Category: Arts and Culture

Why the last ethnic neighborhood in Detroit is more vibrant than ever

Greektown Heritage Fest

Ask Christos Moisides about what the Greektown neighborhood means to Detroit, and he’s quick to respond:

“It’s been one of the heartbeats of Detroit for many, many decades,” said Moisides, whose family has owned businesses in the district on the city’s near Northeast side for years. “It means a lot to continue the tradition of what Greektown was and then be a part of transition it into what Greektown will continue to be.”

That’s the same assessment offered up by Tasso Teftsis, the owner of the legendary Astoria Bakery.

“(Greektown) is special to Detroit because it’s the last ethnic neighborhood that is still living and vibrant,” he said. “It’s special to Greeks around here, they feel ownership of Greektown, and we have a responsibility to keep it going.”

Greektown was established in the 1880s as a residential district where immigrants could hold on to their culture as they adapted to a new way of life. It morphed to a commercial streetscape led by family-owned businesses and marked by historic properties and Victorian era architecture.

The area’s cultural legacy was on full display this summer during the second annual Greektown Heritage Festival, which drew thousands of people to explore Monroe Avenue between Brush and St. Antoine streets on July 27.

 

 

The event served as a reminder of the Hellenic influence in the neighborhood, but it was also an introduction to one of the city’s prime entertainment district and diverse shopping experiences.

Residents and visitors strolled through the neighborhood watching lamb being traditionally roasted on a spit over open flames, Greek entertainers singing and dancing and a children’s area with balloon artists and inflatable playhouses.

The day-long festival is led by the Greektown Preservation Society with sponsorship by the Greektown Casino-Hotel, which opened in 2007 and has helped the area evolve while staying true to its roots.

“Greektown Casino-Hotel are awesome neighbors,” Teftsis said. “They are a big part of the festival, but they’re also a big part of the community, a part of our Greektown neighborhood partnership…it’s really an exciting time for Greektown.”

While Greektown’s history is evident in its name, the district has also served as a melting pot of cultures, one of which is shown through mutual support to and from The Old Shillelagh, an iconic Irish bar at the corner of Brush and Monroe streets. Owner Shellie Lewis said the festival is a chance to learn more about neighbors who share the goals of keeping Greektown strong.

“There’s a lot of new businesses coming in, and it is making this an even better place to be,” Lewis said. “If it wasn’t for Greektown Casino and Hotel, we wouldn’t be able to pull off the event. They are pillars of the community.”

Moisides, meanwhile, said as other areas of Detroit attract attention for their rebirth, it’s important to remember that Greektown never went away. It’s part of the pulse of Detroit, Moisides said.

“For the longest time, Greektown was everything,” Moisides said. “It’s still such a vital part of the community, where you have vibrant businesses and a great pulse of the area. It’s a place where everyone’s coming to see what’s happening and (wants to be) a part of the community.

“It’s still a safe family environment during the daytime and turns into a great entertaining, kind of nightlife hospitality enhanced area in the evenings.”

Project 1 opening weekend and beyond: Don’t miss these events

Project 1 logo

Dancers rappelling off a rooftop to perform intricate routines 100 feet above street level on the side of a building in downtown Grand Rapids.

A cellist who creates a blend of hip-hop, folk, soul and classical music like has never been heard before in a Southeast Side park.

The U.S. debut of drag queens and kings living with Down Syndrome and expressing themselves on stage.

The artists and their mediums challenge the status quo.

And that’s exactly what the founders of Project 1 – the brainchild of ArtPrize organizers who are launching the public art exhibition’s new biennial structure on Sept. 7 – want to do. It’s part of the intentional effort to confront boundaries, both visible and invisible, that affect a sense of belonging.

“These artists are crossing lines of their genres and putting on a performance that people have never seen,” said Derek Call, ArtPrize’s director of operations and production. “We want people to be comfortable experiencing something new, and we are shining a spotlight on Grand Rapids as the place to go for art that opens your eyes to more than what is normally part of your life.

“The entire exhibition and the events we’ve curated around them will have people asking themselves ‘Will I ever witness anything like this again?’”

Project 1 bases five artists’ works at three sites around Grand Rapids. The artists – Amanda Browder, Heather Hart, Olalekan Jeyifous, Paul Amenta and Ted Lott and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer – were carefully selected, and the locations in downtown, at Martin Luther King Jr. Park and at a former manufacturing plant, were chosen to bring art to the people. It also is designed to take people to places in the city they may not have visited before.

