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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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Course by Course with Paesano Restaurant

I've been going to Paesano for as long as I can remember. The food, the ambiance and service has kept my family returning for years. Experiencing it when we returned to the area was no different. Owners Michael and Bridget Roddy always go out of their way to take care of their customers (and we hear this extends to their employees as well)! 

Nick and I love to go there even though it's removed from the downtown scene, or more likely because it is removed from the downtown scene. When we dine there, we know it's a destination experience where we'll linger through the courses. The service is impeccable and the flavors are always exciting. We had an unforgettable pappardelle dish as one of our courses during their Carnevale celebration a couple months ago. The ragu was perfectly savory with a touch of sweetness. We later discovered the sweetness was from sautéed grapes — so delicious!

Nick shot their seasonal menu a couple weeks ago and we were delighted with how beautifully each dish was plated, perfect for photographing, which isn't always the case. With their travel excursions, Italian classes, movie nights and birthday cards, they truly make you feel like part of the family. We can't say enough wonderful things about the restaurant and we're really honored to be working with them. 

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The Wurst Challenge 2015

Just a couple blocks from the studio is this incredible organization called FLY Children's Art Center. And it's just like it sounds. It's a place for kids and families to let their imaginations take flight, possibilities are endless with courses in drawing, painting, theater, costumery, robotics and we're so lucky to count them as creative neighbors. 

One of their big annual fundraisers is The Wurst Challenge at The Wurst Bar, where contenders raise funds, eat LOTS of delicious sausages while dressed up in their best garb and make a name for themselves. You really can't go wrong when the thread for the event is #20feetofmeat. Yep.

Here are just a few of the momentous highlights of last night's event. 

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Prepping for the Launch

Getting a physical space ready for ourselves is bigger and badder than other projects we've worked on. We revamped the logo to match the architectural feel of our studio - a late 19th century storefront. This is something we wouldn't normally do but the sans serif lines of our previous logo didn't match the feel of the building or the furniture and objects we're planning to decorate with. 

To celebrate our opening, we're having an awesome photo session giveaway! Go to our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages to enter! There's 4 chances per person to win. 

Our first day of business is 11/11 - come by and say "hello!" 

 

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 The key! 

The key! 

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We're Getting a Space!

I still can't believe it happened because everything happened so quickly but...we signed a lease on a studio today! A couple months ago it didn't even seem feasible but things literally just came down to timing and luck. Nick and I had looked at storefront retail space in downtown Ypsilanti a few weeks ago. It was a large main room with great light (facing the west), a square shaped office and a makeshift "kitchen" area with bathroom. There was storage in the back and was sandwiched between an existing business and a promising one doing a build-out next door. Then we were told it wasn't available. I'm not going to lie. We sulked. And sulked. 

We didn't talk about it but I'm sure we both thought about it.

Then, a week later Nick got a call and BAM! Just like that, we were back in the game. We did some research, figured out the timing and now we're the proud tenants of 9 S. Washington Street starting November 1st!!! We decided opening day would be 11/11 so if you come by before that we'll be in shambles and running around looking for furniture and cleaning. We will be a mess, but would love to meet you if you're in the neighborhood and want to stop by to say "hello." 

We're so excited to be part of the growing Ypsi scene and we can't wait to show everyone what we have in store. We'll be part photography (and teaching) studio, art space and consulting office. For now, we have limited hours (Tues - Fri, 9 am to 3:30 pm) but will take appointments as they come in. 

Thank you to everyone that has given us advice, good vibes, praise, encouragement and your general and monetary support over the last three years. We couldn't have done this without you. Please come see us soon!

 

 Opening day is Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 from 9 am to 3:30 pm

Opening day is Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 from 9 am to 3:30 pm


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Detroit Bakery Visits

Nick visited three bakeries in and around Detroit last week and he came home with delicious goodies, digital and edible. The bakeries: Chilango's, La Gloria and MexicanTown Bakery each have their own specialty pan dulce (sweet bread) and cookies so there was a lot to sample, 

This is part of a growing project between Nick and our friend, professor at Stamps School of Art & Design, Nick Tobier. This is not the first time they've collaborated and I can't wait to see what the delicious future holds! 

