Detroit’s East Village Is Being Transformed Into an Art Hub

This article is part of our Museums special section about how institutions are striving to offer their visitors more to see, do and feel.

Since the city filed for bankruptcy in 2013, Detroit has experienced a significant revitalization, with a growing art scene centered largely in its downtown. Now in the East Village, a quiet neighborhood about a 15-minute drive from the skyscrapers built in the city’s automotive heyday, a new creative hub is coming into focus this spring.

Called Little Village, this hub includes new parks, cultural spaces, artist studios, affordable housing and hospitality services. The campus, which has the city and community’s blessing, is the work of Anthony and JJ Curis, the co-founders of the downtown gallery Library Street Collective.

Anchoring Little Village is the Shepherd, a 110-year-old Romanesque-style deconsecrated church that the couple bought and repurposed with the help of the Brooklyn architects Peterson Rich Office. Their design includes two white-box galleries within the soaring interior, performance and workshop areas and an outpost of the Black Art Library.

The inaugural exhibition, opening May 18, is “Charles McGee: Time Is Now,” a retrospective of the artist, who died in 2021 at 96. McGee is known for his public sculptures and murals in Detroit, and was a major influence on young Black artists.

“We see the space as a unique opportunity to do some things outside of what traditional galleries are doing, what institutions are doing and what community centers are doing — almost this hybrid of all these things,” Anthony Curis said.

Curis, a Detroit native who worked with his father in real estate development, and his wife, JJ, who has a background in finance, opened Library Street Collective in 2012. The couple wanted to expand the impact of their downtown gallery, which focuses on both local and international artists, and participate in the city’s artistic renaissance. Through their relationships with community groups, they were drawn toward the underserved East Village, which was hard hit during the city’s racial tensions of the 1960s. Over the decades, the neighborhood deteriorated, accumulating dilapidated and abandoned structures, punctuated by open lots.

“Detroit is a really specific place, and you don’t go into a city like this and develop it in a way without being conscious of that,” Anthony Curis said. “Our intention is making sure that the project feels not only inclusive but also representative of the neighborhood and city as a whole.”

Since buying the church and many surrounding vacant properties over the past five years, the couple has also developed a boutique bed-and-breakfast, called ALEO, in the former Good Shepherd Catholic Church’s adjacent rectory. It opens in May, filled with works, from the Curises’ personal collection, by nearly 30 artists with roots in the city, including Conrad Egyir, Beverly Fishman and Zoe McGuire.

ALEO’s third floor hosts the Modern Ancient Brown Foundation and residency program, founded in 2019 by the acclaimed artist McArthur Binion, who lives in Chicago but returns regularly to his hometown to support emerging artists of color.

Within a newly landscaped 3.5-acre open campus, designed by the firm OSD, on the block where the Shepherd sits, Binion and the skateboarder Tony Hawk designed a public skate park. It will be inaugurated next month, as will the Charles McGee Legacy Park, with its abstracted sculptural hedges and benches and stylized figures rising as tall as 12 feet. Produced with the Curises, who represent McGee’s estate, it was the artist’s last project before his death.

The couple’s development of Little Village has the support of the East Village Association, as well as of the city.

“They took a vacant church, vacant commercial buildings, vacant houses that folks had walked away from,” Mayor Mike Duggan said, “and they are building a very exciting community that I think is going to attract creative talents to that neighborhood.”

Real estate speculation in downtown Detroit has made it increasingly expensive for many longtime residents, as well as for artists. But the mayor said he was not concerned about gentrification in the East Village. “Nobody is being pushed out,” he said. “In fact, just the opposite is happening.”

One of the artists recently enticed to the area is Paul Verdell. Three years ago, the Curises recruited Verdell, who was finishing art school in Ohio, to join several artists and designers moving into their renovated, affordable townhouses near the Shepherd.

“I was considering New York or Los Angeles for my art career and, after talking with Anthony, it just seemed like a better opportunity to move to Detroit,” said Verdell, now represented by Library Street Collective.

Next month, he will be among the first artists to inhabit studio spaces in the nearby Lantern building, a former 22,300-square-foot bakery that the Curises have redeveloped as a mixed-use space designed by OMA. Other studio artists include Akea Brionne and Davariz Broaden. A nonprofit letterpress printer and community space, Signal-Return, has already relocated there, and Progressive Art Studio Collective, supporting artists with developmental disabilities, plans to move in soon.

“Right now it’s still a little bit off the beaten track,” Verdell said of Little Village, “but there are definitely community vibes.”

Warda Bouguettaya, a James Beard award-winning chef for Warda Patisserie in Midtown Detroit, and her husband, Mohamed, both originally from Algeria, said they were seduced by the blend of art, hospitality and green space in Little Village. They plan to open a second location of their patisserie this summer on the Shepherd’s block in the renovated structure known as BridgeHouse.

“The area is not quite populated yet,” Mohamed Bouguettaya said, “but it’s a risk that we are willing to take because we can see how this whole neighborhood can transform.”

As their first wave of projects comes to fruition, the Curises are embarking on an ambitious expansion of Little Village: converting a 13-acre functioning marina and storage facility next to the Shepherd into another complex for culture, food, retail and recreation that will be called Stanton Yards. Standing on a terrace of ALEO and pointing to a cluster of industrial facades across Jefferson Avenue, Anthony Curis said that until its owner offered it for sale, “I didn’t even know that that was a marina.”

Now, he’s working with the Brooklyn architects SO-IL to rehabilitate and prune the warehouses to introduce two new alleyways providing visibility and access to the Detroit River from Jefferson Avenue.

“We’re designing it in such a way that will invite people to cross between these buildings into a courtyard, which will be quite activated, and then continue on to the water,” said Florian Idenburg, a principal of SO-IL who is collaborating with OSD on the master plan for the marina site.

Idenburg said he saw the potential for a new destination. “If there’s enough synergy between the different programs, and if we can get the pedestrian aspect,” he said, Little Village “can become a part of Detroit that gives you a completely different feel than many other parts of the city.”

Allison Glenn, a New York curator who grew up on Detroit’s east side, was recently hired as artistic director of the Shepherd and will partner with other organizations to host temporary programming there. Her first exhibition, “In an effort to be held,” will open Aug. 3 with works by over a dozen artists, including Kevin Beasley, Wangechi Mutu and Angel Otero, that deal with the aesthetics of surface and skin through processes like collage, transfer and wrapping.

The Shepherd’s collaborative model is being piloted with the opening of the McGee exhibition, organized by Jova Lynne, artistic director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.

For Lynne, a transplant to Detroit, the community goals of Little Village are aligned with the city’s needs. Before moving here, she was advised by a local not to think of Detroit as a blank slate but as something already blooming. “I think the work the Shepherd is going to do just elevates the rich culture and art scene that’s already here,” she said.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *