This weekend I got to check out the People’s Art Festival at Russell Industrial. Set between two seemingly abandoned factories on Clay St off I-75, The People’s Art Festival was any indie artist dream. Rows of vendors and live performances tucked around every corner brought an eclectic crowd to the “art mecca” that The Russell has become.
I was giddy walking through the rows of tents, seeing the art, the fashion, the music, the food and people. This is the type of underground event that I have been looking forward to discovering in Detroit. Its unobtrusive yet inviting atmosphere and people’s excitement over presenting their work for a supportive audience is intoxicating. You can’t help but want to tell the world about all the talent that is here, yet to be discovered.
Two artists caught my attention, with similar vintage style in different mediums. The first was Scottie Magro of Seeds Studio. Not only does she take hauntingly beautiful photographs that look as if they’ve been pulled out of a box in your grandma’s attic, but she creates jewelry and pendents with the photographs as well as alters the photos to give them a little more character and old world charm. I have my eye on a print of a smiling turquoise buddha doll. I have such a weakness for the chubby little wise guy. And for turquoise.
The other artist that I bought a piece of jewelry from was Courtney Fischer. I had to show some restraint so I wouldn’t buy her entire booth up, but adore the brass turquoise-painted cuff bracelet I got (I would paint my heart turquoise if I could….). Her pieces are vintage-inspired yet retain their own unique delicate-yet-rough style. Perfect jeans and tee shirts accessories. Just writing about her and scrolling through her Etsy page is making me want more! (Like this and this). Courtney mentioned that she’s going to have a table at the DIY Street Fair in Ferndale this September also so stop by!
The soundtrack to this event is equally stacked with talent. I got to check out Ghost City Searchlight. I kind of wish I was seeing them play in a seedy basement bar with their hint of Irish drinkin music and foot-tappin beats that can only sound good with broken peanut shells underfoot. And they have a band member who’s instruments include an accordion and didgeridoo. Here is how they describe their sound (from their MySpace page) “Imagine if Social Distortion, The Pogues, Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash all got drunk and had a baby named “Joe Strummer” together, and then that baby got drunk. We might sound like the bartender who gave that baby the alcohol.” Win.
I loved the artists I discovered at this event and wish I could have met every one of them. The DIY and artist community in Detroit is carving their place in the new culture of the city, literally taking root in the midst of the revitalized no-longer-abandon buildings of The Russell.
Abandon buildings are a byproduct of the rough times that have hindered Detroit. But there are some dedicated Detroiters that can see beyond the fire-tarnished brick, dissolving porches, and broken windows. They see potential. Potential for renewal and beauty. I want to share the amazing work that some groups are doing to rehab Detroit’s abandoned buildings. One of those projects is the Hanging Gardens Project. Put on by Team Detroit, The Greening of Detroit, and UCCA, the Hanging Gardens is a project that touches on the beautification of Detroit, urban gardening, and the restoration of Detroit architecture.
Ryan Schirmang came up with the idea for a vertical garden to hang in the windows of the remains of the Forest Arms building in the Cass Corridor. In 2008, a fire destroyed the interior of Forest Arms, took the life of one resident, and took the home away from 100 others. Ryan and the 75 volunteers from Team Detroit saw this beautiful abandoned building as a canvas to project their hopes for Detroit.”Project” was a word that Ryan used while discussing this project with me and I think it’s a great concept that helps support the artistic efforts of so many people in the city. It’s about more than just making Detroit look nice, its about the hope they have of inspiring real action. In an email, Ryan explained to me some of their motivations for building the Hanging Gardens:
“Public art is the way that a city lays down its identity. From that respect, Detroit has such a rich past- it got rich off cars and built that into its city fabric. Add to that the history of sports here, Motown and R&B before it, the birth of techno after it- and you’ve got a strong potent mixture of broth to work with. At the same time, while you walk around downtown, under the shadow of those ornate old buildings that still stand- there’s the space made by what’s been torn down. That space extends out to 8 mile. And it can be filled up with whatever you want it to be. That’s why the artists are having such a field day – it’s the rich past and wide-open future.
I think the Hanging Gardens is a way to say- you know what- Detroit’s the place for urban farming. And not in the sense that we’re all going to be farmers, but in the way that says the people who’ve started growing food are getting the ball rolling and they’re not going to stop. It’s contagious.”
The hanging garden was “planted” in May of this year and will be decorating the face of Forest Arms during its reconstruction.