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In the Neighborhood: Arts & Culture in Washtenaw County

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Over the summer I was contacted by Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and my friend Decky Alexander, Director of Engage at EMU to participate as a Navigator for In the Neighborhood, a new initiative to gather answers from residents about arts and culture in Washtenaw County. My role was to identify two artists who would facilitate an event, culling answers from ten attendees while creating art in tandem with conversation. Priority was given to getting to the root of what our neighborhoods feel like, how they do or don't function, who was making art, who was being heard and who wasn't. It was a tall order to fill. 

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A while back Nick and I had worked on this idea to bring students and professionals to prepare and share meals together. The idea was not funded but I thought this was an opportunity to build a "safe" environment while enjoying in food. It was also a chance to build an ephemeral art happening where we had no clue what the outcome would be. 

The first artist I called upon was Marisa Dluge. As a performer with a effervescent presence, I knew she would be phenomenal at harnessing the energy of a group. She came up with the brilliant idea to include Elize Jekabson, chef and sculptor. As we started brainstorming, it was evident Elize's contribution would be key to the art building process and reflection aspect of the project. One of our planning meetings took place at Hyperion Coffee. It wasn't until I counted the chairs at the beautiful wood surface that I realized there were 10 chairs.  We were sitting at the surface our evening would take place at. Eric Mullins, one of the proprietors (and dinner guests) was generous in his time and effort and quickly agreed to let us hold the dinner there. Nick documented the evening, of course. 

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We invited guests based on who we thought would have a valuable voice but may not have the platform to share these ideas regularly. The group included artists, a musician, belly dancer, event planner, and three high school students very involved in The Learning Studio

We centered our courses around key questions the AAACF was seeking responses to. We pared them down to five courses. 

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Course 1: Building | Salad: How do you define your neighborhood? 

Course 2: Drawing | Sauces: What does the arts and cultural landscape look like? Feel like in your neighborhood?

Course 3: Deconstruction | Rice Rolls: What's missing from your neighborhood?

Course 4: Dialogue | Lasagna

Course 5: Closing | Ice cream

 

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Over the course of the evening we realized our goal to serve, document, and capture five courses was a bit lofty. (In the interest of time, we skipped the Deconstruction course. By then everyone was hungry after an hour of conversation and building). The conversation between strangers was flowing and organic, unearthing more pondering. It's difficult to convey how rich the conversation was but a few key lines resonated with me. 

What builds your neighborhood isn’t just your neighbors…it could be the way the air smells. 

It has potential but it’s just not used. The people there can be something or someone but they choose to involve themselves in the streets. There’s a lot of athletes where I live but they involve themselves in the wrong crowd, messing them over. 

I’m an outcast, I’ve been in Ypsi for the last 10 years or so. Now I live in College Heights and there’s me driving down the road in a rusty ass truck. And they’re all with their kids and strollers and I’m like “never”. 

I don’t interact with my neighbors too much. We live in an apartment complex. I recognize a good chunk of you from being around Ypsi. It’s an abstract idea, but I know a group of people around Ypsi I have things in common with. 

So maybe neighborhood is more in the people you know. 

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After building the first course:

We were trying to create the Water Tower - something that everyone identifies with as a landmark. My north star. 

This is the best representation of a neighborhood because we all did our own thing. We blended. We didn’t discuss but we worked well together and that shows how a neighborhood works. 

There’s a lot of connections and overlaps in pockets of art. I think it’s organic. 

Classes around neighborhoods. Upper class is sitting on green, they have a lot of “cheese”. This is some hurdles to jump over in order to move up. We were looking at different lines of watermelon. Some are rich, clean, better off than the ones down here…the ones are chewed up, spit out. 

The streets are messed up with a lot of construction. I used balsamic to show the streets are messed up. 

There’s a real class divided in the way arts and culture lives here. 

I disagree that there are a lot of places to play music. 

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After the second drawing course:

Isolation, I drew an art community, isolated because people usually don’t see the actual value of art. People who see art can acknowledge what’s happening but others see it as another painting, it’s isolated to the world of the artists, whether it’s photography or painting. 

An Ypsi Mandala. It represents myself in the middle. This represents the growth I’ve experienced since I’ve moved here. Lines of connection, it is in who you know. 

My art world is so cool…and no one judges me for it. 

I’m a white dude, it’s easy for me to have access to all that stuff. I come from a family with means…not everybody can do that. I’m not always sure what to do about that. 

