Arts & Culture

Arts and culture

Doug Coombe

Every Sunday during the spring and summer months, you can swing by John’s Carpet House in Detroit, and hear some of the best local blues musicians jam for free. But John's Carpet House is not a house, it's actually a field, located in an area called Poletown, where I-75 and I-94 meet.

The music happens all day long, as a roster of musicians rotate on and off the tiny stage that’s set up in a grassy area.

Jeremy Peters

You don't hear a lot of hot, danceable tracks about gentrification.

But Detroit emcee/slam poet/teacher Mic Write writes ear worms about the city’s evolution, his pride in its unsung neighborhoods, and how good it feels to disprove anyone who didn’t expect much of a kid from the D.

Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians Archives and Records

The original language of Michigan is dying in the state.

Anishinaabemowin was the language of the Great Lakes for millennia—spoken by the Chippewa/Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi tribes—known as the Anishinabek.

One of the biggest impacts on the language, that affected generations of families, was Native American boarding schools.

Absolutely: Is that a yes?

Sep 27, 2015

Bob from Kalamazoo's been wondering about something: What's going on with "absolutely?" Does it mean yes, no, or something else?

University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan delved into the question.

"Luckily for us, there was a study in 2007 by Hongyin Tao at UCLA, who used four spoken databases of American English to try to figure out what's going on with 'absolutely.' He looked at two ways 'absolutely' occurs," Curzan says.

"One he called the "dependent absolutely." This is when 'absolutely' occurs before an adjective, as in 'absolutely right,' 'absolutely perfect,' or 'absolutely wrong.'

Robert James Russell / Twitter

Ann Arbor author Robert James Russell is celebrating the release of his newest book, Mesilla, this week.

Mesilla is a Western that follows Everett Root, a wounded Civil War deserter haunted by his past, into 1863 New Mexico Territory.

Catie Laffoon

Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr made it big back in 2011 when they covered the song, “We Almost Lost Detroit.”

They went on to play big music festivals with Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo.

The duo is out with a new album and have changed their name to simply, "JR JR".

Claressa Shields is the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing

One of the breakout stars of the 2012 summer Olympics in London was a teenage girl from Flint.

Claressa Shields made it to London to become the first American woman to win Olympic gold in boxing.

Shields, nicknamed “T-Rex,” is still going strong. She won the World Championship in 2014, and she recently won gold at the Pan American games in Toronto.

Doug Coombe

Carson Brown wants to make people think critically about what he calls the American landscape, and he’s not talking about mountains and vistas. He’s talking about the American landscape of consumerism.

“I want people to look around the space of a big box store and ask, ‘Is this space necessary? Do I need all these things? Is this a healthy way of living my life?’”

Are you champing – or chomping – at the bit?

Sep 20, 2015

It’s that time of year when University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan is asked for her opinion about all kinds of language disputes.

Curzan is one of about 200 panel members of American Heritage Dictionary, which sends out a user ballot every September.

This year one of the questions is: "How many syllables in the word 'miniature?'

Some people use four syllables, but the word is commonly pronounced with three, as in "mini-ture."

Meet the new director of the DIA

Sep 16, 2015
Salvador Salort-Pons
Detroit Institute of Arts

The Detroit Institute of Arts has named insider Salvador Salort-Pons as its new director.

Salort-Pons has headed up the museum's European Art Department since 2011 and has served as director of collection strategies and information since 2013. 

In his new role as DIA director, Salort-Pons said he wants to get out into Detroit and its surrounding communities as much as possible.

Charlevoix Historical Society

Some people create with paint and brushes, others with musical notes or a camera.

Earl Young found his muse in nature and channeled his artistic vision using massive glacial boulders, limestone, and fieldstone.

The result is a collection of fascinating structures that Young built through the mid-20th century in Charlevoix. Many know them as “the mushroom houses.”

Our hearts are in the right place when we use the word "innovation," but we may have ruined it for ourselves
flickr user Missy Schmidt /

The Next Idea

It’s not too hard for many of us to think of words that are just used so much that instead of summoning up a powerful image, they trigger a bored eye roll.

One such word is actually a very big part of The Next Idea: “innovation.”

When used correctly, “innovation” means so much. For companies and universities, entrepreneurs and inventors, it means everything.

But the word is now so overused it tends to get lost in the white noise of corporate buzzwords.

Courtesy of Maia Williams /

There's a comic convention happening this weekend in Detroit that will spotlight artists and writers of color, and women.

"MECCAcon: the Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts" runs September 18-19 . The two-day event is the brainchild of organizer Maia "Crown" Williams.

"I feel like diversity is very important for our city to succeed and progress.... You can draw and create many black characters in mainstream comics ... but are you paying people of color to create them, to write them."

The skinny on shimmy and shinny

Sep 13, 2015

Let's do the shimmy today! Did you know that the name of the move you do with your hips comes from women's undergarments? In fact it might be a corruption of chemise, says University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan. 

Some think of shimmy as a dance, others as a maneuver to climb up something, but it gets confused with shinny all the time.

"A lot of people do now shimmy up trees, but it was originally shinny up," says Curzan.

