Best of Detroit 2011
Photo: Marvin Shaouni
Public Square - Staff Picks
Super people, places and things, picked by our team of critics
Published: April 27, 2011
Best New Event
The $1 million and other resources that Kresge Arts in Detroit has been using to prime the pump of the tri-county arts community went public earlier this month with 40 events over five days. They showcased the work of the two eminent artists (Charles McGee and Marcus Belgrave) and 36 fellows KAID has given grants to from 2008 to 2010. It was a stunning display of the vitality of arts in this community for an audience that topped 10,000, filling spaces from MOCAD to the Science Center. The audience response raises a question of whether what was intended as a biennial event might in fact need an annual component. The year 2013 seems a long time to wait for more.
Best New Art Space
N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art
52 E. Forest Ave., Detroit; 313-831-8700
We started writing about this project in 2001, and last October a former auto repair shop finally celebrated a grand opening as a major addition to the city's artistic, cultural and social landscape. How big? Well, 16,000 square feet in all, including four exhibition spaces, indoor and outdoor performance spaces, an outdoor sculpture garden, and a movement/yoga center. Some of these are still in progress (the sculpture garden, for instance), and more elements, a restaurant-wine bar, notably, are to come. But the major spaces are open, and the current exhibition — New Departures and Transitions curated by Michael Stone-Richards — is the local must-see of the moment.
Best Way to Pretend You're Toulouse Lautrec
Costumed dancers, burlesquers, circus-style performers and other unusual folks model for sketchers of all skill and professional levels, sometimes in bars with lots of booze and music keeping everyone happy, as well as informal contests and artsy prizes. It started in New York, and the Detroit branch, founded in 2006, was among the first dozen or so; there are hundreds around the world now. It's currently run by Lushes LaMoan of the Detroit Dizzy Dames troupe (Readers' Award winners for Best Burlesque Troupe), with regular third-Thursday sessions set for the Scarab Club and additional sessions elsewhere (watch the website and Facebook for details).
Best Rock Revisionist
jessica Care moore
Her dozen years in New York made jessica Care moore a rarity in the poetry world: a star thanks to her prominence in Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam on HBO. Back in Detroit these last four years, the poet-performer-publisher keeps adding new roles to her hyphenated descriptor. She's exhibited as a visual artist (including collaborations with photographer Piper Martine Carter) and, perhaps most provocatively, she's put on two tributes to Betty Davis and other black women rockers, firing an Afro-distaff cannon at the white guys' club-of-rock canon. We're avidly waiting to hear her own debut rock album Black Tea, slated for release, "when it's finished."
Best Kept Secret at Metro Airport
You can get there by bus
Surprise! There is mass transit from downtown Detroit to Metro Airport — but not rapid transit. For instance, 90 minutes (if it keeps to schedule) from downtown to the airport (daily), and comparable times to Fairlane, Romulus and Garden City (weekdays). Primarily servicing airport employees, these SMART lines aren't widely advertised, apparently so as to not raise unwarranted expectations among travelers. Still, given the costs and hassles of getting to the airport and parking, it could be an option (especially if you're coming home, not counting on making a flight). Stops are at the lower level, "International Arrivals" curb of the McNamara Terminal and at the far end of the arrivals curb — past the last terminal baggage claim exit door — of the North Terminal. The schedules are complex: Read closely.
Best Everyday Reminder of Kwame's Reign
Plastic streetlamp bases
Those pitiful plastic "shrouds" former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick spent $1.2 million in tax money on were ostensibly intended to keep metal scrappers at bay, but they were a useless waste of money from the get-go. Now, if they have survived at all, many of those that remain are smashed and jagged, much more of an eyesore than what it was they were supposed to be covering. Thanks, Kwame.
Best Hope for Detroit
It's part of Detroit the outside world rarely sees. Varied communities — geographic, political, cultural, spiritual, intellectual — strive to make this a better place. From urban gardeners to community patrols to recycling activists, they continue despite it all. It will be these folks, and not our leaders, who will save us.
Best Living Example of a Long Life Well Lived
Grace Lee Boggs
At 95 years old, Grace Lee Boggs has just published The Next American Revolution, written with U-M prof Scott Kurashige. As someone who has taken part of just about every major progressive movement that occurred in the past 80 years, she continues to help show us the way forward.
Best Detroit Nonfiction of the Last Year
The Color of Law: Ernie Goodman, Detroit, and the Struggle for Labor and Civil Rights
An essential document of another Detroiter's long life, well lived. Authors Steve Babson, David Riddle and David Elsila retell the city's and nation's progressive struggles through the life of attorney Goodman, who died at age 90 in 1997. Legal dramas unfold in courts from the Motor City, to the Jim Crow South, to the U.S. Supreme Court, to the upstate New York courtroom where the Attica uprising defendants were tried.
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