3rd times (still) a charm

By Travis R. Wright

Three years ago, the Kresge Foundation announced a new arts philanthropy program, Kresge Arts in Detroit, the cornerstone of which, they said, would be an annual selection of a dozen or more fellows and one eminent artist. Years would rotate between visual artists on odd numbered years and literary and performance artists on even ones. They promised the fellows would receive $25,000. Double that for the Eminent artist. And professional development workshops would be held throughout the year.

It couldn't have come at a better time.

Weeks before Kresge's announcement, Lansing had drastically slashed arts and culture funding. That's the way it'd been going.

ArtServe, a paramount arts advocacy group, says public funding for arts and culture has decreased by more than 93 percent in the past eight years in Michigan.

We went into 2010 thinking there'd be a little more than $6 million in the coffer. We were lucky to get the $2.1 million we ended up with.

John Bracey, executive director of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA), a state agency that works with nonprofit arts organizations, says funding this year increased slightly to $2.3 million.

To help alleviate the drought, the National Endowment for the Arts, with its $125 million grant budget, extended $1.9 million to Michigan this year. That money finds its way to Detroit institutions such as InsideOut Literary Arts, the College for Creative Studies, the Detroit Jazz Festival, Mosaic Youth Theatre and the Michigan Opera Theatre.

But Detroit needs more. Individual artists need more.

This week, Kresge Arts in Detroit celebrates its third year with a second round of fellows who work in visual art. And as the program has completed one full cycle, Kresge has now invested more than $1.3 million in individual Detroit artists.

This year's class is as diverse as the first: a compelling group of designers, sculptors, photographers, painters and installation artists, all of which could describe Jon Dunivant, the artistic brain behind Detroit's legendary Theatre Bizarre, who is perhaps one of this year's better-known fellows.

Let's get to know Dunivant and this new Kresge class a bit better.

Corrie Baldauf

A professor of fine art theory and practice at Eastern Michigan University, Lawrence Technological University and Oakland University, Corrie Baldauf received her Master of Fine Arts degree at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. Her work has been exhibited internationally. "I am fortunate to be welcomed into a community that sees the intellect in optimism and the alchemy in art," Baldauf says. "My current drawings, paintings, animations and sculptures notate and frame the inspiration, stimulation and influences in my surroundings. By observing people interacting with my artwork, I learn how I can bring familiarity and laughter to people of different walks of life." The notations in her circular timeline drawings highlight pauses and patterning of open spaces, representing the rhythm of occurrences happening in Detroit. "Imagine that each space is a stage for the words I hear you say, the descriptions in National Public Radio stories and news, anecdotes, as well as quotidian experiences. These drawings are visual manifestations of the experiences that seduce us to be alert and alive." As an artist, Baldauf says her role is to tap into and reflect the experiences and events in the Detroit area that compel disparate communities to interact and thrive.

Olayami Dabls

If you've spent any amount of time driving around the west side of Detroit, you've driven by the wondrous work of one Olayami Dabls. Most likely, it was framed in your car's window as you cruised by, distracted. Perhaps you were compelled to pull over and check it out. It happens all the time. Using a wide range of materials, sites and scale, Dabls has been at it for more than 45 years. He says he uses his work to tell stories about African people and Africa's material culture. Some have referred to his frenetic, three-dimensional, restructured art pieces as the Heidelberg of the West Side. The artist is currently working on completing a 150-by-14 foot mural titled African Language. "I have discovered at least 18 examples of written scripts in a selection of African languages that were used during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, a time when we were labor savages, primitive and uncivilized," Dabls says. "Our artifact or material culture during the same time was defined as demonic, ugly, idols, witchcraft and primitive. The languages were written in scripts using symbolism and pictographs. Using this same language, my work promotes positive images and enriching aspects of my people's contribution to world culture." Dabls is also the owner of the MBAD African Bead Museum at 6559 Grand River Ave. in Detroit — a section of the city Dabls likes to call Africa Town.