Breaking down Arab stereotypes through music

Sep 11, 2015
Emily Fox / Michigan Radio

Metro Detroit has the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the nation, and it's also home to the National Arab Orchestra. That group is trying to preserve Arab culture and build bridges through music.

The Winter 1988-89 issue of The Fifth Estate
reddit user Crispin777 /

1965 was a big year for many Americans.

We saw a 700% increase in the number of American troops in Vietnam.

The U.S. began bombing North Vietnam with Operation Rolling Thunder.

Former Vice President Richard Nixon rejected any talk of ending the Vietnam War, writing, “There can be no substitute for victory when the objective is the defeat of communist aggression."

George Shirley and the University Musical Society will each receive a National Medal of Arts today at the White House.
University of Michigan, and the National Endownment for the Arts

The University of Michigan's University Musical Society and George Shirley, emeritus professor at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, will each received a 2014 National Medal of Arts today.

They are among 11 winners this year - a list that included Sally Field, Stephen King, and Tobias Wolff. A ceremony was held this afternoon at the White House.

Culture Lab Detroit

An annual design and urbanism symposium begins tonight in Detroit. 

The focus of Culture Lab Detroit is to look at the city's 23 square miles of vacant land and figure out how to use that land in ways that enrich the lives of long-time and new residents.

Volunteers working in Detroit.
user Charlie Wollborg / Flickr -

Since Detroit emerged from its history-making bankruptcy, much of the city’s attention has been focused on blight.

The city is making efforts to reduce blight by knocking down or rehabilitating derelict buildings, and by finding creative uses for the growing amount of empty land in Detroit’s 140 square miles.

At last count, we’re up to 23.4 square miles of vacant land, more than the size of the entire island of Manhattan.

But for John George, the battle against blight began in 1988.

Efrain Zamudio in front of his backyard coop in Allen Park. The Mexican community in Metro Detroit might help carry on the tradition of pigeon racing.
Michael Jackman

That question might surprise those who didn't realize pigeons are "a thing" in the Metro Detroit area.

Immigrants from Belgium came to Detroit and brought their national passion of pigeon racing with them and it spread from there.

See this clip of an old pigeon race from the Detroit News:


In our selfie-happy world where we can take a photo anytime of anything we want, it’s difficult to conceive of life in which photography is completely banned.

No photographs, ever – or face severe punishment.

From 1996 to 2001, that was life in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

After the Taliban fell from power, free press and photojournalism were born.

There is nothing like a dame. Lady? Woman?

Sep 6, 2015

Chick. Woman. Lady. Gal. Kitten. Doll. It seems like there are over a hundred names for the opposite of the male sex! I call my mom a woman and my sister a girl. Both are over the age of 25. Why is it so difficult to decide what to call women? I mean girls. I mean …females?

Whether to say girl or woman could depend on who is using the term, says University of Michigan English professor Anne Curzan.  

Martin McClain

The recent demolition of Detroit's Park Avenue Hotel to make way for the Red Wings arena put the historic preservation community in the spotlight as they fought to save the hotel.

That preservation battle got writer Amy Elliott Bragg thinking about the woman hailed as the founder of Detroit's historic preservation movement, Beulah Groehn Croxford.

The Detroit Institute of Arts
flickr user Quick fix /

The Detroit Institute of Arts made fresh headlines late last month with the announcement that its three top executives, including newly retired director Graham Beal, are in line for bonuses and pay hikes topping $600,000.

The Go Rounds

The Go Rounds have a new album out today. It’s called, “dont go not changin.” The album features layered vocals, a strong rhythm section, stylish guitar riffs and some recorded natural sound (think rain, birds, a crowd at a bar.)

Flickr user audreyjm529 /

If you count yourself among those who cannot imagine life without your faithful dog by your side, you would have been a pretty rare breed a century or two ago.

That’s when packs of feral dogs were roaming the streets of Detroit.

People lived in fear of rabies, and the dog catcher prowled the streets scooping up the many strays.

Bill Loomis has tracked the history of dogs in Detroit for The Detroit News.

People sometimes get fussy with University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan for saying that the English language is always changing. But why does the English language constantly change? Is there a schedule out there somewhere saying how fast it will change? Why can’t we all keep saying the same things, all the time, forever?

But change is progress, says Curzan, and the language cannot simply stay still, for several reasons. 

Songs from Studio East: The Crane Wives

Aug 26, 2015
Benjamin Foote

The band members of The Crane Wives quit their day jobs this year and are making the jump from being a West Michigan band, to trying to make their mark on the national music scene. Their new album, Coyote Stories, is being released August 29.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio


This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. But the end of slavery in the United States wasn’t official until the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in December of 1865. The end of slavery also meant the end of the Underground Railroad. Detroit was one of the last stops before freedom for thousands of former slaves. 

Pinky up: Anatomically correct grammar

Aug 23, 2015

We read your emails, and we're proving it today by talking about pinkies, other fingers, and humerus bones.

One of you asked about the pinky finger.

University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan discovered the pinky finger comes from the adjective “pinky,” which meant small.

“It at first referred to eyes,” Curzan explains. “So people with pinky eyes … like little squinty eyes.”  

But eventually its meaning moved from our eyes to our little fingers and made its way to the United States at the end of the 19th century.