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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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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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UpsideDownTown

Last Friday was our first venture into art experiences rather than exhibits. While showing regional work for retail sale was important, it didn't feel fulfilling as a community contribution. When Nick started talking about doing a camera obscura a while back, we though it was the perfect opportunity to show our visitors that programming can be affordable, but highly enriching. 

We had two waves of people come through with free tickets, ready to experience the inside of the camera obscura, which translates to "dark room". If you make a box or in this case, a room, completely dark and only let in a pinhole of light, light fills the space with the exterior image, inverse and upside down. I still can't explain the physics of it but this is what happens inside our eyes, inside a camera, inside a pinhole camera. It's really quite extraordinary. 

The first experience yielded fairly good representation of the street and particularly the farmers' market building across the way. We learned that late morning light gave us the best image in terms of sharpness and vibrancy but people were in awe all the same. The second wave was not as strong as this time, the sun had moved lower in the sky (around 6:30 pm) and we were getting less of an image. But when people and cars went by, it was quite thrilling. And although we were the ones in the "box", it felt quite voyeuristic as people didn't know we were seeing them. Upside down. 

Here's a short visual story on the process. We want to thank everyone that took the time to come out and get locked in the studio with us. It was a wonderful learning and social experiment. Lots more to come! 

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Coming up: March 2016

The spring exhibition season is kicking off with an incredible show and I'm excited to announce it today. I met (paper) artist Laura Makar just a few months ago when she submitted her pieces for consideration. I emailed her immediately. 

  Sure-Lock , 2015, 29 x 42 inches, cut paper

Sure-Lock, 2015, 29 x 42 inches, cut paper

Her work isn't just about cut paper. Laura understands the broader sense of creating a moment, a composition larger than where the edges of the paper restrain our experience. The lines undulate in magically growing ways, but if you look really closely, you can see it's human-made. Incredible. 

The opening is on Friday, March 4th and we're making it an early evening so we can hop across the street to celebrate the new season at First Fridays Ypsilanti Gala, where I'll be the keynote speaker for the evening. So mark your calendars and wish us lots of luck for a beautiful night, celebrating visual arts, culture and friends in Ypsilanti. 

 

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DIYpsi

DIYpsi is such a fun, momentous event for artists and patrons in Ypsi. It was this weekend and we got to make a quick run through it Saturday morning. (I think I appeased our son with ice cream for breakfast...brunch?) It was at Corner Brewery again with indoor and outdoor spaces as well as some awesome live music. Check out some of the highlights.

 Save the date...

Save the date...

 Our friend Cre Fuller and his Angry Tin Men.

Our friend Cre Fuller and his Angry Tin Men.

 Getting some beauty goods with Shevaughn at ANEL, A Naturally Empowered Life. 

Getting some beauty goods with Shevaughn at ANEL, A Naturally Empowered Life. 

 Beautiful hand dyed bags at Moonbeam. 

Beautiful hand dyed bags at Moonbeam. 

 Handmade products at humble. 

Handmade products at humble. 

 Curated goods at Friend's Closet.

Curated goods at Friend's Closet.

 Go! Ice Cream. Yum. 

Go! Ice Cream. Yum. 

 Our buddies at Hyperion Coffee.

Our buddies at Hyperion Coffee.

 Hooray for First Fridays!

Hooray for First Fridays!


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Recap: First Fridays Ypsi with Jessica Krcmarik

This past Friday we opened Feast: A Visual Spread, a collection of illustrations from Detroit artist Jessica Krcmarik. We got to show off her new series of everyday objects and delicious foods. Titles include What He Likes (which was sold that evening) and What Kids Like. Cute, eh? We were also lucky enough to have her live drawing the entire night as people watched in awe of her handiwork. 

 Our artist info sheet and price list. To receive one of your own,  please email us.

Our artist info sheet and price list. To receive one of your own, please email us.

 Moments before opening, the studio flooded with light.

Moments before opening, the studio flooded with light.

 We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful evening. 

We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful evening. 

 Delicious cookies from Terry Bakery

Delicious cookies from Terry Bakery

 Jessica got right to work on a still life set up as people looked on curiously. 

Jessica got right to work on a still life set up as people looked on curiously. 

If you're interested in acquiring one of Jessica's illustrated gems, feel free to give us a call at 734-929-2498 or email us to see photos. Stay tuned for details on our June artist, Megan Williamson, before we take our summer break from art openings. 

