There's a thin line between art and life at the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival

When Jonathan Rajewski, who moved to Hamtramck in 2012 after buying an historic brewery that was converted into artists studios in the 1970s, was asked to create a poster for the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival, he came up with a novel idea. Why not offer the opportunity to all artists in the community? This is a place, after all, filling up with creative people from its southern border to beyond the city limits and into newly branded northern border sectors called Banglatown and the Northwest Territories.

"I took the 'neighborhood' part of the festival very seriously," says Rajewski, an exhibitions assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). Not only did he offer the chance to 'posterize' the event to working artists but also gave it to kids who attend youth activities at the Hamtramck Free School held at Rajewski's Klinger Street Studios.

Youth brigade from Hamtramck Free School working on postersJonathan Rajewski at Klinger Street Studios

What resulted is a torrent of colorful collectibles that have been put up all over Hamtown, not to mention key out-of-neighborhood locations in downtown, Corktown, and the Cass Corridor. The posters have at least one thing in common: all say that the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival is this Saturday, Oct. 11. It begins with open studios at 1 p.m., continues with live music on porches and front lawns from 3:30 to 6 p.m. and ends with readings, DJs and food (at Public Pool) and, even later, folk blues performances at Lo & Behold.         

There are nearly 40 locations (some hosting multiple events) in the festival, now in its fifth year. Organizers Steve Panton of 9338 Jos. Campau (Panton moved his 2739 Edwin gallery this summer to a new spot closer to Holbrook Avenue) and Public Pool's Steve Hughes assembled a larger group of volunteers, and got started sooner, than in previous years.

"We had to," Hughes says. "It's grown each year because the art community in Hamtramck continues to grow. Each year we add new artists, new studios, new performers. Creative people are moving here and just jumping into the scene."

Organizers Steve Hughes (left) and Steve Panton on Jos. Campau

The greater Hamtramck art community has long been known for welcoming newcomers. Openings at
Popps Packing, Public Pool, Hatch Art, and Panton's gallery spaces are friendly, often boozy, mixers that feature music, conversation, and good times. Artists are also buying properties and moving to Banglatown and Northwest Territories, Detroit neighborhoods along Carpenter Street, a growing creative corridor that separates Hamtramck and Detroit. (Mark this down: another event set to launch next May in this part of town is the Porous Borders Festival, curated by the Hinterlands.)

One of those recent transplants to the Carpenter corridor is Tess Miller, a sound and visual artist who bought a house on Lumpkin Street at auction in 2012. She dubbed it Keinhaus Detroit and began hosting experimental electronic music events called Modular Mayhem and Oblique Strategies. She's welcomed guests from Europe and the U.S. to stay at her art-inspired house.

Electronic music artist Tess Miller is hosting a dance party installation at Keinhaus in the Northwest Territories

"Everyone who comes here loves the neighborhood," Miller says. "It's changing pretty quickly (along Carpenter), and it's clear the area is becoming an arts district. What appeals to me most is that there is little separation between life and art. It's what I admire most about Popps Packing (across the alley from her property), it's what I want for Keinhaus."

Miller found the house here after spending six years in the Netherlands and Germany and nearly a year in New York. She's from Dearborn originally and used to come to Detroit coffeehouses when she was a teenager.

"When I was in Amsterdam and Berlin, Detroit was always talked about as an art capital, a place where artists need to be," she says. "I decided I wanted to come home and be a part of it."

At the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival, Keinhaus will feature a danceable installation called "the dance floor is a painting, the DJ is invisible." The party starts at 3:30 p.m. on the front lawn of the house (12159 Lumpkin St.).

Tess Miller in her studio at Keinhaus

Other potential highlights at the Oct. 11 festival include:
  • A chance to see Burnside Farm (3341 Burnside), where a poetry reading takes place at 4 p.m.
  • Pumpkin carving and other kid friendly activities (2-6 p.m.) at the Hamtramck Farmers Market (2360 Yemans St.) followed by live music by Dave Morrison and the Creepos (4-6 p.m.)
  • A 'Dancing with the Mayor' workshop at Tekla Vintage (9600 Jos. Campau), a new shop opened by Mayor Karen Majewski, who is also an accomplished folk dancer (2:30 p.m.)
  • Tea service at FILTER Detroit (12645 Moran St.) between 3:30 and 6 p.m.
  • Poetry, art, and performances by members of the Bangla School of Music up the street at the Play House (12657 Moran St.)
  • DJs all day at Detroit Threads (10238 Jos. Campau)
  • A pop-up biergarten in the lot next to Lo & Behold (10022 Jos. Campau) will serve craft beers from around noon to midnight. Cash bar, of course.
Also, exhibitions that are currently up continue throughout the festival at Popps Packing, 9338 Jos. Campau, Hatch Art, Cafe 1923 (2287 Holbrook), and Public Pool, where "The Last Record Shop" show is not to be missed (gallery hours are 1-6 p.m.) and the Good Tyme Writers' Buffet takes center stage at 8 p.m.

The best advice on how to enjoy this event is just start anywhere you like, wander the approximately 2.5 square mile range of the festival on foot, allowing yourself the keen, rare pleasure of landing here, there, and everywhere without predetermination. That's right, float downstream and turn your own experience into an act of random artfulness. We will be doing exactly that, hoping to bump into you and other friendly bodies along the way.

The fifth annual Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival is Oct. 11. Go here for more information, a map and a schedule of events.

Walter Wasacz is former managing editor at Model D. You can see him floating often on the streets of Hamtramck, where he was born, raised, and lives at the intersection of art and life.
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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.