been the late former Detroit Pistons owner, William Davidson’s 100th birthday, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy will host Good Moves Good Grooves, a musical celebration with tributes to legendary Motown artists along the Detroit Riverwalk at Cullen Plaza and Milliken State Park and Harbor.

Rouge Park: Saturday, September 16, 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. 

Friends of Rouge Park and Detroit ACE will honor Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black military aviators in the United States Armed Forces. Jefferson, a Detroit native, will be honored with a plaza and statue dedication, an airshow, performances from local high school marching bands, the Marion Hayden Trio, and more.

Eliza Howell Park: Saturday, September 30, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Sidewalk Detroit hosts “Songs of Freedom, Part 2,” an evening of community singing featuring impactful songs celebrating freedom and justice.

All events are free to attend and open to the public. Find additional details at

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Sarah Williams is a freelance writer and photojournalist based in metro Detroit. Her work focuses on individuals and nonprofit organizations investing in their communities through arts and culture, holistic healthcare, education and neighborhood revitalization. Follow her on Instagram @sarahwilliamstoryteller