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Virtuous: Panel Discussion & Opening

Update: A full video of the discussion can be viewed here

Our first opening took place this past Thursday and we couldn't be happier with the turn out and support we received from the community. Virtuous, is a series of illustrations by contemporary artist Jermaine Dickerson, focusing on comic book style technique and content. I was first drawn to his work because his technical acumen but was blown away by the stories behind the content. He's very committed to the genre and wanted to create new work surrounding the Michael Brown and Ferguson incidents and how they were conveyed in the media. 

Our landlord was nice enough to let us use the vacant space next door (now leased - yay, neighbors!) for the panel discussion which got filled and was standing room only by the end. Here are some highlights of the panel which included Richard Rubenfeld, Professor Emeritus of Art History at Eastern Michigan University; exhibiting artist Jermaine Dickerson; James Conniff, resident comic book expert of Fun 4 All Comics; Jesse Rubenfeld, illustrator and artist; and Curtis Sullivan, co-owner and founder of Vault of Midnight. 

 Dr. Richard Rubenfeld moderated an hour of topics in comic books including diversity, real life superheroes, powers and women in comic books.

Dr. Richard Rubenfeld moderated an hour of topics in comic books including diversity, real life superheroes, powers and women in comic books.

 Exhibiting artist Jermaine Dickerson. 

Exhibiting artist Jermaine Dickerson. 

 We even had a professional filmmaker in the house!

We even had a professional filmmaker in the house!

 The panel closed out with a Q&A session. 

The panel closed out with a Q&A session. 

 Curtis Sullivan gets his point across.

Curtis Sullivan gets his point across.

 Our dashing panel. 

Our dashing panel. 

 A successful night indeed! #Virtuous

A successful night indeed! #Virtuous

The show is open through the end of March and there are still a few pieces available for purchase. The first hour we sold four pieces from the exhibit. Very successful, we'd say! For more information about our upcoming events, check out our exhibitions page here

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November 2014

In the interest of saving time and filling everyone in on the things we have coming up, I'm loading our last e-blast content here. Enjoy! 


Hello! This is the first e-mail we've sent to this lovely list of people since opening our studio. As many of you know, we had the fortune of stumbling upon a perfect little storefront in downtown Ypsilanti about seven weeks ago. Yes, just seven weeks ago! 

It has an open storefront space (for photographing), an office (for art and design consulting) and dressing room/dining nook. We snatched it up and never looked back. 

And since then, some incredible things have happened. 

  1. We attended our first First Fridays Ypsilanti just earlier this month, a circuit of venues with music, art, food, happenings on the first Friday of each tolerable un-wintery month. (There's a short break after the upcoming December 5th event). You grab a map and check out all the cool places that are hosting exhibits and offering specials. It's unique, surprising and wonderful fun for the family.
  2. Our studio opened on 11/11! Even though we're not a retail space selling wares, it was a bit of a hectic day - little sleep and lots of anxiety - about all good things! It seems the years of accumulating furniture were for this space. We just didn't know it. 9 S. Washington is a pretty sweet little spot on a corridor of downtown Ypsi that seems to literally be activating (as someone called it) day by day right before our very eyes. 
  3. On 11/20, three days after we photographed this set up, it was featured in the digital version of the New York Times. In the print version there are both styled photos we took for Skandicrush, this wonderful subscription service that sends monthly boxes filled with beautiful home wares. We're so lucky to be partnered with talented entrepreneurs with such vision. 
  4. That same night we celebrated our opening with friends and locals. It was a riot. Some of the photos can be found on our Facebook page.
  5. Nick has been really involved with Ypsilanti families and students over the last year. He worked on a photography assignment that allowed him to capture almost every family in a housing community and it moved everyone involved. That's how we came up with the idea to offer $10 Holiday Family Portraits on 11/29 Small Business Saturday. There's no reason a family shouldn't have a professional photo. We want to make these important things accessible and fun for everyone. Spread the word and the cheer! Come in with friends, family, students, colleagues...or just by yourself. All the details are here. (Pompom backdrop included)
  6. Once again, we are so excited to support Art Around Town, the business enterprise benefitting participating Ypsilanti Public School art programming. We'll be selling art through preview sales on:
  • First Fridays, Dec. 5th from 5-9 pm **We'll also be offering $20 holiday portraits that evening!**
  • Auction preview and art sale on Friday, Dec. 12th from 5-9 pm
  • Winter Auction on Saturday, Dec. 13th from 6-9 pm. Prints, paintings and sculpture will be sale and we play auctioneer! Bring the family and battle over works of art!