There’s still a need for spaces that are not downtown or in Depot Town. 

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As I was listening to the conversation I heard yearning for inclusion, more spaces for performative work (including spoken word, theater, music) and a general wish to have high quality programs that are affordable or free. Ypsilanti is chock full of talent and opportunity, it's a matter of converging resources and distributing information so it reaches everyone. 

Access was also a factor which could prohibit students and adults from consuming arts and culture in the county. Whether it's transportation, social familiarity or cultural access, there are barriers which keep people from enjoying an event. The students came up with especially thoughtful points on how one person's art could be mean something else altogether to someone else. We were the first of the In the Neighborhood events produced, there will one more in Ypsilanti and another in Ann Arbor soon. I'm hopeful for the outcome of these productions and what will be created as a result of these meaningful conversations. I'll end with my favorite quote of the evening. 

I feel like art can connect all of us. 

 

 

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Solution Seeking in Memphis

This past week I had the incredible privilege to travel to Memphis for The Kresge Foundation's FreshLo Convening. The event brought together some of the most innovative organizations doing work in the areas of food access, economic development and education. I was soaking up all the ideas and conversation. And, of course, trying to capture it all in graphic recording. 

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Besides the incredible wealth of information-sharing, the cohort of not-for-profit leaders in the room were striving for food and economic equity in their communities. I was listening to capture all the elements of each presentation, but also learning fascinated with the complications surrounding access to resources. Organizations were offering programming and education in the form of gardening, kitchen incubators, business courses, neighborhood grocery stores, kids' cooking classes, and so much more nationwide in all kinds of urban and rural environments. Inequity and lack of resources is not exclusive to any one type of population or region.  

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It was so great to see a familiar face and have Michigan representing with David Zinn as a teaching artist. 

It was so great to see a familiar face and have Michigan representing with David Zinn as a teaching artist. 

Sluggo and friends

Sluggo and friends

I didn't have a ton of time to explore downtown Memphis, but what I did see of it, made me start dreaming about my next visit there. The Civil Rights Museum is an experience that every young person and adult should experience. I was wrought with emotion the entire visit. Although it was gut-wrenching to see what generations of African-Americans have endured in our country and the site of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's. assassination had me completely choked up, I was grateful to see the care and intent going into keeping this history present. This museum will be a necessity for my son to visit one day, when he can absorb the gravity of it all. 

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Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

The March on Washington, 1963

The March on Washington, 1963

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Silent, peaceful sit ins of the 1960s. 

Silent, peaceful sit ins of the 1960s. 

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For more information about graphic recording or illustration for your event, contact me at yenazzaro(@)gmail.com 

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The Transported Man at Broad Art Museum

Yesterday was a picturesque fall day, blue skies, brisk wind, warm and full sunshine. I was in East Lansing meeting a dear friend for lunch. Afterwards we decided to head to Broad Art Museum. If you've never been to the namesake museum of husband and wife contemporary collectors, Eli and Edythe Broad (rhymes with "road"), it's worth the effort. The exhibits are easily accessible and you can spend an afternoon or a few minutes taking in a gallery or two. We bypassed the basement galleries in the interest of time. The jutting lines of the museum are quite beautiful against the pomp and circumstance of MSU's classical buildings. 

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We entered through the west side of the building where we were met with some full-on floor to ceiling trippy, Dada-esque imagery. The exhibit was titled TOILETPAPER.

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Maurizio Cattelan, TOILETPAPER

Maurizio Cattelan, TOILETPAPER

The current main exhibit, The Transported Man, is group exhibition with a number of effective and jaw-dropping works. Inspired by the 1995 novel (and a movie that I will actually watch more than once), The Prestige, asks viewers to suspend their notion of what is reality and believe in the trickery in front of them. 

"The Transported Man exemplifies the three phases of a magic trick, wherein a magician appears onstage (the Pledge), disappears through a door (the Turn), and reappears immediately through another door (the Prestige)."

Ugo Rondinone, Clockwork for Oracles I, 2008

Ugo Rondinone, Clockwork for Oracles I, 2008

I took a number of awful photos on my phone. Hence, the limited number of images. But I couldn't help but stop in my tracks when I saw Daniel Firman's elephant in the room. 