Although the exhibition is primarily a self-guided exploration, there are free event-based performances and programming around artists’ installations. Project 1 leaders have structured the opening weekend with performances at each site. After that, the exhibition will highlight one location per weekend.

Here’s the itinerary for the free events and when to get a first glimpse of the art when it is amplified:

Opening Day, Sept. 7

The first Project 1 opens at noon at Rosa Parks Circle with a celebratory ribbon-cutting, the amazing elevated choreography of BANDALOOP as well as

Courtesy BANDALOOP/Jessica Swanson

Courtesy BANDALOOP/Jessica Swanson

dancers from the Grand Rapids Ballet performing on one half of Hart’s The Oracle of the Soulmates, a rooftop sculptures that will have an installation component in Martin Luther King Jr. Park. At 1 p.m., Rafael Lozano-Hemmer will take part in an artist discussion.

The day progresses to the park, where the second half of Hart’s installation will be available for viewing along with Amanda Browder’s largest work in Kaleidoscopic. Browder’s vibrant fabric creation will be draped over the exterior of a community center building. The park will also be the setting for cellist Jordan Hamilton’s musical fusion at 2 p.m., and an artist conversation with Hart and Browder.

The final part of the opening ceremonies takes art explorers to Tanglefoot, a former flypaper manufacturing campus that is now home to urban artist studios. Artists Paul Amenta and Ted Lott, who created Critical Infrastructure to focus on issues of accessibility, will have a 6 p.m. conversation with collaborators Chris Smit and Jill Vyn of DisArt.

DisArt will later host the Underground Drag show at a location to be determined.

Call said Project 1 staff hope to form a caravan of sorts with people flowing from site to site and taking in the installations as the opening weekend energy builds.

“It’s going to be a really great day with some moments visitors won’t want to miss,” he said. “We’re giving people an opportunity to interact with the art and the artists. We plan to carry that on throughout the event.”

Saturday, Sept. 14

The focal point of Project 1’s second weekend turns to the Blue Bridge over the Grand River and to the city’s West Side, which is hosting its annual street fair. The bridge is home to Lozano-Hemmer’s Voice Bridge, an installation on the iconic span’s handrails that allow participants to record a message and then experience it as it plays back on a loop while jumping from speaker to speaker.

Project 1 has enlisted Dan Deacon, a nationally recognized composer and performer, to take control of the interactive piece that is part architecture and

Dan Deacon: Courtesy Paradigm Talent Agency

Dan Deacon: Courtesy Paradigm Talent Agency

part performance art. Deacon, who has worked with artists ranging from Miley Cyrus to The Flaming Lips, will use the sound system and 400+ lights for a one-of-a-kind electronic music show.

The show begins at 8 p.m. as night sets in on Grand Rapids and the light displays will sync to the beat of the performance.

“Dan’s amazing and it’s going to be so cool to have him perform and have the lights responding to the music and the vibration,” Call said. “The Blue Bridge has never seen anything like this, that’s for sure.”

Saturday, Sept. 21

It’s time for a city-wide slow roll bicycle ride that takes art lovers to all three Project 1 locations and builds community by bringing together visitors and area residents. The ride is open to all skill levels and is not a timed event, Call said.

“This is a nice and easy ride, and it’s a really unique way to see the installations and meet new people along the way,” Call said.

The guided tour, which is approximately eight miles and will be roughly an hour of ride time, starts downtown at 8:30 a.m., features a group yoga warm-up and then makes stops at each site after taking off at 10 a.m. There is an extended stop at MLK Park, where Grand Rapids’ annual African American Art & Music Festival is taking place. Registration is required for the ride for logistical reasons and allocation of safety resources.

Organizers expect the tour to take approximately 2½ hours and the final route will bring riders past Olaleka Jeyifous’ The Boom and the Bust, a 25-foot sculpture at the corner of Louis Street and Monroe Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids. The installation juxtaposes massive downtown development alongside foreclosure and displacement.

“It’s going to be a cool way to explore art and explore the city’s neighborhoods from a different vantage point,” Call said. “You won’t be rushing by in a car or thinking about something else. You’re slowing down and seeing what’s around you. That’s something we as a whole don’t do enough of, finding out more about the community that we live in.”

