Arts & Culture

Arts and culture

(courtesy of Michigan State University)

Most people in the Middle East don’t seem to be angry that U-S forces killed Osama bin Laden.  Salah Hassan coordinates the Islam, Muslims and Journalism Education program  at Michigan State University. He’s watching Mid East media coverage following the death of the Al-Qaeda leader.

user Sultry / creative commons

On today's Artpod, we'll take a look at how the image of the "rich" arts patron is starting to be re-imagined, thanks in large part to the internet.

Meet the artist...

Arts Patronage 2.0

May 1, 2011
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Dave MacDonald is finishing up his doctorate in music composition at Michigan State University. When his friend asked him to compose a new piece for saxophone, MacDonald said sure, no problem. But there was one catch: he wanted to get paid. 

Arts patronage 1.0

MacDonald says getting paid would be hard for a few reasons: There's not a lot of money in classical music, and it's hard to get an arts grant if you're an unknown composer. Plus, he says, arts patrons are hard to come by: 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

An Ann Arbor neighborhood will host a one-of-a-kind "front porch" music festival this weekend.

On Sunday, May 1 from 2 p.m. - 6 p.m., musicians who live in the city's Water Hill district will sit out on their front porch or lawn, and put on a show. It's called the Water Hill Music Fest, and more than 50 house in the neighborhood will participate.

Daniel E. Johnson / Creative Commons

Pure Michigan's latest ad features the city of Grand Rapids. 

The new commercial paints Grand Rapids as the state's 'go to' place for arts and culture, with lines like "where food is art, and music flows in every color imaginable; let's start living the artful life."

screen grab from YouTube video

The Thunderdrome comes to Detroit this Saturday!

It's not the post-apocalyptic competition featured in the Mel Gibson movie.

Instead of "two men enter, one man leaves" ...

It's more like "around 100 men and/or women enter, around 100 men and/or women leave... perhaps with some scrapes and bruises."

A write up on this wild, anarchic race is featured on the Changing Gears website by WBEZ's Robin Amer.

Robin writes about how the organizers unearthed an abandoned velodrome in Detroit's Dorais Park:

It was literally unearthed by one of the city’s vigilante lawn-mower gangs — people who mow the lawns at city parks because the city cannot afford to do so. The velodrome, on the city’s east side, was repaired by racing enthusiasts who cut down trees growing in its center and invested thousands of dollars of their own money and over 4,000 lbs of concrete fixing its surface. And now, it has come back to life as home to a variety of competitions.

When asked who the sanctioning body for this race is, organizer Andy Didorosi replied:

We are. We're the only sanctioning body in the world for zany two-wheeled party racing on abandoned Velodromes. :) Sanctioning bodies are silly.

Here's a video of last year's race. I like how the victor, instead of doing a lap with a checkered flag, does a lap with a torn-off portion of a Pabst Blue Ribbon box.

user Clarita / morguefile

Today's Artpod is all about nostalgia...Michigan-focused nostalgia, of course.

Rock Around the Clock

Did you know that 50 years ago this week, "Runaway" by Del Shannon was the #1 song in the U.S.? Don't worry, neither did I. But Michigan Radio's Mike Perini did! He's the station's resident music head. Turns out Del Shannon was born in Grand Rapids, and he grew up in nearby Coopersville. "Runaway" was the first rock 'n' roll song by a West Michigan-born artist to hit the top.

Mike talks to me in the first half of the podcast about some other classic rock 'n' roll songs written by Michigan artists, including the always popular "Rock Around the Clock," by Bill Haley.

Let's play ball!

A new play pays tribute to long-time Tigers baseball announcer Ernie Harwell. The play is called "Ernie" and it was written by best-selling author Mitch Albom. The play looks back at Harwell's life and includes vintage footage of the Hall of Fame announcer.

On the podcast I talk to Will David Young, the veteran Michigan actor who plays Ernie: 

user downeym / Flickr

There's been a lot of speculation over whether the television program Detroit 1-8-7 will stick around.

Melissa Burden wrote about the speculation in today's Detroit News:

A local actors union said it has confirmed with producers of "Detroit 1-8-7" that the show is leaving the Motor City for good, even if it's picked up for a second season.

An administrator for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists Detroit chapter posted Tuesday on the group's Facebook page that the cop drama is leaving Michigan.

Joel Dinda / flickr

Ernie Harwell fans will get to relive some of the famed baseball announcer’s past in a new play called, appropriately enough, “Ernie.”

