We had a magical moment, rain pounding outside and sitting elbow to elbow in a half-renovated house in the midst of an urban farm, one of the neighbors led us in an adaptation of the Jewish handwashing ritual with all of us pouring and washing and passing and pouring and washing. After an intense day of visiting six different sites throughout Detroit and digging into some of the most pressing issues in our society, we had a moment of cleansing, transition, and rest.
Over four days, our group of artists from throughout the United States dove deeply into the intersection of Jewish identity, artistic process, and social justice. We had the privilege of learning from local community leaders in various ways, and a highlight of our time was a tour led by African-American historian Jamon Jordan of Black Scroll Tours, which took us to historic sites within the Paradise Valley and Black Bottom neighborhoods. He highlighted moments of surprising and fascinating intersections between the Jewish and African-American communities throughout the histories of these neighborhoods. Interdisciplinary poet Billy Mark shared his creative process around words and text, leading us in a series of movement exercises, and getting us to move our bodies and be playful. We learned from Jamii Tata at the Oakland Ave Artists Coalition, who shared his vision for transforming open space in the North End Community using diverse strategies including cross-cultural collaborations, artists-in-residence, deep work with youth, building structures for food sovereignty, and creating spaces that commemorate and remember histories.
Throughout our time together, we engaged with challenging and complicated topics including the structural impacts of historical racism, gentrification and the role of artists in that process, and uneven access to resources in Detroit and our own communities. We explored our own identities in relationship to some of the most pressing challenges in society, and how our group of artists and activists could impact change. We look forward to continuing these conversations with our artists, and are eager to see what new ideas and projects will be inspired and shaped by our time together in Detroit.
Top Photo Credit:
“The 11-story ‘Unity’ mural on the side of 28 Grand was designed by Detroit artist Charles McGee”