Take a look at the physical dimensions of Hamtramck
and ponder its geography. Situated entirely inside of Detroit's corporate limits but for a sliver of real estate that touches Highland Park, Hamtramck's an anomaly. The city's borders have been shaped by annexations
that occurred during the 1800s when Hamtramck was a township (organized in 1798, the same year as Wayne County) that once stretched to Lake St. Clair to its southeast, the county line to its north, and Woodward Avenue to the west.
Hamtramck became a village in 1901. A decade later, it shared its southern Detroit borders with the Dodge Bros. main production facility (built from 1910 to roughly 1916, counting additions to the plant). Later its western border would be marked by the Chevrolet Gear & Axle plant and foundry.
Motorized and modernized for the 20th century, Hamtramck and nearby Detroit neighborhoods swelled with new populations: whites from Eastern Europe, blacks from the south. Its history and geography are built on sharing space, particularly along its edges. Culturally, socially, politically, and in real time -- meaning now -- it is about shared human experience in a rather perfectly designed urbanized 2.02-square-mile area.
The city we know today was incorporated in 1922, in case you're still counting decades and centuries. You know what that means, right? You've got seven years to prepare the best centennial party ever.
But parties, festivals, art, food and music events of all sorts -- on the streets, in houses, in bars and restaurants -- will rage on in the interim. Some of them will be astonishingly smart, radical in community growth and engagement techniques, and welcoming to all, whether they come from inside or out of the Hamtramck-Detroit-Highland Park conglomerate bubble.
The template for what's yet to come might be the Porous Borders Festival
, which is happening this weekend, May 16-17, at several locations on or near the Hamtramck border. Much of the staging of the festival will take place along Carpenter, the northern border the city shares with Detroit.
Plans for the festival were set in motion last year after a grant from Knight Arts was combined with another from the National Endowment for the Arts (a $100,000 Our Town grant) for a series of creative placemaking events.
The organizing group calls itself the Carpenter Exchange, and it is a project linking artists, educators, and community builders on each side of the Detroit/Hamtramck border. The Exchange is made up of partners from Power House Productions
, Carrie Morris Arts Production
, Popps Packing
, and the Hinterlands.
The programming tone of the festival was set by Liza Bielby and Richard Newman of the Hinterlands, a performance group that itself works the edges of dance, theater, and social engagement. The group is based in the Detroit's Banglatown neighborhood just north of the Hamtramck city limits.
"The idea is to make the border visible with art and activity that brings neighbors together," says Bielby, who co-founded the Hinterlands with Newman in 2009. "But an inspiration for the festival is also where we see borders disappear."
"They disappear at Al-Haramain, a Yemeni-American market that stocks food from the Middle East, Europe, and North America; at Bonoful restaurant on Conant, where Indian and Bangladeshi and Indo-Chinese cuisine are on the menu. Cultures and borders are beginning to blur here now," says Bielby.
That might be a primary existential ingredient of Porous Borders and its calendar
, which fills up most of Saturday and Sunday with cool stuff to see, do, and participate in. Here's a festival map
. Much of it is hands-on and friendly, mirroring Hamtramck's tactile nature. You want think-heavy, over-intellectualized pretense disguised as art? You want people to respect your personal boundaries and not get in your face (in a good way) from time to time? Sorry, you will not find that kind of art or those rules here.
There are a crazy-good amount of anticipated highlights. Here are a few:
"The Border Plant Mapping Project" will document any accessible plants along the Detroit/Hamtramck border and will result in a map that guests can use to find the mapped plants. This project was developed by Maia Asshaq, a writer and performer living in Hamtramck. She runs a small art book shop called DittoDitto Books in Detroit and co-organizes a poetry and performance series called Underword.
"I was here" is a speaker series that empowers lifelong residents to be engaged in the narrative being shaped about the city of Detroit by way of moderated discussion and dialogue. The event serves as meeting place where lifelong residents can share their experiences living in the city (including intersections with the "renewal taking place within the city"), as well as a place for newer residents to hear the city’s history directly from residents who have experienced it. This event is organized by Ryan Barrett and Lauren Hood.
"Index of Inaccessibility" attempts to re-draw one of the borders of the GM Assembly Plant by walking around it. The intent by artist-organizers Ludmila Ferrari, Juan Leal, and Félix Zamora is to create a new map of the border that is not constituted by the presence of the Plant.
The publication "Shifting Borders: Visibly Invisible Lines" seeks to include experience from six Detroiters reflecting on social change, migration, identity transformations, and collective memory as related to the changes affecting the fabric of Detroit and Hamtramck communities. During the festival, the publication will be celebrated with a lecture on the history of the Detroit/Hamtramck border by Hamtramck Historical Museum Director Greg Kowalski, as well as a dinner and conversation with contributors and community members about the publication. Publication contributors include Marsha Music Philpot, James Cornish, Allen Gillers, Panhyan Nagi, Omar Thabet, and Greg Kowalski.
"Border Portals," an installation created by Oren Goldenberg of Cass Corridor Films and Erin Gilley of Elastic Future, connects spaces and blurs boundaries using live-stream video and audience participation.
There will be a cricket match and lessons for beginners on the grounds of the Bridge Academy on Carpenter. Check here
for time, day, and exact location for cricket and all other events.
There are nearly 50 performances and other events spread out over the two days. Find what you like here
. We'll see you somewhere on this, that, or the other side of the border.
Walter Wasacz is former managing editor at Model D, consults for the Detroit-Berlin Connection, and is a founding member of the Situationist-inspired group nospectacle, a sonic art and video project that performs live electronics. He will do a mobile psychogeographic workshop during the Porous Borders Festival. Go here
to find out what that's all about and to sign up.
Photos courtesy of the Porous Borders Festival.
Al Haramain sign photo by Matthew Lewis.