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Photos: Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD)
Visitors to the Sidewalk Festival enjoy a µTopian Dinner with Hinterlands performers outside the Mobile Homestead.

Kristina and I were discussing the other day all the different kinds of yoga that are popping up. Suzanne’s friend Liz tried goat yoga. Kristina had heard of knitting yoga and laughter yoga.

Similarly, it seems like I’m constantly hearing about new ways of extending the boundaries of theater. In this story from Hyperallergic, sharing food with audiences in person and through Skype is the focus.

As Sarah Rose Sharp writes, artists are practiced “in finding ways to forge interpersonal connections through gesture, metaphor, and performance — or sometimes just by inviting people to dinner.

“ ‘Food is so interesting, because it evokes memory, and it’s a multi-sensory experience,’ said Liza Beilby, in an interview with Hyperallergic during preparations for one in a series of µTopian Dinners, staged by Detroit-based experimental theater ensemble The Hinterlands and co-produced with Poetic Societies, a performance lab fostering cross-cultural and poetic connections. …

“Since 2017, the group has been staging permutations of the µTopian Dinners as a subset of a larger work, The Enemy of My Enemy, a hybrid, digital-live performance project that simultaneously links performers and audiences in the US and so-called ‘enemy’ nations of China, Russia, and Iran. …

“The Hinterlands views the µTopian Dinner projects as a kind of a laboratory to investigate the cultural values that are reinforced through eating, meals, and cooking. [In August], µTopian Dinners took literally to the streets, as the ensemble presented a four-part performance and rotating series of events, during the homegrown and wildly popular Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts. …

“[The group] — as well as their foreign counterparts tuning in from Moscow, Bejing, and Tehran — operated out of the modular traveling unit from Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, which is permanently housed at the [Museum of Contemporary Art], making one of the rare forays into the farther-flung Detroit neighborhoods for which it was expressly designed. …

“Artist and designer Yi Zhou, who runs a studio out of Beijing called Body Memory, met The Hinterlands during her 2016 residency at Popps Packing, and the ensemble has visited her twice over the last two years, touring with their previous show, The Radicalization Process, and other performances.

“ ‘In between the first year that we went and the second year that we went, she and a bunch of friends who are designers and architects started this group called TGIS,’ said Beilby. ‘It’s a Sunday brunch in this little courtyard at the studio of one of the members, and they invite people to come and have brunch, and then there’s a lecture, or talk, or conversation, which are themed.’ During the Sidewalk performance, Hinterlands Skyped into the beginning of the brunch taking place in Bejing. …

“ ‘It’s like translation, in a way. You’re trying to contextualize something for the people where you are, that’s meaningful, and then express something about the people here to another group. … It’s an interesting way to try to bridge two spaces or times or peoples, through sensory experiences that aren’t just talking.’ …

“One could call it a new medium, enabled by the tools of our increasingly interconnected world, or one might consider it the mission of any meal undertaken by people who begin as strangers, and perhaps leave with a better understanding of each other.”

More here.

Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead traveling unit at the Sidewalk Festival for the Performing Arts in Detroit.

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When I was at the magazine, I often sought out authors from different regions who could write about the benefits of community gardens to low-income neighborhoods. Kai remembered that and tagged me on Facebook when he posted an article yesterday about a comprehensive farming initiative in inner-city Detroit.

Robin Runyan writes at the website Curbed Detroit, “This week, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) revealed its plans for the first Sustainable Urban Agrihood in the North End.

“Wait, an agrihood? It’s an alternative neighborhood growth model, positioning agriculture as the centerpiece of a mixed-use development. There are some agrihoods around the country, but in rural areas. This is the first within a city.

“MUFI’s agrihood spans three acres on Brush Street, a few blocks up from East Grand Boulevard. MUFI runs a successful two-acre garden, a 200-tree fruit orchard, and a children’s sensory garden. They provide free produce to the neighborhood, churches, food pantries, and more.

