Uncool in all the right ways: Five years of Public Pool, Hamtramck's storefront art space

The story of Public Pool is a noble one, all about connecting traditional neighborhood and community values to creativity and modern cool.

Though the cool part might be a stretch, since one of the most endearing things about Public Pool and its Hamtramck location is that both appear immune to the trivialities of what that word has come to mean.

Instead, in talking about the five-year history of the storefront art space co-founder Steve Hughes avoids it, saying Public Pool (and the city) have a "kinda good weirdness going on, a place where we allow artists to take things into their own hands. It's vibrant and organic, we never know what's going to happen next."

Well, we actually do know something that will happen next: on March 7, that's this Saturday, Public Pool is celebrating five years of solo and group shows, music and dance performances, panel discussions and readings -- and one nearly indescribable mid-winter outdoor smash-up featuring remote-controlled robots on wheels (courtesy of electromechanical sound collective Apetechnology). That was some kinda good weirdness.

Another co-founder of the group, Tim Hailey (who now lives in Indiana) is installing a reprise of sorts of that opening show in 2010: "Take a Chance on Rock and Roll LIVE," which paired classic 1970s arena rock and funk idols with images of spaceships and interplanetary voyages. Now that's cool. Other original members of Public Pool include Toby Barlow, Jessie Doan, Jim Boyle, Mary Trybus, and Anne Harrington Hughes (later, Jennifer Paull, George Rahme and yours truly jumped into membership at the Pool).

The anniversary show is called "I Only Want to See You Underneath" and features a representational image from the controversial and long-deleted Blind Faith LP cover -- which, no doubt, some still think is uncool for depicting a topless 11-year-old girl holding an airplane. The debate has raged since summer of 1969, though it's cooled down over the last 45 years. Thank you, Tim Hailey, for challenging the moribund state of art through time and space by turning the heat up on those arguments again.     

The rise of Public Pool runs parallel to the recent growth spurt of creative culture in Hamtramck and adjoining neighborhoods to the north in Detroit. High-level art and community projects like 9338 Campau (formerly 2739 Edwin), Popps Packing, Keinhaus, the Hinterlands, Power House Productions, Write-a-House, Burnside Farm, and others have attracted visitors from near and far. The Porous Borders Festival, set for May 16-17, is sure to further the bond between artists and ethnic and American communities on either side of the Carpenter Street city limits.

Highlights of the first five years of Public Pool include "Nocturnal Translations," a show that featured writers giving their dreams to visual artists, who interpreted them multi-dimensionally; "Erasure," which addressed the disappearing built environment in many Detroit neighborhoods; "The Enraged Shall Inherit the Earth," which asked noise musicians and other sound experimentalists who also do visual work to express their madness on both artistic fronts; and memorable solo exhibitions by Scott Hocking, Jessica Frelinghuysen, Michael McGillis, Andy Krieger, Chido Johnson, Hygienic Dress League, Martin Anand, George Rahme and others.

Public Pool is also home to the Good Tyme Writers Buffet, hosted by Hughes, a Kresge fellow and Knight Arts Challenge Grant winner. Since 1995, Hughes has produced his zine Stupor, which is filled with stories of sex, drugs, beer and rock 'n' roll with illustrations courtesy of mostly Hamtramck-based artists (though not all: one issue featured the visual work of international art punk Matthew Barney).

Hughes says Public Pool has succeeded in its mission to bring art and community together in a dirty old town that is simply, almost perfectly uncool -- where ideas, not dollars, are the real currency in the local creative economy.

"Hamtramck is an inspiration to artists and all of us doing art shows," he says. "We're all different, but we all influence each other. There are some brilliant weirdos here, and we've been able to do some real oddball shows; we support artists by giving them space. It's not about selling art, it's about developing the work. Money is not a concern if there isn't any."  

Public Pool art space in Hamtramck celebrates its five-year anniversary with the installation "I Only Want to See You Underneath," by artist and co-founding member Tim Hailey. The show opens on March 7 with an opening party featuring DJ Jeff Fournier beginning at 7 p.m. and runs through April 18. Public Pool is also planning a picnic fundraiser in July to celebrate its anniversary. More details to come.

Walter Wasacz is a Hamtramck-based writer and editor and a member of Public Pool.
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Walter Wasacz is a writer and the former managing editor of Model D. You can find more of his writings here.