We didn't know what we were missing until we had the studio. Now that we do, we're thrilled to share our ideas, aesthetics and fun times with all of you. You're always welcome here. 

Be well and have a very Happy Thanksgiving! 
Best,
Yen and Nick Azzaro

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Artprize 2014: A Weekend in Grand Rapids

I got the visit Artprize over the weekend,  the largest art fair with winners chosen by community vote. Attendees must be present to register to vote and winners win cash prizes in the six-figures. Originally sponsored by the DeVos family as a public art event, it has garnered participation from artists worldwide since it's inception in 2009. Nick and I haven't participated since 2010 (he showed a larger-than-life photo comic book and I showed an interactive piece made from reused materials at a nursery school). 

Though there was a lot of marketing through artists and supporters handing out cards and campaigning, I tried to reserve voting to the pieces that truly moved me, made me think and converse with the friends I was with. The initial round of voting is underway and there's a second tier of votes needed after the Top 10 are announced. The fair runs through October 10th and I highly recommend a visit. Whether you're a fan of the communal vote or not, it's an opportunity to see a ton of free, contemporary art in every type of venue imaginable.

Here are just a few of the highlights.

 #eggprize

#eggprize

 A phonograph that sung the phrase "All You Need Is Love" when you held a business card along the ridges.

A phonograph that sung the phrase "All You Need Is Love" when you held a business card along the ridges.

 Kaitlin Brewer's "Shattered" at Grand Rapids Art Museum 

Kaitlin Brewer's "Shattered" at Grand Rapids Art Museum 

 Anila Quayyum Agha's "Intersections"

Anila Quayyum Agha's "Intersections"

 A small section of "Elephants", the 2012 grand prize winning piece by Adonna Khare

A small section of "Elephants", the 2012 grand prize winning piece by Adonna Khare

 Michigan artist Ann Lovelace was the grand prize winner of 2013 with her quilt piece "Sleeping Bear Dune Lakeshore"

Michigan artist Ann Lovelace was the grand prize winner of 2013 with her quilt piece "Sleeping Bear Dune Lakeshore"

 #peace #GrandRapids #bluebridge

#peace #GrandRapids #bluebridge

 #steampunk

#steampunk


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Sold! | Playing Auctioneer at Art Around Town

I just found out that I get to be the auctioneer during the Art Around Town Art Auction on May 3rd! (I've worked the phone lines, calling bidders and intaking their bids, previewed shows and bid on pieces for work). I love auction culture. The competition and buzz of excitement as bids fly back and forth is unnerving, especially when you know a dealer is bidding for someone else. You never know how high something can go for when you present an item. 

For Art Around Town, we want everyone to have a fair chance to buy student pieces. The success of the event not only rests on the dollars raised, but the awareness we bring to the community about this invaluable program. 

Anyone that's ever been interested in attending an auction should definitely not be afraid to. This will be a fun and casual (but hopefully competitive) event. I'll name a starting bid and price increments will go up by $2 to $20 and up depending on the interest in each piece. I'll follow the rhythm of bids and close pieces as soon as we hit a lull of a few seconds. 

For the next two weeks I'll be sharing tips on how to bid and everything auction related. Here's a cheat sheet I created to help you get started. Good luck and I hope to see you on the 3rd!



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Art Around Town: A New Social Enterprise Changing the Face of Art Education in Local Schools

Nick and I have been working on something exciting with The B. Side, a program within the Office of Academic Service-Learning at Eastern Michigan University for a few months and the news was announced in local media today. Art Around Town is a new social enterprise that provides supplies for students to create art products.

We help them learn the consigning and art retail process, exhibit the work, sell it—raising funds to buy more art supplies and give them choices on how to spend the money whether it be field trips, guest speakers...anything is possible. Nick's been capturing the art pieces for their auction catalog and website and I've been consulting and working on marketing, brand and publicity.

The full article can be found here in Ypsilanti Courier and we've included a few photos of student work below. In May, a series of events will celebrate the launch of student work being sold in a retail setting at Riverside Arts Center as well as online. 

May 2nd is First Fridays in downtown Ypsilanti and an opening to the public will coincide. 

May 3rd is the Auction and some of the best pieces will be available for bidding. 

 

We already have our eyes on some incredible paintings and drawings and we urge everyone, whether you're an avid collector or have never bought a piece, to come out and support this incredible program. See you in May!

If you're an artist looking for creative publicity, we handle all aspects of art marketing, branding and press releases. Email Yen here

Press + media: There is a private event on Thursday, May 1st with photo opportunities where we will highlight student artists. For more information or images, please contact us

 

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