Mitch Cope & Gina Reichert: Design 99, Power House Project

In recent years, few Detroit artists have garnered the kind of attention that art partners Gina Reichert and Mitch Cope have. The couple founded Design 99 in 2007, intent on investigating new models of contemporary art by grafting art and design with practical architectural work. Their sense of design is both utilitarian and Detroit organic, as their work is in direct engagement with their residential Hamtramck neighborhood — with the goal being to improve and protect it. Working in any number of mediums, they also play the role of art ambassadors, often found leading groups of curious foreigners in and around the city. These "tours" might begin or end at the Power House, a project Cope and Reichert have been working on since 2008. We might think of the Power House as a test site for ideas and methods, low- and high-tech building systems, and a point of conversation for their entire neighborhood. Design 99 has exhibited widely, including the Van Abbemuseum in the Netherlands, the Smart Museum in Chicago, Kunsthalle Wien in Austria, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

Bruce Giffin

Longtime Metro Times photographer Bruce Giffin has been shooting photos in the city of Detroit for almost 30 years. He's garnered attention in recent years for his Face of Detroit portrait project. The artist states one-third of the subjects are homeless, but that it's not important to know which are. "I got tired of shooting abandoned buildings when, after 25 years, Time magazine and every college student started having the same images. I had already started working on the 'Face' project, so I just went full-tilt in that direction." Giffin says lot of people can shoot abandoned buildings, but that it takes a special ability to instantly disarm a stranger to shoot their faces close up. "For some reason I have that!" Giffin says. He adds that the fellowship will perhaps give him the opportunity to make a book out of this project, but that there's more shooting to be done. This fellowship has humbled the artist. He says whenever he's heard rumors about nepotism, he's always maintained, "If I'm chosen, it's a guarantee that doesn't exist because I don't know anyone, or have any connections to any artistic group of people or intellectuals. Until now, my work has mostly been ignored by most of those types."

John Dunivant

Theatre Bizarre was a living, breathing art piece that was installed permanently on the fringes of north Detroit. It came to life just once a year, with the help of more than 3,000 dedicated, unrecognizable people. To call it a Halloween party would be a disservice. It was an event that attracted freaks from around the globe. John Dunivant's visual artistry includes fine drawing, painting and carpentry, fueled by an incredibly fun and twisted imagination. At the moment, the artist is working on a series of large-scale paintings of mythical and theological creatures from a wide range of world cultures, as well as some legends of his own creation. "The pieces draw visually from the dioramas found in museums and roadside attractions, in that they offer an opportunity to be close to something or someone that under normal circumstances is distant or untouchable," he says. "The intention is to give you the feeling of being in the presence of divinities and demons, but presented with the shameless audacity of a carnival barker — gods as seen by the godless." Dunivant says he has an "automatic positive reaction to any artist making a go of it in Detroit," but that he's especially fond of the work from Glenn Barr, Design 99, Jerry Vile, Kristin Beaver and Mark Heggie. As far as Kresge nepotism goes: "I don't personally know a single person connected to the awards or any of the other fellows, so from my perspective I'd have to say that it's not an issue."

Scott Hocking

Born in Redford Township, Michigan in 1975, the artist Scott Hocking has lived and worked in Detroit proper since 1996, using found materials to create site-specific sculptural and photographic installations, such as pyramids made from tires, gloves or crumbling brick. His work, he says, is informed by the people and history of the place he's working. And he's done work in a lot of places. He has exhibited nationally at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Cranbrook Art Museum, the University of Michigan, the Smart Museum of Art, and Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and internationally at the Kunst-Werke Institute, the Van Abbemuseum, and the Kunsthalle Wien. He recently completed projects at Sculpture Space in upstate New York, and at the Bundanon Trust in New South Wales, Australia. "Right now, I'm working on a few projects in Detroit," he says. "I also have a solo show in Maribor, Slovenia, this July, and a group show at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Museum this October." A psychic once told Hocking he would have an "average life" and die at 88. At 19, he lived in a Toyota Corolla for four months. At 27, he lived in a French chateau for two months. He has three tattoos. He has been to 41 of the 50 states. He once hiked the Death Valley dunes on a 117-degree day, which led to a police search and a lesson from the sheriff, who said: "Son, people die in the desert." He was stalked by a New Mexican mountain lion. He slept on a Toronto billboard. He ate reindeer in Akureyri, deep-fried honeybees in Shanghai. He has one of the best bios we've ever read.

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