15 Apr

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Detroit has always had a deep connection to the arts; much attention has been paid to the city in recent years from both artists and art lovers alike. On any given weekend Detroit is buzzing with opening exhibits, music performances and panel discussions. This week the Kresge Foundation hosted Art X Detroit; a free 5-day, 60 event happening taking place at twelve venues celebrating art and culture in Detroit.

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It is Wednesday, opening night  of Art X, as we near Midtown Woodward comes alive with hot pink X’s, pedestrians, art installations and cars making a second and third trip around the block looking for a parking space. We stop to view the new mural on the side of the WSU Press Building: The People’s Vision by Hubert Massey. We park a few blocks away; though it is cold and raining we don’t mind the walk, the city feels vibrant, alive! We arrive at the Historic First Congregational Church, the building is stunning; terracotta colored stone, beautiful archways and colorful detail. Only a few other people are inside, Kris gets busy taking photos, I walk around the perimeter of the sanctuary, eyes glued first to the spectacular domed ceiling; divided into four sections each features a medallion with a different scene, a pair of angels flank each side. Arches are found throughout the space, the largest, the entrance to the altar area. The half-domed space is a wonder of gold-painted design, tonight it takes on an entirely different mood with its concert-style lighting and instruments in waiting. I take a seat in one of the beautiful wooden pews, the top and sides handsomely carved, each time I come here I notice something I hadn’t before. Brass wall sconces jut out from painted arched sections of the wall like spiny arms holding up the light, large rosette windows let light in from each side, a series of pipes border the organ loft at the back of the church. My attention is diverted by the sound of percussion instruments in the distance, Kris hears it too and takes his seat next to me.

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The sound grows louder, the doors of the church open, the Detroit Party Marching Band begins to file into the sanctuary. Pedestrians filter into the church and fill the pews as the band takes up residence at the back of the room. A woman enters wearing black and glittering gold, her hat is majorette-style with a large black plume shooting up from front and center, this is Shara Worden, lead singer and songwriter for My Brightest Diamond. The marching band continues to play a piece written especially for this occasion, it is rhythmic, contagious. Shara and her band members take the stage, the music stops, the marching band recedes from the church. The singer is greeted with loud applause, a Detroit resident we welcome her home. The music begins…….Shara has done it all; traveled the world, studied multiple instruments, voice, opera and composition, she takes all of her experiences and rolls it into an amazing performance. Her voice is clear and beautiful, makes me think Annie Lennox, she becomes characters telling a story, singing a lullaby. At times the music is Folk with a trombone part thrown in. The ensemble is an interesting combination of trumpet, flute, guitar, trombone, 2 saxophones, drums and keyboard played by the lady herself. It is eclectic, experimental and at times rocks! 

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Next we venture over to MOCAD, this is the hub for the event, there is constant activity in the building. The current exhibition is made up of works by 2011-2012 Kresge Fellows. We come through the door, the place is packed, the sweet sound of Jazz hangs in the air; Kris Johnson & Friends are performing. We drift into the crowd and make our way to the music, we recognize the melodies, standards that have been around for generations. The trumpet player is magnificent, the band, spectacular, we see them often at Northern Lights Lounge. We snatch cupcakes from a tray then wander through the galleries, the art is amazing.

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 Art X features Kresge’s Eminent Artists and Artist Fellows working in the visual, performing and literary arts. A tidbit about the Kresge Foundation:  In 1912 Sebastian Spering (SS) Kresge opened the first 5 &10 cent store in Detroit, he went on to build a chain of stores, S S Kresge, which in turn became K Mart, the guy was loaded! In 1924 he established the Kresge Foundation in Detroit, his goal was to create opportunity for low-income people and to promote the integration of arts and culture in community revitalization. Since that time the foundation has provided continuous philanthropic support to the area’s non-profit organizations and community initiatives, in 2012 it paid out $150.3 million dollars to 410 grants. Today it is a $3.1 billion dollar private national foundation; quite impressive! Good things happen when you buy local!

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We decide to end the evening with a nightcap, everything in the Sugar Hill Arts District is crowded, we walk back to the car and drive over to Traffic Jam and Snug on Canfield and Second. We pull up a couple of chairs to the bar, it’s a weeknight, so it’s quiet. Kris orders his ‘usual’ while I read the menu of hot drinks, the cold and wet have gotten to me. On the bartender’s advice I choose the Nutty Irishman, good decision! We sit back and enjoy our drinks, the vibe is laid back, we make some new friends. Travis put it best, to those that know Detroit the problem isn’t finding something to do, it’s wondering what  you’re missing out on….yep. I flip through the Art X program and realize there is still much to see, we’ll be back.

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