The play, which opens Thursday, Apr. 28 at the City Theatre in Detroit, was written by Mitch Albom. The story takes place on the night the beloved Tigers announcer gave his farewell speech at Comerica Park. Before his speech, he runs into a young baseball fan, who coaxes Harwell to reflect on his own life.

The play also includes vintage footage of Harwell, including some of his most famous calls.

Veteran Michigan actor Will David Young plays Ernie, which he calls "the biggest rush" he's ever experienced:

"So many people considered Ernie a grandfather figure, uncle figure, father figure. People who knew him well considered him a mentor with his gentleness, humor, humanitiy; it’s daunting playing a figure like that."

As for that famous Harwell cadence? Young says he tried to get into "that touch of Georgia twang."

Ben Alman / Flickr

Last December, there was a lot of speculation about Aretha Franklin's health after she went into a hospital for undisclosed reasons. People held a prayer vigil, and there was speculation the soul singer had cancer.

Now she's back. Last February the AP reported she had "revamped her diet, giving up her beloved chitterlings, pigs' feet and ham hocks in favor of a Whole Foods-type diet."

She's getting ready to release a new album and is planning a hometown concert.

From the Associated Press:

Almost five months after undergoing serious surgery, hall of fame singer Aretha Franklin is coming out with a new album and has scheduled a hometown concert.

The 69-year-old Queen of Soul will play DTE Energy Music Theatre on Aug. 25. It's in Clarkston, north of her native Detroit.

And Franklin's new CD, "Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love," will be released in Wal-Mart stores on Tuesday.

The music legend underwent surgery in early December in Detroit for an undisclosed ailment. Since then, she's lost more than 80 pounds. Franklin says the weight loss was because of a change in diet and exercise.

She canceled several performances last year because of illness, but her show at DTE is one of a handful she has booked for this spring and summer.

courtesy of the artist

They're not calling it Honk Core... yet.

Saxophonist Colin Stetson, originally from Ann Arbor, has worked with Tom Waits, David Byrne, Sinead O'Connor, Arcade Fire, and TV on the Radio.

And sometimes he plays on a really, really, really big saxophone.

Stetson's bass saxophone, pictured above (and featured in the video below) is an impressive instrument.

And the sound, which NPR describes as "a massive oil tanker listing into jagged rock," is remarkable.

Drawing Detroit

Apr 24, 2011

An artist in Detroit is expanding his project that highlights different city neighborhoods.  Several years ago Ben Bunk moved to Detroit for an artist residency at the 555 Gallery. 

He would ride his bike on a seven mile commute from the Eastern Market area to a studio near the abandoned Michigan Central Station. His bike rides inspired doodles which eventually lead to a series of black and white drawings of neighborhood buildings.

Bunk says it’s fun to draw Detroit, and describes his drawing style as relatively simple.

“It’s realistic in the sense that it has perspective that’s correct, and all the windows are there but the lines are crooked. I would say it’s kind of childish and it’s funny. The buildings are kind of crooked and they talk to each other in how they’re bent.”

Bunk won a mini-grant from a local event known as SOUP and used the money to self-publish a post-card sized book of his drawings. Bunk is now working on professionally publishing a second edition.

Daniel E. Johnson / Creative Commons

Registration opened this week for artists who want to take part in ArtPrize 2011. The winner of the yearly art competition is decided by the voting public who visit the event in downtown Grand Rapids.

Courtesy of Barbara Wilson

Barbara Wilson and Jose (Joe) Meza live in Dexter, Michigan and they own a successful auto repair business in Ann Arbor.

Joe was born in Ecuador. After 40 years of living in Michigan, he and his wife Barbara went back to Ecuador a few years ago.

Barbara says Joe fell in love with his home country, so they decided to build a small house in Mindo, Ecuador.

What they didn’t expect was that they would become craft chocolate makers, forging connections from Ecuador to Michigan, one chocolate bar at a time.

Tuskegee Airmen: 'Rock Stars' of American History

Apr 11, 2011

Harry Stewart looks around the slowly filling ballroom in an Orlando, Fla., hotel and brightens.

"I haven't seen some of these guys in over 66 years," he says. "Some I haven't seen since I entered the service, and others since I left at the end of the war. This is very exciting."

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra have agreed to return to work after a six-month strike.

They ratified the $34.3 million, three-year contract this afternoon. The deal includes an initial 25% pay cut for the musicians the first year. Starting musicians used to earn $104, 650 their first year; they'll earn $79,000 under the new contract.