Daniel Firman, Loxodont, 2017, resin 

Daniel Firman, Loxodont, 2017, resin 

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I'm not typically one for "bigger is better" but this is one of those pieces you have to see to believe. Known for suspension and balance, Firman's work since 2008 has centered around life size elephants (at one time models of taxidermy) installed in precarious moments. Only after I had referred to the wall and saw that it was "resin", could I circle around the Goliath. I had a visceral response to not only the massiveness, but I was also holding on to the belief that at any moment, the grip of the trunk could be compromised and the 900 pound elephant would come crashing down. (The installation came in three pieces and barely fit through the freight elevator). 

You can feel the desperateness, a pull of falling yet holding on, that moment before the fibers give way, and the inevitable may happen. It's quite delightful and horrifying at the same time. 

There are some other delightful elements of the show, a rumbling intermittent "thunder" produced by instruments. And there's a sweet little Marcel Duchamp tucked upstairs. I also thoroughly enjoyed Ryan Gander's Nathaniel Knows, an installation piece in a quiet room of its own, drywall pulled away to reveal an otherworldly outdoors through a small opening in the floor. It's eerie effect is given even more power as my friend and I got down on our hands and knees and peered in. 

Robin Meier and André Gwerder's piece, Synchronicity, is an immersive experience led by a docent. We walked into a tent (and then another) and entered a world of red glowing outdoors. Inside you hear white noise, buzzing, you see dry brush, bushes, record players, a metronome-pendulum swinging. As the docent stops it, she explains there are crickets chirping as they've assimilated to the artificial noise created. There were lightning bugs glowing to the environmental lights but they sadly succumbed after an arduous trip from Thailand and then being on display for so long...

See a slideshow of some of the pieces mentioned here

The Transported Man is only showing through October 22nd, 2017. If you have an opportunity, I highly recommend a visit to give yourself a moment away from reality. 

Broad Art Museum | Michigan State University, 547 East Circle Drive | $10 suggested donation | Open Tuesday through Sunday, 12-7 pm

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Visual Notes: Graphic Recording Fall 2017

The last few weeks I've been pretty busy with graphic recording, the process of real time illustration and note capturing for a few clients. I had the chance to capture discussion for a prominent company at Grand Circus in Detroit, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and a fascinating discussion hosted by Engage as part of Steve Case's Rise of the Rest nationwide tour. 

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I'm currently in the planning stages of an illustration for ypsiGLOW, a phenomenal street event on October 27th celebrating performance, music, art making and luminaries in downtown Ypsilanti. My glowing chalk drawing is going to be done on vinyl, backwards, so I can install it on glass at the Ypsi Real office/Convention Visitors Bureau on Michigan Avenue. It will be.a large three panel piece circling ypsiGLOW's goals of inclusivity, being an "Ypsi made" event and promoting cultural and economic development in downtown Ypsi. Look out for that starting on the 19th! 

Unfortunately, I'll miss the ypsiGLOW festivities this year because I'll be flying back from a graphic recording gig in Memphis. I've never been and I'm so excited to hear the music, taste the BBQ and visit some incredible museums including the Civil Rights Museum and Lorraine Motel. The conference I'll be covering over three days is about access to food and innovations being made in urban areas. I can't wait to share some inspired illustrations with you later this month!  

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Murakami at MCA

We had the opportunity to stroll through the Takashi Murakami show at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago recently and it was a treat. The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, as its aptly called is just as queer as it is enchanting. I've been following his work since the onslaught of contemporary works took over in the early 2000s at auction. I consider Murakami in the same vein of notoriety as Jeff Koons, Ai Wei Wei, Yayoi Kusama, but even more commercial. His collaboration with Louis Vuitton and Kanye West covers prove that.

Because I love illustration and graphic novels, his anime and pop creatures have always spoken to my love of heavy linework and flat color. In his early work you can see undulating lines and texture forming a foundation for the heavily layered later canvases.

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I particularly enjoyed the works around 2008 (above), where Murakami directed his works toward classical elements and figures. Japanese congi and motifs occupied much of the otherwise modern canvases. Demonic like monoliths were also a highlight with their larger-than-life presence, hovering over us like evil deities. Below, blacklights glowed a mystic light over long scroll paintings, reminiscent of Japanese decorative drawings.

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Some of us enjoyed the show more than others.

Some of us enjoyed the show more than others.

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Murakami's latest works were gigantic genre paintings, capturing everyday imagery of life but hyper stylized to capture the advent of technological advances in paint, layering, digital illustration. They were a bit raucous, like Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights on LSD. The application of paint was overwrought for me but the video of the process and the sheer manpower it takes to produce his ideas is staggering. Not to mention the plethora of paint and the spectrum in his palette. It's quite impressive. 

