ArtBlock aims to foster safe space and community belonging

A striking image of a girl with the galaxy in her hair, as the artist Fel3000ft describes it, is the focal point of “The Universe,” a bright mural that covers the exterior wall of ArtBlock at the corner of Holden and Lincoln streets in Detroit. Fel3000ft, a local Detroit-based artist commissioned by Henry Ford Health System, layered a poem on the mural expressing “how we are all one.”

He hopes the work will inspire people to love and respect each other more, “celebrating our differences instead of condemning them.”

Fel3000ft has worked in the area that includes the Lincoln Street Art Park since 2012, so community-based art is nothing new for the 47-year-old artist who declined to give his real name. He says the Lincoln art district in the Northwestern Goldberg community thrives as “an interesting community of artists, builders, and out-of-the-box thinkers.”

“We love this place, and if people understand that there’s feeling and emotion and care behind it, they’ll stop throwing the trash on the ground and they’ll start picking it up,” Fel300ft says. “And it worked.”

Kids now visit ArtBlock and the Art Park on field trips, he says, and teachers explain how art can change a community.

ArtBlock is a space available to residents and local nonprofits to use for meetings, events, and more. Michele Harrison-Sears, senior director for foundation relations in Henry Ford’s development office, helped write the proposal that secured a $200,000 youth and family grant from the Vera and Joseph Dresner Foundation. She says the goal was to create a community resource in the neighborhood that is home to Henry Ford Hospital and Motown Museum.

Harrison-Sears and a Henry Ford team of about seven people operate the facility and make decisions for ArtBlock, a “funky space” with “a great vibe,” as she describes it. The team’s work and meetings with community members helped shape the vision for the 3,300-square-foot gathering space blanketed in art work.

Henry Ford owns and staffs the building, Harrison-Sears says, and covers its daily upkeep. The grant money helped launch the space, funded monthly community programming, and compensated 14 local artists for their work that adorns the interior and exterior walls. 1XRun, coordinator of Detroit’s Murals in the Market, managed the artists and curated their works. Green Living Science, headquartered across the street, hosts educational programming and monthly activities at ArtBlock.

Harrison-Sears says Henry Ford was committed to partnering with local artists to showcase their art work on a building that had gone vacant after several different incarnations with retail businesses.

The interior is now purposefully spare to make the space easier to adapt for myriad events.

“There’s not a lot of furniture,” Harrison-Sears says, “because we wanted the space to be able to accommodate all sorts of uses – yoga, community dinners, retreats, board meetings…”

Harrison-Sears estimates 5,000 people have attended events there, bringing more foot traffic to the area. She says a “tremendous amount of interest” has been shown from groups interesting in reserving the space for events, workshops, and other activities.

The groups that have made use of ArtBlock vary widely. Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., which provides service in the community, runs monthly youth programs for girls there. U.S. Sen. Gary Peters hosted an event with Detroit Councilwoman Janee Ayers. Henry Ford also uses ArtBlock for its corporate meetings and events.

ArtBlock also has been used by groups like addiction support group Recovery Dharma, which holds weekly meetings there. It’s “a peer-led, grassroots, democratically-structured organization,” with a Buddhist approach to addiction.

“ArtBlock has provided us with that space, and it’s been awesome,” says a Recovery Dharma member who goes by her Buddhist name Sen.

Glenda Cook, a nine-year resident of the neighborhood, learned of ArtBlock from Rachel Meyers, a senior grant coordinator at Henry Ford who knocked on her door to inform her about another project in the area next door.

“Rachel was really excited about making sure the neighborhood was included in a lot of the things taking place on Holden,” Cook says. “No one has ever really approached us about all of the changes taking place.”

Working with Meyers, Cook got involved with a summer project – building a community garden outside the Holden building for survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse.

Cook works with sexual assault victims in her day job at WC Safe, a nonprofit organization that provides “trauma-informed care” to victims. Through that organization and other community ties, Cook and associates host different events meant to empower victims. She says WC Safe has hosted two events — its community garden celebration and fundraiser — at ArtBlock. 

“It turned out phenomenal,” Cook says.

Starting in January, an associate of Cook’s will begin hosting regular workshops for women at ArtBlock that will teach things like life skills, money management, and even self-defense.

“ArtBlock is an absolute blessing because it’s free for nonprofits,” Cook says.

Harrison-Sears says ArtBlock is an evolving project, with the goal of offering the space free or low-cost for nonprofits and community groups.

Anyone interested in using ArtBlock can visit www.henryford.com/artblock to fill out a simple space use request form and start a conversation, says Harrison-Sears. Parking and WiFi are available.

 

 

 

 

 

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