Saturday, Sept. 28

The last themed weekend of events returns to the Tanglefoot site with Project 1 collaborator DisArt presenting a first-person multimedia project a la the non-profit StoryCorps. Titled Voices, the project gathers and visualizes stories of alienation from disabled community members and visitors to the site. The groundbreaking and instructive piece is open from noon to 10 p.m. and is set among the installations at the site.

“One thing we’re trying to do is give people a sense of belonging and a feeling that they’re welcome anywhere in the city,” Call said. “No one should be excluded because they don’t live somewhere or they don’t look a certain way. We all have our own story.”

The final month

Project 1 leaders believe visiting the installation sites during planned performances and then on a return self-guided visit will lead to different experiences. Pieces might strike a contrasting chord or be viewed in a different light. Perhaps guests will be more informed or more focused on the art.

“There will be moments that if you miss them, you’ll miss them and the interactivity can’t be recreated,” ArtPrize Artistic Director Kevin Buist said. “We think that will draw audiences and excite and inspire the visitors to gather together. And then people will want to go and get another unique look at the installations.

“That’s what we want people to do, to challenge themselves to see more.”

Visit the Project 1 website to learn more about the public art exhibition.

Project 1 by ArtPrize: A complete guide on what to know before the public art exhibit debuts

Project 1 logo

As the artistic director for ArtPrize, Kevin Buist didn’t know what to expect 10 years ago when the public art exhibition with the world’s largest financial prize debuted in Grand Rapids.

Buist is in similar unknown territory this fall with the launch of Project 1 by ArtPrize.

The organization’s new vision of an interactive art exhibition is carefully curated with five intentionally selected artists who will launch the concept with their work at three sites in and near the city’s downtown.

“Project 1 flips ArtPrize on its head,” Buist said recently. “We’re taking our resources and investing them in a smaller number of commissioned pieces with no competition. ArtPrize was very experimental, and it became, and will continue to be, a great success.

“For Project 1, we had to be willing to make a shift to breathe new life into the community and ask new questions. The artists are crafting massive public and interactive pieces that couldn’t exist in a competition format. It’s an exciting step in continuing to make Grand Rapids the pre-eminent location for remarkable art in the fall.”

And Buist has no doubt that will be the case. The experience will be different, but it will be just as memorable for visitors, he believes.

“These are going to be big, beautiful projects that people will want to explore. They’ll want to photograph them,” Buist said. “This is serious art that has a ‘Gee, Whiz,’ factor. There’s still going to be a huge art exhibit, and I think people will understand and appreciate the change after they witness it.”

The evolution to a biennial structure, ArtPrize will return in 2020, also allowed the ArtPrize team to deepen the significance of art by creating a theme that serves as an inspiration for the pieces while also examining critical issues. Project 1 selected “Crossed Lines” to look at how boundaries, both visible and invisible, affect a sense of belonging that can unite or divide the city.

“Art can deal with difficult topics and reveal histories that are uncomfortable or contemporary practices that may not be widely known,” Buist said. “This is not prescriptive or didactic. We’re not looking for a particular outcome. Art is open to interpretation, and ultimately, we hope to expand people’s views about life and empower them to think critically.”

When is Project 1 being held?

The first Project 1 will run from Sept. 7 to Oct. 27, a much longer event than ArtPrize, which typically lasts about two weeks. Project 1 will still be a self-guided exploration, but there will be more event-based performances and programming around artists’ installations. The plan is to kickoff the opening weekend with a burst of activity at each site and then highlight one particular location per weekend in a rotation.

Where will the art be located?

There are three primary sites:

  • Downtown Grand Rapids, which will feature a walkable experience with installations by four of the five commissioned artists. Exact locations of the art will be revealed shortly before the opening of Project 1.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Southeast Grand Rapids, where one artist will locate a piece that visitors can walk and climb on, as well as venture inside. The piece will also be a stage for local music, dance and spoken word. Another artist will use the park’s community lodge as a centerpiece.
  • Tanglefoot is a former flypaper manufacturing campus that is now home to urban artist studios, on the city’s near Southwest side. Here artists will build spaces for use by other artists and encourage audiences and performers to occupy a courtyard space at 314 Straight St. SW.

 

The artists and their Project 1 plans:

Amanda BrowderAmanda Browder: Browder creates large-scale, vibrant fabric installations and transforms building exteriors into multi-colored sculptures. The largest and most ambitious section of Kaleidoscopic will be draped over the exterior of a community center building in Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Southeast Grand Rapids. Browder will also wrap four skywalks which link buildings in the heart of downtown. The final section will cover the facade of a building at the Tanglefoot site on the southwest side of the city.

Heather Hart

Heather Hart: Hart creates submerged rooftops, complete with shingles and dormer windows, that look like they were dropped from the sky. The rooftops refer to home, stability or shelter. Hart speaks about the rooftops as thresholds between public and private space. Combined with family and oral histories, and activated by performance, her work explores the power these thresholds have in our lives. Hart will create The Oracle of the Soulmates — twin rooftop sculptures, one in the center of Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids, the other on the lawn in MLK Park. Climb on the rooftops and venture inside the attics.

 

O Jeyifous

Olalekan Jeyifous: Jeyifous’ work in public art and installation explores the past and potential futures of urban environments. He will create The Boom and the Bust — a sculpture referencing the historic and contemporary challenges of housing discrimination and the inequities of urban life. This abstracted multi-story building form will rise 25-feet from the ground at the corner of Louis Street and Monroe Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids. The sculpture arises from the artist’s research into the recent history of housing in Grand Rapids. By combining references to skyscrapers and single-family houses, it juxtaposes massive downtown development alongside foreclosure and displacement.

Amenta Lott

Paul Amenta and Ted Lott: Amenta and Lott, known for their history of wide-ranging collaborative artistic productions with SiTE:LAB, will present Critical Infrastructure — a site-specific architectural intervention at the landmarkTanglefoot Building. In collaboration with DisArt, an arts and culture organization that focuses on creating public art events that cultivate and communicate a disabled culture, the intervention will create an environment that addresses issues of accessibility in both form and function. The project will reimagine the site by temporarily transforming a private space into a fully accessible public space, through a series of ramps and landings which welcome visitors and a wide variety of performances and interventions by other artists.

Lozano Hemmer

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Lozano-Hemmer develops interactive installations that live at the intersection of architecture and performance art. He will create a new site-specific installation called Voice Bridge. Along the handrails of Grand Rapids’ iconic Blue Bridge — a pedestrian bridge which connects the East and West sides ofdowntown over the Grand River — you’ll find speakers and 400 lights that shine on the footpath of the bridge. You’ll control the intensity of each light by speaking into the intercoms at each end of the bridge and recording a message. Once recorded, your message will play back as a loop — jumping from speaker to speaker across the bridge as more messages are recorded.

 

What is the expectation?

Project 1 leaders believe the installation sites will have contrasting experiences, ephemeral but enduring. Visiting while the location is activated with planned performances will be different than when guests return and challenge themselves to see the art in another light.

“There will be moments that if you miss them, you’ll miss them and the interactivity can’t be recreated,” Buist said. “We think that will draw audiences and excite and inspire the visitors to gather together. And then people will want to go and get another unique look at the installations.

“People will be surprised and challenged and engaged, but, yeah, it’s a bit of an unknown right now. That’s a fine place for us to be in because we want to see the reaction to something that, again, is totally new.”

Learn more about Project 1 by visiting the art exhibition’s website.

World-famous muralist and 5 more “can’t miss” highlights at the 2019 Lakeshore Art Festival

In April, muralist Kelsey Montague collaborated with Taylor Swift to launch the pop sensation’s newest single. 

Come July, Montague, who has built an international following with large scale winged mural pieces, will drive excitement around the Lakeshore Art Festival, centered in Downtown Muskegon on July 5-6, by creating a must-see piece for visitors to enjoy. 

Kelsey Montague created a one-of-a-kind mural representing Muskegon County, located on the Frauenthal Center in Downtown Muskegon.
Pose in front of the butterfly, snap a photo and hashtag #ThisIsMuskegon and #WhatLiftsYou!

“We are thrilled and elated that she is going to be here and become a permanent part of our community,” said Carla Flanders, the art festival’s director. “We’ve been so impressed with her work and how intentional and interactive it is. Her pieces are inspirational, inclusive and uplifting. It’s a great message and a great fit for the Lakeshore Art Festival and for Muskegon.”

The colorful mural and its intricate design will dominate the East side of the Frauenthal Center, becoming an attraction that continues Muskegon’s metamorphosis and its thriving downtown, Flanders said.  

Montague’s artwork will join only 77 other works around the world, including one in Ann Arbor and another in Detroit. The pieces appeal to people looking for bright art images and are a favorite of social media users. 