The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg is runs through September 11th and is included with regular admission. Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago. 

 

 

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Ethical Redevelopment: A Conversation with Theaster Gates

We had the chance to hear our friend Theaster speak last night at University of Detroit Mercy as part of The Detroit Delegation. Nick and I hash out a lot of the same dilemmas and scenarios regularly and it was heartening to hear the struggle to serve in an authentic way is never ending, even for someone that breathes, walks, lives the effort to redevelop environment and enrich people's live in a meaningful way with _______ (fill in the blank here). It's a continuous learning cycle. We've seen him do it with food, conversation, song, writing, pottery, installation, building materials, speakers made of ceramics, and much more. He also brought up a number of colleagues, students and thinkers in this space which were inspiring and dealing with the same kinds of issues. 

During the years we've known Theaster we understood the social capital of what he was doing for his neighborhood when his livelihood came second. But now that we've committed ourselves to a city we love (yes, Ypsilanti), we see that it's not just a project here and a project there. It's lives. Our experience, the ones we share with you, the ones not being had, the moments in between. The bad, the good, the invisible connectors waiting to be electrified, turned on, turned up.

Here are a few of the ideas that Nick and I constantly wrestle with that came up last night. 

Agency: When and where and who can have the space to dole out "assistance", "help", "programming"? And when is it wanted? We have never been ones to say "I'm here to help you because...." even though we've seen it done and believe me, it is so awkward. When an underserved population presents a problem, can people outside of the situation come in and tell them what it is that should be done? I don't think so. I can't be one to prescribe it but I can create something compelling through art, social awareness, activism that sparks the curiosity of a child or adult and let them participate as they wish. That's our responsibility as an artist, I think. To enable others to step in when they choose. 

Stretching it out: This one has been huge with me lately. I've been less "busy" and more about thinking and drawing and writing. Theaster's point was that rather than building it as quickly as possible, making the deal as quickly as possible, what if, we just drew it out. We let it linger and see what came out of it. For him, redeveloping the space wasn't just giving people a place to live. Or in the case of Dorchester Projects, a place to exchange ideas, share food and jam out to records. It was the process and what was created on the way to the product, which is the unimportant thing. 

Process: This one is really important. If you look at his work, Theaster is all about process. He was a potter originally, which is steeped in steps, waiting, reassessing, reworking. Like any artistic endeavor, the path is meandering to create finality but the learning along the way is what creates the space for exploration and deviation the next time around. 

When Nick documented the moving of glass slides from University of Chicago and the donation of thousands of books from Prairie Books (which was this precious art and architecture book store in Printers Row) to Dorchester Projects, I saw it as an amalgamation of things. But when you step into that house in southside Chicago, you realize it's not the things but how they're used, how they make you feel, how the access of having them revives questioning in this unfamiliar and ironic environment that is at once so academic (book and resource filled) and yet elegantly brutish, assemblages of wood and ceramics and metal reimagined and living together in a space that assembles people in the same way, organically and organized in a way that only Theaster can. That's all part of the process. 

Gentrification: This one is bigger than I can get into right now but I did take away one piece of what he said last night about neighborhood shifts. There's a social place for everyone during the process of change in your community. If you like to see the new businesses, storefronts, then support them. If you want to hold on to the things that matter to you, protect them, groom them to be more of that thing. Of course, sometimes it's not as easy as just that, but it's better than the alternative, atrophy and ultimately, loss. 

Yes, we did bring our son with us and he sat and listened to the 3 hour program. We're very lucky to have a patient kid. I think it's terribly important for him to be exposed to this thinking and quandary that life is not just what comes to you at the table, that you have to seek out what other people are being served and who is not being served at all. 

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Graphic Recording: Service in Two Sectors

Over the last few weeks I had the opportunity to record at two very different kinds of organizations. But they both had one thing in common: service. 

The first was the well known Domino's Pizza. Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, they have been a ubiquitous choice for pizza delivery my whole life. At their gathering of brilliant tech minds at Go Where Meetings Matter, I learned how much they put into their customer service and technology arms, especially my favorite part about ordering with them...the Pizza Tracker! Seriously, you can see when your pizza's being made, when it went into the oven, when it's out for delivery — do satisfying! Here are a few illustrations from that day. 

