Soup's on: We begin a monthly series stirred up by Detroit micro-grant funder

It feels like yesterday that there was a small group of artists, risk takers, and friends gathered in a storage space above the Mexicantown Bakery to test out an idea from Chicago. The idea was a public soup dinner micro-granting creative projects in the city put into motion by artist Kate Daughdrill.

Two months later, photographer and graphic designer Justin Ames won the first grant of $110 towards his idea of taking photos of Rust Belt Cities. Now, two years -- and $8300, 16 dinners, and countless number of connections -- later, Detroit SOUP is excited to welcome a third year of projects, ideas, and people that want to help engage, re-imagine, and re-envision our Detroit. 

The concept is simple. For $5 you get your soup, salad, bread, pie (thanks to our friend Tom Joseph), and a vote. We normally meet at the now named Bakery Loft still above the Mexicantown Bakery. Doors open around 6:30 p.m., we hear up to four project proposals from courageous individuals. Each individual or group gets 3-4 minutes to pitch their idea and then take about three questions from the diners. After hearing proposals you get your bowl and it is time to eat! Most of our food has been donated from different community members or organizations that want to support the idea of SOUP.

Here is a perfect time to talk to your neighbor and begin to engage in why you want to vote for the project you think would best benefit Detroit. Sometimes you might be presented by a poet, or sit under an engaging art installation; music is always present. Joy and hope always hang from the energy from the participants in the room. By about 9:15 p.m., the votes are tallied and a winner is announced, and about $700-900 given to that project or idea. 

Each dinner is different. People in this city are incredibly creative, hopeful, thoughtful, and open to conversations about their projects. We have seen projects engaging urban agriculture, social justice, art, and entrepreneurs. Many of these overlap disciplines.

What I love most about each soup dinner is watching people connect and interact. We have seen people who proposed and not win the soup pot receive time, talent, resources, volunteers, building space, and engaging questions. We have seen a couple get married after meeting at SOUP. We have seen six other soup dinners grow from the Detroit SOUP idea. Soup at Spaulding, Diverse Soup City Hamtramck, Dearborn, Ferndale, Ann Arbor, and (soon to be ) Techtown have expanded to help provide small grants to the ideas that are helping us create a new landscape. 

Each project that has been funded has added a new spark to the conversation of Detroit. 

• Veronika Scott's Empowerment Plan took off after winning a SOUP grant and gave her the second wind that she needed to move the project forward. She has now been awarded materials from Carhartt and been showcased on CNN and NPR. 

• Ben Bunk’s Drawing Detroit is on its second pressing sold at Cass Café, and City Bird.

• "Twinning Towns" was a simultaneous Skyped trombone performance of two artists in Detroit and Germany.  

• Midtown Sound will be a new community run radio station. The money they received will go to buying turntables and getting the radio station up and running very soon. 

• Homeless outreach with Action by Presence and Burners without Borders have been able to help with soup and backpacks to those with no homes in our community. 

• Bridge to the Garbage King is a tire dragon and tree house built with abandoned tires and pallets in a vacant property. The group also wrote a children’s book to share with their littlest neighbors about reusing and recycling materials. The Woodbridge community also received a park and playground cleanup on Avery Street. 

• Replanting Roots, SAY Clinic, and the Pay It Forward Initiative are all groups helping residents in the community.

• Get Fresh Café, Highland Park Hoop house, and Smallville Farms received grants to forward their farms and fresh approaches to Detroit. 

We have seen some amazing projects not receive funding, but people have shared that their experience was very important. They received questions they may have never thought about, received goods and services, and made new connections to other people who are passionate about their ideas. 

Feb. 12 will mark our seventeenth dinner. We are moving the dinner to a bigger location with the desire to get at least 300 Detroiters to participate. We will be at 2900 E. Grand Blvd. You will hear four new project pitches, and eat soup from the kitchens of Slows, Mudgies, and the Book Cadillac. We will have displays from past projects and other local soups. We will have performances throughout the evening from The Detroit Fly House. The art installation is from MeMe Design. We couldn’t be more excited to see what the next year brings, how Detroit will grow, and what new ideas are brewing from the amazing minds of our neighbors!

Detroit SOUP will have a new home soon. We are outgrowing the bakery loft and have seen the need to expand. We would love to invite you to our new home at 2051 Rosa Parks starting in March. We are excited to see how we grow, not just as an organization, but also as a result of the amazing people who attend the dinners and share ideas.

If you have a project proposal that you think would benefit from $700-900 go here and check out the proposal application. These are always due the first Sunday of the month. 

Hope you can make our event on Thursday. RSVP here. Head to Detroit Soup for more information, more photos, and contact information.

Amy Kaherl is the coordinator of Detroit SOUP. She also makes magic happen with the March du Nain Rouge, the after parties with the Detroit City Futbol League, and as DJ Amy Dreamcatcher.

Photos courtesy of Vanessa Miller