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Black History Month: Art in Detroit

Heidelberg Project.jpg

Image: Heidelberg Project. Image credit: "Heidelberg Project-Detroit, MI" by Mike Boening Photography is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Motown Historical Museum.jpg

Image: Motown Museum. Image credit: "Motown Historical Museum" by Dig Downtown Detroit is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Detroit has an illustrious history as a hub of Black artistry. Continuing our Detroit’s Greatest Hits series, this post is dedicated to just a few of the spaces you can explore art created for and by Black Detroiters during your visit.

Motown Museum

Prompted by a stream of people knocking on the door of Motown Records to see the famous headquarters, the Motown Museum was founded by Berry Gordy’s sister, Esther Gordy Edwards, in 1985. Located in the original headquarters and music recording studio for Motown Records, the Motown Museum is a celebration of Berry Gordy’s legacy and Motown Records rich musical history. The Motown Museum commemorates artists like Diana Ross & the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and Lionel Richie. The museum requires that visitors go on a guided tour that includes sing-along exhibits, costumes, and more, so remember to sign up for a tour before your visit! It is a blast.

After you visit the Motown Museum, consider traveling a few blocks to Albert Kahn’s Fisher Building. The art deco building features an amazing array of murals and is clad in bronze. It’s worth a visit, even if just to walk through the lobby! You’ll also be near Baobab Fare and Supino Pizzeria New Center- both are sublime options for lunch or dinner.

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

Nestled in Midtown Detroit, the Wright Museum is the second largest museum dedicated to African American history in the United States. The Wright Museum was founded by Charles H. Wright, a twentieth century renaissance man who was a doctor, historian, and writer. The Wright’s exhibitions are as dynamic as its founder, ranging from a celebration of musical artists and classic photography to Detroit Performs!, which explores a range of performing arts in Detroit and Detroit’s contributions to American pop culture. Check their exhibitions list for their programming during your stay, there could be film screenings, live music, and more.

Remember, after your visit, you can walk to the Main Branch of the Detroit Public Library, the Detroit Institute of Arts, or the Detroit Historical Museum. If you’re feeling hungry, you can grab a bite to eat at Babo, try some Detroit-style pizza at Shield’s, or order some small plates and cocktails at Chartreuse.

N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art

Fives blocks from the Wright Museum, N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art is a celebration of local artists. Started by George N’Namdi, the N’Namdi Center features painters, sculptors, and guest lectures with both indoor and outdoor performance areas. It is a wonderfully curated collection of artists with an emphasis on Detroit and always has something compelling to enjoy.

While there, you can wander over a block to MOCAD to see our modern and contemporary art museum, which houses numerous permanent and visiting exhibits and often has programming on the weekends. Consider swinging by Seva for a vegetarian or vegan meal, Ima Noodles for ramen and sake, or grab some take-out from Slows-To-Go. You can hop back on the QLine to make your way back to the Renaissance Center.

Detroit Sound Conservancy

The Graystone International Jazz Museum, named in remembrance of Detroit’s famous Graystone Ballroom, was founded eleven years after the Motown Museum in 1974 by James Jenkins. The Detroit Sound Conservancy preserved the records that remained cooped up in a warehouse, including a jukebox with records still inside! Listen to some Detroit jams preserved by Detroit Sound Conservancy here.

Heidelberg Project

At the corner of Mount Elliot and Heidelberg Street on Detroit’s east side lives Tyree Guyton’s ongoing art installation. Guyton began the Heidelberg Project in 1986. He uses otherwise discarded objects, buildings, and paint to transform the environment around him into a whimsical commentary on blight in Detroit. The Heidelberg Project website explains, “Our efforts are meant to empower individuals and communities to rise-up amongst adversity and tap into their true creative selves in celebration of their triumphs.” You can walk the block to see Guyton’s art in person or you can check out this video about the project or explore this virtual tour!

If you drive to the Heidelberg Project, you might venture just a mile and a half east to West Village to YumVillage for Afro-Caribbean food, Marrow for a delicious meal and drinks, or Sister Pie for some sweet treats.

BLKOUT Walls Mural Festival

Is large-format art more your thing? Check out the work of BLKOUT Walls Mural Festival. Born from the mind of Detroit artist Sydney G. James, the mural festival has hosted multiple Black artists to paint walls all over the city. They’re all truly stunning. Though the event won’t be happening during the conference, linked here is a description of some of the murals that have been produced in the past. Consider visiting a few of the murals in person as you tour the city.

Black Art Library

Though it is too early to see where she will be, if Asmaa Walton is having a pop-up event it’s well worth attending. Black Art Library is a traveling library of books and art from Black artists. There are always interesting and unexpected items and Walton’s eye for curation is unmatched.

In an interview with BLAC Detroit, George N’Namdi stated, “I’m a person that thinks of a lot of things as being art. It’s not fine art, but I like going to a restaurant and I do appreciate a beautiful, pretty plate.” We agree that a nice meal out is a form of art! Check out the following lists for some Black owned restaurants in Detroit:

Is there something not on here you’d like to recommend to your fellow attendees? Leave a comment!

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