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The other event was the Third Annual Ideas to Action Conference hosted by the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, the talented folks that run Bright Futures, the after school enrichment program out of Eastern Michigan University. This is my third year covering this event and I always learn something personally and professionally. It's an engaging day of educators and innovators in the field doing phenomenal work. This time around they were focusing on Social Emotional Learning. Speakers included professional storytellers, educators and students. It was moving and phenomenal content to capture. 

This also turned out to be my longest, single themed drawing coming in at 10 feet long. The photo above also includes a breakout session graphic.

Although both organizations are serving different "customers", it's evident that great interpersonal service among colleagues and clients is key in success. Nothing can replace the sound of a person's voice or friendliness conveyed through face to face interaction. 

If you're interested in graphic recording and learning about the process for your event, please contact me here. Thanks for exploring! 

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A Band of Illustrators: Graphic Recording for Shell

Recently my uber talented friend Brittany Zeller-Holland of Two if by Sea Studios emailed about a graphic recording opportunity. We had been passing jobs back and forth but for the first time we were going to get to work together! And better yet, the client needed four simultaneous recorders. Brittany immediately thought of Brittany Barnhart from Just Curious Co. Her whimsical style would translate perfectly to graphic recording. And I got to bring Jessica Krcmarik, letterer, artist, designer extraordinaire! We were four creative women on a mission to synthesize ideas and words onto paper. 

Shell's Eco-Marathon event is taking place at Cobo Hall in Detroit over the next three days. We got to kick off the first day during the break out sessions as specialists in their fields talked about ways to innovate beyond what currently exists in the energy industry. Not only did we learn a ton about the processes and challenges of energy consumption and finding more of it, we had so much fun.

We even tossed around the idea of starting a graphic recording collective. That way we could rotate through the requests we receive and put some effort toward really marketing the services. How cool would that be? 

So beautiful and vibrant! To see more of Brittany Zeller-Holland's work, click here.

I love Jessica's lettering ability! To see more of Jessica Krcmarik's work, click here.

Brittany's illustrations are so complete and full of humor. I love it! To see more of Brittany Barnhart's work, click here.

I chose the topic of energy practices and solutions for low income communities and I was so glad I did. I learned from some of the best thinkers in the industry on how important access is for everyone.  You can contact me about graphic recording here — thanks!

Afterwards we hit up Green Dot Stables (my first time!) and recapped the day -- and fed our faces, of course. It was such a fulfilling day, hanging with such talented women and friends! 

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Thinking out loud: What's the next art piece?

Last summer Nick and I produced an event called Sticks and Stones that has continued to make us question the focus of our work, perception of our community, what to do for our next social art piece. Now that the state of my community (like many others) has been "woke", there's been a lot of connecting and rallying. There was the worldwide women's march, a local peace march on MLK Day, Immigrants' March, gatherings, heart to heart talks, forums, blogs, media, all seemingly moving toward the goal of protecting ourselves and one another, our liberties, rights, privileges, examining injustices, exploration of next steps...not to mention the upcoming International Women's Day / Day Without a Woman this Wednesday, March 8th. 

I had even considered the importance of holding a mothers event (and really not just moms but those that support women and families) on Mothers' Day at Edith C. Hefley Park, a small tot lot just north of Recreation Park in the Normal Park neighborhood. I had heard it was underutilized and had some attention on Ypsi Proud Day (the day formerly known as Ypsi P.R.I.D.E Day) but could use some activity. I found this tidbit from the Ypsilanti Gleanings archive: "Ypsilanti Peace Fellowship dedicated the park in 1987 as the Edith C. Hefley Peace Park after the name of a Vietnam Peace Activist who lived in the neighborhood of the park. Since the dedication, the Peace Fellowship has met on Mother's Day to set out plants and to picnic in the park." (author Doris Milliman)

I had envisioned children and adults coming together to meet someone they didn't know before and share in a lesson, teach one another something they're really good at, whether it's a recipe or how they tie their shoes. That made me ponder:

• How will I make sure that everyone finds out about it from all parts of the city?

• Even if we alert the neighbors, will it be disruptive?

• Am I being too presumptuous to think that everyone wants to learn something?

• Will it be impactful enough that this experience will resonate and build more experiences beyond this day?

• Will everyone feel "welcome?"