There’s an additional $2 million pot of money which management will use to pay musicians for optional community outreach work and educational programs that include teaching, coaching and chamber music.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Cliff Bell’s is one of the oldest Jazz clubs in the city - a little history from Cliff Bell's website:

Through the 30's 40's and 50's Cliff Bell's and the Town Pump Tavern anchored two ends of what was Detroit's busiest night crawl with clubs, pubs and Burlesques dotting Park Avenue. During the 70's and 80's the Club operated under a series of other names. Many remember The Winery, La Cave, or AJ's on the Park.

In 1985 the famous club closed and remained empty until in late 2005.

Like a lot of places in Detroit, it was left empty for a long time. The plaster cracked, the ceiling leaked, but that all changed in 2005 when Paul Howard and Scott Lowell began the renovation of the shuttered club.

In this video, the owner of the building that houses Cliff Bell's talks about the restoration of the club.

This video was shot by Lindsey Smith, and produced by Juan Freitez.

Wayne State University Press

Circus fans, rejoice.

Bonnie Jo Campbell, best known as the author of the short story collection American Salvage, has been awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship.

American Salvage was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Critics Circle Award.

The fellowship was awarded for Campbell's current project, which revolves around a set of characters in "a contemporary American circus."

From the Rapid Growth Media video

Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith hopped on a bus with community leaders from the Grand Rapids area this past Wednesday.

Their destination was Detroit. And their goal for the trip was "to build stronger bonds between Michigan’s two major population centers."

They left in the wee hours of the morning and arrived back in Grand Rapids around 2:30 a.m.

The trip organizers put this video together:

More than 50 community leaders from Grand Rapids got on a bus this week to find out what they can learn from Detroit. The trip’s organizers hope to build stronger bonds between Michigan’s two major population centers.

Check out Terry Johnston's awesome photos of the trip here.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians returned to the stage today for a rehearsal - their first since they went on strike last October.

The orchestra is rehearsing for two concerts this weekend, both of which sold out almost instantly. Leonard Slatkin, the DSO’s music director, says it helped that the tickets were free. He says "the real test is going to come next season when we try to see if we can sustain the positive energy that's been a result of this settlement."

Leonard Slatkin, who was uncharacteristically quiet during the strike, says he’s very excited to be back. He says as the DSO moves forward, it will have a bigger and stronger presence not only in Detroit, but in the suburbs, too:

"Another plus of the strike is more people that didn’t know about us, know about us! We were in the news all the time, and we need to capitalize on that. An orchestra is an institution that only appeals to a relatively small percentage of a given population in any city; now we at least have a recognizable name."

Slatkin says people will begin to the see the "hand-print" of what the new model for the orchestra will be as we move into the Spring season, and he says "no decisions will be taken without the complete consent of the orchestra."

Mumu Entertainment / Flickr

Rehearsals are scheduled this morning for musicians at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The DSO musicians ended their six-month strike earlier this week after they reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with DSO management.

The Symphony's first post-strike concert is scheduled for Saturday night. From the Associated Press:

The dispute was over how deep a pay cut the musicians would have to take to help the struggling symphony balance its budget. The musicians were offering to accept a 22 percent cut, while management sought and then imposed a 33 percent cut.

In an announcement on the DSO's website, DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin said:

“As we return to our home, I’m confident that the artistic product will continue at the highest possible level. There is much to be done but the DSO will emerge a healthier and stronger institution."

Photo courtesy of Art X Detroit

The Detroit arts world will be in the spotlight this week.

The first ever Art X Detroit event runs Wednesday, April 6 - Sunday, April 10 and will feature everything from hip hop performances to classical and jazz music to poetry readings.

The event features the 40 artists who have won visual, literary, or performing arts fellowships through the Kresge Foundation over the past two years.

Lewis Aguilar is a 2010 Kresge Literary Arts fellow. For Art X Detroit, he’s written a story about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and their time in Detroit. A dramatic reading of the work will take place at Rivera Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts:

"I will have people reading that story in the form of a 3-act play, while more than 100 images are being shown on a very large screen behind them."

Chido Johnson was a 2009 Kresge “Visual Artist” fellow, and he’s excited to display his new work during Art X Detroit. He says "Detroit has been identified over and over again as a decayed city, and this is a way to really emphasize how rich and cultural it is.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Just before 7 o’clock this morning, I got on a bus to Detroit. More than 50 people from West Michigan are also on board. And these are normal, non-politician-type people who are trying to learn more about Detroit.

