Within a small section of Detroit just north of Hamtramck is a district its residents affectionately refer to as Banglatown, because of the high percentage of people with Bangladeshi heritage. That’s where Power House Productions is located and is transforming three vacant houses, together with other artists and collaborators, into a series of active sculptural spaces, thanks to a $250,000 grant from ArtPlace, a collaboration of 10 leading national and regional foundations and eight federal agencies that invests in art and culture’s role in creating vibrant communities.
Each of the three houses has its own distinct vision. First, there’s Squash House, which will be a neighborhood racket court. But the name “squash” doesn’t just refer to the sport; neighborhood residents are avid gardeners, and varieties of squash and gourds are staples.
Gina Reichert, co-director at Power House Productions, described the project in detail.
“In addition to the squash court inside, there will be a greenhouse inside and trellises off the back,” she said.
The project initially got underway last year with a small grant from the Chicago-based Graham Foundation.
“It was enough to get started and gut the house and seal it up so there wasn’t any more damage,” explained Reichert about the fire-damaged house. “Next we’ll be starting strategic demolition to recondition the house for a squash court.”
The next house in the trio is Skate House, which backs up to Sculpture Park, a conversion of four empty commercial lots-turned community skateboard park.
“Once Skate House is finished, ideally skateboarders will be able to ride in and out of the house,” said Reichert. “Inside the front of the house, we’re planning a small section for kids to borrow boards, or repair theirs, as well as learn how to maintain them.”
Matthew Barney is an artist who works in sculpture. Power House Productions was able to commission him to make a skateboard for auction to support the construction of the house. It ended up selling for $2,900, under the agreement that it would be ridden in the park when it was open—Barney constructed the board with a piece of graphite on the bottom that will make a drawing in the park.
Reichert said they are trying to get Mark Gonzales, a popular artist and skateboarder, to come to the opening of the park and use the special skateboard to create a custom piece of art on the surface of the park.
Finally, Play House is being designed for The Hinterlands, a Detroit-based company dedicated to exploring the art of performance through ecstatic play and explosive training. Play House would be used as a rehearsal and performance space.
“The house that will be used for Play House is a two-story house that will be gutted to have a high ceiling space,” Reichert said. “It’s on a corner lot, which is nice for public events, and the yard will be opened up for outdoor practices or performances.”
Reichert admitted that it was a huge shock when they found out they were going to be awarded the grant from ArtPlace.
“I’ve been doing a lot of grantwriting over the past two years. We’re still thrilled any time we get any amount, but this was huge. Had we not gotten it, we would still be focusing on raising money. And the biggest difference is that now we don’t have to do a lot of the labor ourselves, using scrap materials. We can hire professionals, and that frees up our talents for other uses within the project. The grant has also gone a long way in getting us national recognition for the project,” Reichert said.
All three houses are on a one-year timeline. While nothing is set in stone, Reichert noted that Squash House will likely have a harvest event in the fall, and there should be some type of programming at all three houses by next summer, even if the renovations are not completely finished.