And that's my biggest quandary. Marches and gatherings are about taking a common space in a public realm. But what does it feel like when you go to a community event very close to other peoples' homes, say a neighborhood tot park, when your street doesn't look or feel the same way, doesn't have the same amenities or privileges (maybe yours has more, maybe yours has less) or cultural practices? When I was out taking photos the other day, the neighbor across the street came out of his house to walk the dogs and was kind enough to tell me that the park is actively used by parents and had even had some additions made to it late in the season which he thinks will bring out even more people this spring. It no longer seemed like the unactivated space I thought it was. Plus, I don't live in Normal Park so that was another consideration for inserting myself into the neighborhood or staking a space. Back to the drawing board.

For all the history and nuanced magic of Ypsilanti, the city is still very divided by history and newness, race, experience, even former school districts (Ypsilanti and Willow Run) and its district lines. I've met many exceptional folks in Ypsi, ready to dive in to social, cultural, educational circles to reach out, help, share. But many of those circles do not intersect broadly beyond age and race, civic versus citizen, privileged versus underserved. And it's no one's fault. How do we step back and see the big picture, all at once?

Because of this, I've given myself a new assignment.

The aim of my next project is to produce a work accessible to as many of the nearly 20,000 citizens of Ypsilanti as possible, affect them in a manner that is positive and create domino opportunities of action from it. 

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Peace March

Nick and I had the pleasure of being a part of the silent peace march that Ypsilanti Community High School art teacher Lynne Settles assembled this morning. We pulled up to the Ypsilanti Water Tower a few minutes before 9 am and wondered how many people would participate with the dreary gray, cold weather. By five after, the small patch of green at the foot of the tower was filled with parents, community members and students. We were 200 strong as we silently walked down Washtenaw to Michigan Avenue. Ypsilanti Police escorted us as we carefully made our way through the intersection during green lights. Leading the march was Rhea McCauley, niece of Rosa Parks and Ypsilanti resident!

Our ending point was the intersection of Washington Street and Michigan Avenue. The building at the corner (which houses Mix Clothing and Ypsilanti Experimental Space, aka YES) is the site where Frederick Douglass spoke 150 years ago to the day. I had no idea what to expect.  Artist Mark Tucker from YES had been working with Lynne's students for months and the result blew my mind. I've seen really good video installation done at art fairs before but Frederick Douglass was all at once quirky and historical and right in front of me

With Mark and Lynne's expertise, the students created a sculpture of Frederick Douglass. Then they had Herb Francois, a teacher at the high school, dress up like Mr. Douglass and read the speech “The Perils of the Republic” which filmmaker Donald Harrison captured. This was projected on the sculpture with the sound of the students taking turns reading the speech. It was transportive and eerily cool. As the light of the projection wrapped around the sculpture, you could then see it wasn't a perfect alignment but that only added to the richness of the viewing. For a moment, you feel as if you're watching footage of the real thing, but then you're snapped back into present day. It was, by far, one of the most memorable pieces of art I have seen in a while. 

Next door neighbor and owner of Go! Ice Cream, Rob Hess and his team, made an incredible donation of time and goodies on a day the parlor is normally closed.  Everyone had their share of hot chocolate and coffee (some of us had to have their delicious ice cream treats too) and students got to see their work hung in the new Go education/event space. Nick collaborated with all the students in concept, production and research of the projects. 

From what I witnessed, the day's festivities highlighted multiple mediums including photography, writing, film making, sculpture (and armature building), costume, make up, styling, performance art, video installation, and art activism. 

The march and exhibit highlighted the spirit of diversity and love that exists in Ypsilanti. It was a magical event in a magical place. Thank you, students, teachers and everyone involved. This day has imbued an even stronger sense of what this community is about and I'm so proud to be a part of it. 

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Printed: Catalogue from The Responsive Mind

We're in the midst of cleaning out our studio and going through so much stuff. How did we accumulate this in just two, short years?? I was happy to see some of the catalogues from the shows I've curated and produced over the years. "The Responsive Mind" was an Op Art show, an homage to the MoMA's exhibit "The Responsive Eye" from 1963. It was an exciting show to work on and I got to meet Julian Stanczak and his lovely wife Barbara. His work is so precise and yet too lively to feel "mechanical", a word used regularly to describe the genre. 

Here's the text I created to go with the show. It's fascinating to see where my "art brain" was at the time and a reminder that I could be producing material like this again.

"European Impressionism bloomed in the 1870s with flowery landscapes and rosy-cheeked sitters. But with all its pleasantries, many Americans considered it radical. Paint was applied directly to the canvas with little or no mixing of hues. Romantic and balanced canvases were replaced with imbalanced compositions and cropped objects. Layers of washes used to stabilize undertones and build weight had been thrown to the wayside for freeing brushstroke and brilliant palette. Viewers had to adhere to a new set of rules for looking at and discussing impressionism and over time, genteel scenes of teatime and poppies won over the masses. 

