Marygrove Conservancy to focus on uplifting “culture-bearers” to meet challenges ahead

Even before the doors closed at Marygrove as a college,  plans were in place to keep the campus a viable and important presence on the West Side of Detroit. Perhaps, even more than it did as a school. 

The Marygrove Conservancy has been working diligently to create and codify programming on the 53-acre campus since 2018, with the support of partners and stakeholders. Fellows from Challenge Detroit have been one of the most recent highly-skilled experts to bring their fresh ideas to the Conservancy to help them evaluate their programming. 

Recently, several fellows presented their recommendations on how to deliver arts, culture, and community-related programming, based on work they’ve developed over the last seven weeks in partnership with the Conservancy. 

For this project, the fellows were working to address the question: How might Marygrove Conservancy work to ensure the entrepreneurial and economic advancement of culture-bearers in the Live6 communities? Eight teams of Challenge Detroit fellows collaboratively delivered innovative recommendations and work products focused on providing educational resources to culture-bearers, developing mentoring opportunities for culture-bearers across generations,  designing a holistic and scalable leadership program for culture-bearers, and setting up plans and processes to redirect purchasing and procurement opportunities within the Live6 community for Marygrove Campus operations. 

As well as amplifying culture-bearers’ voices and helping make their stories heard and their work seen, continuing to elevate and listen to ideas and input from culture-bearers and community organizations is key. 

The Conservancy defines a “culture-bearer” as any individual who carries and diffuses cultural values and traits between societies. The role of culture-bearers is particularly important within those cultures undergoing transition or experiencing threats from outside the culture. 

The fellows’ contribution towards advancing The Powerhouse Project’s work is tremendous, says Racheal Allen, Chief Operating Officer at Marygrove Conservancy.

“Working with the Challenge Detroit fellows over these last few months has been a game-changer for Marygrove Conservancy.” 

The Powerhouse Project serves as a metaphor for the campus being a catalytic engine for ethical redevelopment, Black futurism, and opportunities, and includes internationally renowned artist and urban planner Theaster Gates, who currently serves as an advisor to the Conservancy.

"The Powerhouse Project began as an effort to do an adaptive reuse project in the former power plant on campus. This work has since become a metaphor for the Marygrove campus being a powerhouse and serving as the catalytic engine for equitable initiatives through arts, culture, community, and entrepreneurship," Allen says. 

“As a lean organization, the value we've received from the fellows has helped us further develop transformational community-based programs that we otherwise might not have been able to deliver. We are extremely grateful for the partnership and the opportunity.” 

Since the start of the pandemic, which disproportionately affected the communities that the Marygrove Conservancy aims to serve, they have engaged in campus master planning efforts to develop its strategy and future programming in the areas of arts, culture, community, and entrepreneurship. By intentionally engaging residents, artists, practitioners, and stakeholders, the 53-acre campus is being transformed into a thriving hub for nonprofits, startups, and the arts. 

“The fellows put great care and respect into listening to and centering the voices of Live6 culture-bearers and Marygrove staff to inform their work; this is vital to how we do community-based collaboration,” says Shelley Danner, Program Director of Challenge Detroit, in a recent statement. “We are thrilled to have helped Marygrove move several steps closer to accomplishing the impact they aspire to bring about. Allen's vision and partnership have been inspiring for us as we cultivate community-minded leaders through our program.” 

Challenge Detroit is a year-long fellowship program and its tenth cohort of fellows are convening from September 2021 through August 2022. Fellows spend four days a week, Monday through Thursday, accelerating their careers with a host company, and each Friday, fellows are supported by their employer to be out-of-the-office and working in multi-disciplinary teams alongside local nonprofit partners on meaningful community projects. 

Over 10 years, Challenge Detroit has added capacity to more than 165 local nonprofit organizations, from small and start-up nonprofits to large and longtime nonprofits, across Detroit’s neighborhoods, through collaborating on innovative, strategic projects.  

Challenge Detroit is currently recruiting for the 2022-2023 cohort year
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Read more articles by Biba Adams.

Biba Adams is a regular contributor and project editor for Model D. Formally Model D's Editor at Large, she is a longtime journalist whose work is fueled by her passion for people and her native Detroit. Find her on all social channels @BibatheDiva.