Chilango's: 5427 Vernor Hwy

La Gloria Bakery: 3345 Bagley Ave.

MexicanTown Bakery: 4300 Vernor Hwy

 Fresh loaves at Chilango's

Fresh loaves at Chilango's

 Caramel churros!!

Caramel churros!!

 Baker at work at La Gloria

Baker at work at La Gloria

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 Tres leches cake at MexicanTown Bakery

Tres leches cake at MexicanTown Bakery

 Sugary sweet pink pan dulce

Sugary sweet pink pan dulce

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Dunc's Mill: Truly Handcrafted Premium Rum

It's been a really big summer for us, work and play-wise. We just returned from a road trip to Vermont for a family reunion on my aunt and uncle's property. Besides the log cabin they built with friends and various "huts" and buildings sprinkled throughout the mountains, the distillery where my uncle produces his rum is about 100 yards from the house.

Dunc's Mill is not only a premium product that we've been able to enjoy occasionally, (it has exclusive distribution along the east coast), everything about it is truly handmade, from the steeped elderflower in simple syrup for the Elderflower Rum to the carefully poured wax to seal each bottle.

We had the opportunity to drink some very special reserve rum (not for sale) and bring it to market where we watched my uncle interacting with the public, educating them about the process and ingredients. There are three rums: Elderflower, Maple and Backwoods Reserve. We recommend the Mayflower, 1 part Elderflower, 1 part Maple, splash of soda and a lime wedge.

We are proud to count Dunc's Mill as our latest client. We'll be producing marketing materials and photography. If you're ever traveling through Vermont, shoot him an email and tell my uncle we sent you. It's a truly magical experience. Cheers.

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"Just Shoot it on White"

We had always gotten a good amount of requests for a "white background" but lately even more so. It's certainly not easier to achieve than an environmental background. On the contrary, it takes a lot of effort and expertise. (Try to take a photo with your phone or point and shoot and achieve a perfectly white background indoors with no graininess).

Nick's a magician when it comes to getting a seamless white result because he puts a lot into the pre-production, and not so much in post. Minus a little adjustment here and there and an overall cleaning of any "dust", he does little cutting out in Photoshop. What you see is pretty much what was there. He does after all, carry an arsenal of tools and secrets with him — everything from glass panes, black aluminum foil, white boards, rolls of paper, and more.

It's not so glamorous or pretty when you pull back.

But he knows how to get the job done.*

There are various levels of "white" so we always ask if you want a shadow, a gradation, or pure stark white.

If you're looking for a product, food or portrait shoot, give us a call (734-929-2498) or email and we'd love to talk to you about the (endless) possibilities. 

*Products are screenshots and do not show the quality of original digital photos.

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A Nibble of Restaurant Week and Taste of Ann Arbor 2014

 Arbor Brewing Co.

Arbor Brewing Co.

 Gandy Dancer

Gandy Dancer

 Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim

Nick's whirlwind week of shooting Restaurant Week and Taste of Ann Arbor participants is over. Whew! Here's a sample of the absolutely delectable plates he captured. We're so proud to be a part of the local food scene here. Thanks to everyone that let him come in during your busy days and especially for the goodies! 

 Conor O'Neill's

Conor O'Neill's

 Weber's

Weber's

Note: These were all mini sessions which Nick captured with his specially made handheld lighting system. Our full styling and food photo shoots usually take 4-10 hours. To see more samples of work, visit our Food page here

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Food Cart Deliciousness at XDelica Dumplings

We had the pleasure of meeting Sean and Leeann a few weeks ago to talk about food photos and drawings of one of my favorite things to eat in the whole entire world — dumplings. With fillings like beef with potato curry and even cheese, things at Mark's Carts food courtyard just got even more enticing. 

 My dumpling illustration will be used for their logo and branding.

My dumpling illustration will be used for their logo and branding.

XDelica Dumplings is all about quick, handmade and top quality ingredients coupled with delicious sides like pickled salads, sweet sausage and seasonal soups.

Tomorrow's opening day and we can't wait to try their daily combo or any of the rotating dumpling specials. Hope you're hungry because this is the first dumpling joint in the area and we're certain it's going to knock your socks off!

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