French post-Impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard may have said it best. "What I am after is the first impression - I want to show all one sees on first entering the room - what my eye takes in at first glance." 

Similar to the introduction of Impressionism, optical art was not a quick read. While both employed dazzling use of color, optical works had no subject nor narrative. The consumption of the mathematical canvases required the viewer to relent to its elements of engaging and at times, repelling, compositions and color juxtapositions. 

That is what this exhibit is about, the shock of the first glance, the precise mode we call "Op" art. 

Op art is considered the direct descendent of the early 20th century German design movement, Bauhaus. Based on the ideologies of Walter Gropius, it originated in Weimer, Germany in 1919.1 While short lived and taking years to cultivate, the movement left indelible marks in areas of architecture, graphic and industrial design.2 Disregarding ornamentation and prioritizing the utility of object, the movement included elements of Constructivism. 

Folding under the pressure of the Nazi regime, the Berlin Bauhaus closed in Spring of 1933 and artists dispersed internationally. Mies Van der Rohe settled in Chicago producing monumental buildings and iconic furniture. Josef Albers, along with his wife painter, Anni Albers, moved to North Carolina and taught at Black Mountain College; later at Harvard and Yale. Direct contributors to the flourish of its origins and continuation included artists Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and László Moholy-Nagy. 

The culmination of Bauhaus and its peripheral movements were catalysts to the formation of Op Art through international perspectives. Because of this varied pot, the direction of the genre while calculative and mathematical, yielded extraordinary results in areas as vast as those of its contributors. 

Dutch artist Maurits Cornelis Escher's jovial lithograph Mosaic II (Image 1) is the earliest piece in this exhibit, a bridge between industrial design and early optical art elements. A grid of animals and biomorphic forms, each is created from the negative space of its stylized neighbor. Dependent on the stark void and presence of value, the viewer is forced to see the piece in multiple ways. As one tone protrudes, the other recedes. To view the entirety of the plane is a frenzied but pleasant task. Challenging the simple idea of tasselations and motif, Escher's use of grayscale and shading of figures showed early potential for viewing a two-dimensional plane as a three-dimensional one, an underlying element of trompe l'oeil. 

In February 1965, Op art stepped gingerly on to the main stage only to be thrust into the limelight.3 Legitimized by the paramount of modern art institutions, the genre was as exciting and tumultuous as the times - socially, politically and technologically-speaking. The international collection of paintings, prints and art objects brought to the forefront an appreciation of mathematically precise qualities in art that had not been given high regard previously. 

In a review of the first staged show on Op art, art critic, John Canaday of the New York Times reported, “‘The Responsive Eye’, the Optical art exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, is a brilliant show, with all the theatricallism typical of avant-garde art but with the most important sections it is a display of craftsmanship in the service of a new idea as to what art should be in this century.” 

This was an ouevre that could be consumed by everyone, simplistic in nature but disarming to view. There were the dots of Larry Poons to gaze upon, seemingly floating orbs on complementary color fields. Grounded by faint gridlines, Untitled (Image 8) mimics the quarter notes on a page of sheet music. Poons's musical past4 translated into compositions of syncopated beats that gave the audience a reason to tap their toes. 

Victor Vasarely's early grasp on typography and Bauhaus ideals were foundation to his creation of simple yet indispensable notions. Both mixed media piece Untitled (Image 5) and the painting Dudiom (Image 19), confuse the viewer by making typically defined fore and background images ambiguous through varied use of color and value. 

Flat, pure color was pioneered by Hard-Edge painter Ellsworth Kelly. His paring down of form into elementary and abstracted geometric shape influenced a new generation of representation as seen in the lithograph Blue/Yellow/Red (Image 2). Also employing complex palettes was Chicago native, Karl Benjamin. In VS #10 (Image 15), the warm reds are punctuated with instances of cool blue, purple and green. His use of complementary colors encouraged the viewer to scan and "read" the horizontal canvas. 

While notably scarce in this movement, women made profound discoveries in this mode. Trading in her traditional painting style, Japanese artist Rakuko Naito found ways to create perceptual reality in its barest form. With simply two colors and pristine craftsmanship, RN 1262-35 (Image 13) shows a circle in front of a square, both consisting of the same alternating stripes. Submerging yourself in the canvas, the circle seems to recede and float while your mind attempts to rectify the changed reality. 