“The big part of the announcement was the plan to renovate a three-story, 3,200-square-foot vacant building that MUFI had bought at auction years back. …

“The Community Resource Center will include office space for MUFI, event and meeting space, and two commercial kitchens on the first floor. A healthy cafe will be located on vacant land next to the CRC.

“Tyson Gersh, MUFI President and co-founder, said at the announcement that they want to be the first LEED certified platinum building in Detroit.”

The article credits Sustainable Brands, BASF, GM, and Herman Miller and Integrity Building Group for providing much-needed help on the project.

More here.

Photo: Michelle & Chris Gerard
The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.

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With a little creative thinking, a woman in Detroit was able to put a rundown house to good use, improve the neighborhood, promote her flower business, and help florists who focus on locally grown flowers.

Stacy Cowley writes at the NY Times, “Eleven months ago, a derelict house here that is now filled with 36,000 flowers contained far grimmer things. …

“Twelve thousand pounds of trash had to be hauled out before Lisa Waud, a florist who bought the duplex at auction for $250, could see what kind of canvas she had purchased.

“The house remains a structural wreck, but its atmosphere has been transformed. [In October] some 2,000 visitors [toured] Flower House, an art installation Ms. Waud and more than three dozen floral collaborators from around the country created on the site. Their goal is to cast a new light on the Detroit metropolitan area’s infamous blight, and on their own trade. …

“All of the plants and flowers filling [the rooms] are American-grown, a rarity in an industry that imports a majority of its wares from Colombia and elsewhere. …

“The inspiration for Flower House struck in 2012, when she saw images from that season’s Christian Dior couture show, held in a Parisian mansion filled with flowers in a rainbow of colors.

“ ‘It was stunning, and I knew immediately that I wanted to do that — but living in Detroit, I pictured it in an abandoned house,’ she said. ‘I’m trying to rebrand abandoned houses as a resource.’ …

“Ms. Waud estimated that she would need to raise $150,000 to cover the installation’s floral costs, but when she contacted her usual wholesalers, the California Cut Flower Commission, Mayesh and Nordlie, all three offered to donate their flowers.” Read about the inspiring results here.

Photo: Laura McDermott for The New York Times 
Lisa Waud, a Michigan florist, works on her room on the back side of the Flower House on the first day of the installation in Hamtramck. 

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Not me. It’s a story about a man in Detroit who was so determined to get to work after his car gave up the ghost that he walked 21 miles — and attracted some unexpected blessings for doing it.

I learned about him by way of The Guardian.

“The Detroit Free Press reports that James Robertson rides buses part of the way to and from his factory job in suburban Rochester Hills. But because they don’t cover the whole route, he ends up walking about eight miles (13 kms) before his shift starts at 2 pm and 13 miles (21 kms) more when it’s over at 10 pm. …

“After the newspaper wrote about the 56-year-old’s situation … multiple people started crowdfunding efforts to help him buy a car and pay for insurance. Some have offered to drive him for free and others have offered to buy or give him cars.

“Robertson began making the daily trek to the factory where he molds parts after his car stopped working ten years ago and bus service was cut back. He’s had perfect attendance for more than 12 years.

“ ‘I set our attendance standard by this man,’ said Todd Wilson, plant manager at Schain Mold & Engineering. …

“Evan Leedy, a 19-year-old student at Wayne State University, read the story and started a GoFundMe site with the goal of raising $5,000. [In no time,] he had raised more than $90,000. …

“Asked about a federal program newly available through Detroit’s bus system that might pick him up at home and drop him off at his job, Robertson said, ‘I’d rather they spent that money on a 24-hour bus system, not on some little bus for me. This city needs buses going 24/7. You can tell the city council and mayor I said that.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Ryan Garza/AP
James Robertson, 56, of Detroit, walked 21 miles every day until a well-wisher’s fundraiser helped him get an apartment closer to the job.

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Because I believe in Pete Seeger’s notion that “one and one and 50 make a million,” I’m drawn to stories of individuals making small contributions that could add up to something big.

So here is a story from Forbes, of all places, about several women in Detroit quietly working toward rescuing the city.

Denise Restauri writes, “As we drive through Detroit, on the surface I see a city that’s been abandoned by its residents, filled with poverty and crime. But when we stop and meet store owners, artists and women who went from being homeless to employed, I see a city that’s energized with entrepreneurship, hipster creativity and potential.

“Suddenly I understand what Veronika Scott, the 24-year-old who is sitting in the driver’s seat, often called ‘the crazy coat lady,’ means when she says, ‘I love Detroit.’

“Veronika is empowering Detroit with a disruptive business model. She’s the CEO and Founder of The Empowerment Plan, a non-profit organization that employs homeless women and trains them to become full-time seamstresses who produce coats that turn into sleeping bags which are given to homeless individuals across the nation.

“She doesn’t just employ these women — she educates and equips them with the professional skills and knowledge needed to compete in Detroit’s new economy and evolving job market.”

Restauri goes on to describe five other female-powered enterprises in her Forbes post.

JJ Curis, 32, is gallery director at the Library Street Collective, which helps struggling artists. The five James Sisters, 25-32, cofounded DROUGHT to make organically grown produce accessible to all.

Amy Kaherl, 32, is the executive director of Detroit SOUP, a novel idea that involves inviting people to pay for a dinner where they can hear pitches from local charities and vote on which one should get the evening’s donations, or micro grants.

Cheryl P. Johnson, 53, is the CEO of COTS: Coalition On Temporary Shelter. And LaKeisha Blackwell, 41, is jail diversion coordinator at Northeast Guidance Center. Read about the women here.

Photo: Forbes
Veronika Scott wears the Empowerment Plan’s sleeping bag coat.

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In Detroit, with the globalization of the auto industry, the financial crisis, and ultimately the city’s bankruptcy, everyone has suffered — businesses, families, neighborhoods, and schools.

And when everyone suffers, arts organizations suffer, too. The famous collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which the city owns, is in danger of being sold and scattered to the four winds. And dwindling subscriptions have made the Detroit Symphony Orchestra take a hard look at finances and decide to go where the people are.

Rachel Martin of National Public Radio writes, “Detroit’s Orchestra Hall is one of the best symphony concert halls in the country. The acoustics are top-notch. The theater itself is grand. Important music is made there by some of the country’s most talented classical musicians.

“But what happens to the music when it’s taken out of that context, away from the pitch-perfect atmospherics, away from the grandeur, and instead it’s played in the community, say at a local IKEA in the middle of a busy shopping day?

“IKEA’s acoustics aren’t so great, but nothing about the power of the music changes.”

Ann Parsons, chief executive of the DSO, says, ” ‘We looked at zip codes, we did analysis. We could clearly see where everybody lived that used to participate. And we thought, “Well, what if we went to them, as opposed to making them come to us?” ‘

“That’s what they did, performing in community theaters, nursing homes, hospitals, churches and synagogues, in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs, in an effort to lure back patrons who had stopped going into the city to hear the orchestra. They also to tried to attract new music lovers.

“It started to pay off: Subscriptions went up, and now concerts at Orchestra Hall are selling out.” More at NPR, here.

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On Saturday we watched the documentary Urbanized, about urban planning.

Although there were many discouraging notes (Mumbai slums, Beijing smog, destructive construction in Stuttgart), there were enough positive ones to give hope.

I liked the grassroots gardening efforts in Detroit, pedestrian/bike paths in Bogota (while cars were relegated to mud), miraculous transformations of aging infrastructure (the High Line in Manhattan), lighted paths in Cape Town, and bicycle commuting in Copenhagen.

The point was made that walkability (one of my favorite topics, as readers know) and similar quality-of-life improvements in cities can be hugely beneficial to the planet just because cities are so big and changes there affect so many people.

Doug Foy, who helped get Boston Harbor cleaned up and now consults with New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg, has spoken at my workplace a few times. He likes to talk about how New York avoided buying a whole new water supply simply by partnering with plumbers unions to get standard toilets gradually replaced with low-flush toilets.

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