If you find yourself asking something like, “Why would they do that?” or “What’s to learn from Detroit?” – then join me, you’re on the right track.

Nate Luzod / creative commons

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians strike may be nearing its end, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to get things back on track at Orchestra Hall.

For starters, the organization has to figure out how to overcome some ‘image’ problems that come with a six-month strike.

Elizabeth Weigandt is a DSO spokeswoman. She says it hasn’t been pretty to watch the strike unfold, and some patrons may not be happy with how things were handled over the last six months, but "we're hoping that as we get back to making music for them, doing what they love, they will be able to let go of what’s happened, just as we will, and move on to an even better future."

Then there's the music. Nearly all of the current season has been lost to the strike, and the summer season was threatened as well. But Weigandt says the summer season is back on and she doesn’t think the 2011-12 season will be delayed:

"Obviously we have to move quickly to get the word out about what next season will be, but we do have a lot of interest. We will probably make the announcement as soon as we can. I would say within the next couple weeks."

Neither side has released details about the proposed contract.

Dani Davis

Hundreds of artists will be in Detroit this week for the third annual Rust Belt to Artist Belt conference.

The goal is to get artists, educators and creative entrepreneurs together to brainstorm how they can help revitalize post-industrial cities like Detroit, Flint, and Cleveland.

Elaine Roach via Musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians say they’ll return to the stage for rehearsal on Thursday.

DSO officials have announced a tentative agreement that would end a bitter six-months-long players’ strike.

Detroit Symphony officials canceled the whole concert season in February, when it seemed like feuding Orchestra players and management just couldn’t agree on a new contract. The two sides had deadlocked for months over issues ranging from pay to musicians’ outside teaching obligations.

But under mounting political pressure and after a marathon weekend bargaining session, the two sides hammered out a tentative work agreement.

Musicians’ union President Gordon Stump wouldn’t talk specifics. An official ratification vote will wrap up on Friday.

Stump says musicians are happy the strike will end even though they’re “not crazy” about parts of the agreement.

“I’m sure the management wasn’t crazy about it either. But most of the things that we had a problem with are gone. In that sense, I think it was a resolution we could all live with.”

Stump says the strike was “a long, protracted struggle, and it’s going to take a long time to heal.”

The strike cost the Orchestra some musicians, including its whole percussion section.

Bernt Rostad / Creative Commons

Former metro Detroiters in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have formed a network that hopes to lend talent and assistance to the Motor City.

Bryan Fenster co-founded the Detroit Nation chapter in Chicago. He says there are scores of people with Detroit roots who want to help their hometown:

"People have law backgrounds, marketing, advertising, non-profit sector grant writing. It’s kind of all across the board. So when we partner up with more organizations in Detroit, I think we’ll have a better idea of who we can place where and how we can implement that."

Fenster says the first Detroit Nation event in Chicago in December drew about 60 people, and he expects its second event this week will draw twice that many.

Chapters in Seattle and Washington D.C. are expected to be established soon.

The Detroit Symphony announced late this afternoon that orchestra musicians have agreed to return to work before voting on a new contract. The DSO and its musicians' union reached a tentative contract deal over the weekend.

The musicians' union met this afternoon. After the meeting, the DSO announced the musicians will return to work on Thursday to begin rehearsing for upcoming concerts. The union plans a vote on the union contract later this week.

In a written statement, music director Leonard Slatkin expressed the hope that the DSO will emerge strong from the strike that has silenced it for the past six months:

“As we return to our home, I’m confident that the artistic product will continue at the highest possible level.  There is much to be done but the DSO will emerge a healthier and stronger institution.”

ZUU Mumu Entertainment / Flickr

Update 6:36 a.m.:

From the AP: Musicians' spokesman Greg Bowens says the tentative agreement was reached late Sunday. He says musicians will vote this week on whether to ratify the deal.

6:27 a.m.:

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra says a tentative agreement has been reached with striking musicians that could resolve a six-month strike, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

Management spokeswoman Elizabeth Weigandt tells The Associated Press in an e-mail Monday morning that details of the agreement reached following talks over the weekend weren't being immediately released.

A message seeking comment was left with musicians spokesman Greg Bowens... Musicians had said they were given a deadline of last Friday to settle the strike or face losing the summer performance season and jeopardizing the fall season.

Musicians have been on strike since October 2010.