Classically trained in painting and a life-long teacher, Edna Andrade created straightforward paintings through highly mathematical practices. In Color Motion 2-64 (Image 6) four colors are organized on the diagonal, on top a marigold layer of dissecting strips acting as arrows. As the eyes attempt to reconcile which direction to follow, the under-laying colors push and pull away from one another. Because of the chromatic range of value, color is responsible for activating the work. 

Known for utilizing a wide array of hues, Israeli-born Yaacov Agam's anamorphic works depended on the viewer's ability to physically move back and forth to uncover different perspectives. The inclusion of his large scale piece, Double Metamorphosis II in The Responsive Eye, stood 8' x 10" x 13' and secured his place as a major contributor to the movement, a role he has continued to this day. His Agamograph (Image 17), a term which he coined, is a print overlaid with a toothed plastic. As you glance from one side to the other, different surfaces arise to the foreground. Similar to his paintings, heavy use of line and geometric shapes exemplified his studies under Bauhaus-era instructors. 

Black and white, the most extreme values on the grayscale were integral to the understanding and creation of successful images and many artists realized this. While simplified, the barebones method of void versus presence was a true test. What marks existed on a canvas was information, what did not became negative tension, allowing the brain to rest and resolve.5 5 5 

Under the tutelage of Albers at Yale University, roommates Richard Anuszkiewicz and Julian Stanczak advanced his methodical approach to color, creating congruently mathematical masterpieces albeit from contrasting views. Anuszkiewicz's vibrating works generally radiated from the center and utilized vibrant hues. In Untitled (Image 12), each hand-painted square weaves a complementary canvas of pink and green with such precision it seems as though there is an infinity we can no longer see but exists. 

Known for immaculately precise and complex compositions, Julian Stanczak's painting Sway in Warm Light (Image 16) consists of three panes. Straight vertical lines deviate into curved, interlacing waves taking on an organic air. Only the repetition of its neighboring canvases and popping color are reminders of the human and machine-like interplay occurring. 

The appeal to the inexplicable effects of this type of art is deeply sensory, almost visceral. While there is no denying the eye is the threshold, there has long been debate as to whether the translation of color and shape was retinal or physiological.6 It is the brain's function to draw conclusions and fill gaps, (which may explain the success of early visual phenomena as flipbooks or the moving projections of a zoopraxiscope). While complementary colors may be disconcerting to stare at, suggestive dots continuing in a direction or insinuation of a line is reason enough to connect it. It is the language to describe the perception objectively which remains difficult. This unfortunate truth is part of the elusive mystery and triumph of Op art. 

William C. Seitz, director of MoMA at the time wrote, "...a considerable flurry has been made about 6 a new "cool" abstract dada, related to pop art, which finds value in resignation, emptiness and meaningless." 

Perhaps more importantly this new "dada" was the antithesis of just that. A backlash to expressionism, its calculated nature required more attention than a slashing brushstroke. Innumerable hours were spent, pored over rulers and masking tape and tools that may have looked more appropriate for an operating room than an artist’s studio. Starbursts of vibrating color were created. Laborious and patient canvases wooed us and made us look. And then look again."

1 The School of Bauhaus would move to Dessau and later Berlin under the direction of Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (from 1928-1930 and 1930-1933 respectively). 

2 "I had been in the Bauhaus only nine years and my successors had been there altogether for five years. That was the whole Bauhaus. But in spite of that, in spite this uphill fight, I can state today that the idea of the Bauhaus has really spread, has penetrated through, not only in this country, but very much so in England, in Italy, in Japan and even other countries." Walter Gropius's interview with John Peter, The Oral History of Modern Architecture, John Peter, 1994, page 184. 

3In October 23, 1964 issue of Time Magazine, the article Op Art: Pictures That Attack the Eye was released, presenting the genre to a widened audience. 

4 Poons was a student at the New Englad Conservatory of Music in Boston in 1955. Joe Houston, The Optic Nerve: Perceptual Art of the 1960s, (New York: Merrell Publishers, 2007), 

5 A visual object is the more unitary the more strictly similar its elements are in such factors as color, brightness, and speed and direction of movement. (Arnheim 1954)  

6 To this day, Harry Asher wrote in 1961, it is not known for certain whether the process underlying the effect takes place in the eye or the brain. (Seitz 1965) The Responding Eye, Museum of Modern Art, By William C. Seitz, 1965, page 5  

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