It’s really exciting to have Kelsey be a part of the Lakeshore Art Festival. Her butterfly-wing mural is not only breathtaking, but it is symbolic for the many changes our community has gone through and the beautiful downtown it is today Flanders said. “This new permanent piece, coupled with the hundreds of artists at the Lakeshore Art Festival, sets the stage for another stellar year of artful engagement!” 

The art festival is a summer tradition, drawing artists and visitors from around the country, leading to it earning honors as the best contemporary and classic art show in Michigan and the 11th best in the nation by Sunshine Artist Magazine. The weekend also serves as an economic engine for the Lakeshore community, with research showing the festival has had a $5.6 million impact since 2013. Annual attendance reaches 60,000 people, Flanders said. 

“People are drawn here by the quality of art and the hospitality of the community,” said Flanders. “It’s an honor when people are excited to come back and spread the word about how incredible this festival is to attend.” 

Here are five more must-see highlights for 2019: 

Shopper’s Paradise 

The festival’s jury committee creates a marketplace for unique fine art and handcrafted goods by jurying more than 450 artists who apply for entry. The team then invites the art entrepreneurs to share their talents and one-of-a-kind wares in Hackley Park and throughout the vibrant downtown surrounding streets.  

“You can find something for everyone here,” said Flanders. “It’s truly an artisan’s market with pieces you won’t find anywhere else. We have a beautiful setting with handcrafted art that is truly remarkable.” 

There are more than 380 booths, with roughly 120 fine art exhibitors creating art with distinctive styles and various mediums including handblown glass, paintings, sculptures, photography, fibers and more. 

Wine and Beer Garden 

If shopping isn’t your top choice among things to do – or you just need to drop off a partner where they’ll be entertained – the festival hosts a wine and beer garden in Hackley Park and it is the perfect place to unwind. Visitors can grab a glass of wine or a craft brew and stroll through the fine art in the park or take a break from patrolling the booths and enjoy the stage entertainment. 

“It was a natural fit and a great way to enhance the festival experience,” Flanders said. “It’s such a beautiful setting that you can sit back, relax and enjoy everything that is going on around you.” 

Children’s Lane 

The Lakeshore Arts Festival opens the door for children to experience beauty through different visions and presents an opportunity to expose them as budding artists through interactive activities.

Kids can watch a stage performance, make personalized paintings and participate in theatrical games, all captivating, enriching and educational by nature. This year’s theme, the butterfly, is right in line with not only the new Kelsey Montague mural, but also the butterfly scavenger hunt, butterfly educational booth and butterfly interactive dance.    

“It’s everything artful and engaging and getting kids to think outside of the box,” Flanders said. “Each area has something new and interesting for children to do.” 

The Food 

Come for the art, and then let your taste buds take over during a culinary timeout from your shopping adventures. The streets are lined with vendors who offer everything from classic fair foods to tasty sandwiches, BBQ, sirloin beef tips, desserts and much more 

“There’s African-style food,  Mediterranean cuisine, and of course festival food favorites like soft pretzels, elephant ears and fresh squeezed lemonade. Really, there is something for every foodie to enjoy,” Flanders said. 

Flanders doesn’t like to play favorites – and suggests that visitors follow their own cravings – but at least once every year she’ll make her way to the Ice Box Brand Ice Cream Bars truck for a locally-made treat from the Whitehall-based business. 

“They’re heavenly,” she said. 

Authors’ Tent and Interactive Art 

Find Michigan’s next great writer among 20 Mitten-centric authors who will be at the show in the Emerging Author’s tent. The authors are available for one-on-one discussions and to provide signed copies of their books that will likely be next on your summer reading list. 

“This is a great chance for some exposure and to get the word out about their writings,” Flanders said. “We want to support creative expression of all kinds at our show.” 

The festival even gives visitors the chance to participate in creating their own art with Chalk The Walk and the Community Interactive Art ProjectOn July 5 from 4-6pm chalk will be set out for guests to take sidewalk art to the streets of Western Avenue. If chalk isn’t your style, then the Community Interactive Art Project will allow you to create a masterpiece of art with paint on canvas! Each year thousands of people bring new excitement and their own touch of creativity to the event. 

“It’s always really cool to see what people come up with,” Flanders said. “Everyone from kids and their parents, to art students and grandparents, get out there and get creative.” 

Visit the Lakeshore Art Festival’s website to discover more about the exciting weekend in Muskegon.