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November 29, 2011
inside out poetry
INSIDE OUT POETRY
VIDEO BY ELI BROWN
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 29th, 2011
INSIDE OUT POETRY
VIDEO BY ELI BROWN
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 29th, 2011
With the gifts of poetry and creative writing, the InsideOut Literary Arts Project is challenging Detroit students to reach inside and share what they find with the outside world. By placing live poets and writers into the classroom, Terry Blackhawk and the InsideOut Team inspires and educates city youth in more ways than one and her methods are getting attention from the highest office in the land - The White House
HOW A GREAT IDEA GROWS
MARY KATHERINE QUASARANO
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 29th, 2011
The seeds of great ideas and inspiration come from the most unexpected places, and when they land in the hands (and heart) of the person or people who can nurture them into life, wonderful things happen and communities grow. From the thriving arts and cultural community in Kalamazoo, it would appear to be an area blessed with fertile growth conditions, and experienced idea-growers as well. Matthew Lechel first came to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University and he's made Kalamazoo his home. He's not only become a source of great ideas; he's now in the business of growing them for others as well.
Lechel really loves music, and his work in sustainability initiatives at the Rothbury Music Festival (along with all the good vibrations that came with the event), presented him with the seeds of an idea around creating a Kalamazoo music event featuring community engagement. He co-founded the Boiling Pot Music Festival, which has become an annual Kalamazoo event. In its first year, Boiling Pot paid $5,000 to musicians (largely from Michigan), and an impressive $15,000 in year two. Lechel and his fellow Boiling Pot founders believe that art and culture unify people; they are how we meaningfully connect with each other. Every event they collaborate on includes three elements: 1) Live music 2) Community collaborative art (consisting of one or more 4' x 6' panels that attendees are invited to paint) and 3) Engagement with the audience (consisting of surveys on social issues that invite respondents to share ideas and identify non-profits making a difference.) The first two art components consistently engage, and the third (engagement with the audience) deposited the seeds of an idea that led Lechel and Boiling Pot’s co-founders to the formation of the I.D.E.A. (Interdisciplinary Development through Education & Art) Association.
I.D.E.A. took root and is now a grassroots-driven 501(c) (3) non-profit association led by some very energetic and committed professionals and artists from throughout Kalamazoo County. In reviewing and analyzing survey data collected at Boiling Pot events, Lechel and his co-founders uncovered the struggle for small (and great) ideas to obtain the necessary financial and practical traction to get started. They formed I.D.E.A. to act as the nonprofit funnel for grants and funding, as well as to supply the organizational skills necessary for great ideas to come to meaningful fruition. Each presenting group is subjected to an 18-step checklist before acceptance, and I.D.E.A. partners commit to reserving at least ten percent (10%) of funding for evaluation. One of I.D.E.A.’s prominent success stories is the Open Roads Bike Program.
Open Roads Bike Program
Open Roads describes itself as "A path to getting prepared for life…a place where you can meet really smart people…a really cool place to be after school and on the weekend…and a place for kids to learn about repairing bikes." The founders of Open Roads hope that young participants in its program will 'open new roads to [their] future.' The program received its first $1,000 grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation through I.D.E.A. and the money set aside for evaluation paid off. Focusing on what works and identifying growth opportunities, coupled with phenomenal energy, organization, participant reception and growth, qualified Open Roads to recently receive a $10,000 grant award to expand its efforts. Open Roads' commitment to sustainability can be witnessed at the Kalamazoo Food Co-op. The two bike racks on-site were created by Open Roads program participants using recycled bike parts. The racks provide a creative and quirky nod to the program’s artistic origins.
It’s About Balance
The great ideas behind I.D.E.A. are straightforward: make it easier for artists and visionaries to obtain grant funding (seed money), provide them with practical and essential information (tools), and watch their gardens grow. I.D.E.A.’s mission of joining Business and Art can be likened to the way the right and left hemispheres of the brain function. The human brain is divided into the left and right hemispheres, and the left is traditionally associated with logic and reason (Business), while the right is associated with creativity and innovation (Art). These two hemispheres are connected by the corpus callosum in human beings. In small non-profits and artists, Business and Art are connected by Matt Lechel and his partners at I.D.E.A.. Art inspires business; business drives art. In proper balance, it’s a beautiful thing.
Who knew that when directional winds blew Matthew Lechel to Kalamazoo to pursue his educational goals, the area would be the recipient of a few great ideas of its own, along with an experienced and passionate professional idea-grower? The 21st Century economy functions on a new gold standard: ideation and innovation. Matthew Lechel and the team at I.D.E.A. know that the arts can provide a veritable mother lode of new ideas, and like miners sifting sand and rubble, their work culls out the gold.
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 29th, 2011
Picture this, a performer/activist/educator, the product of a union-organizing, social activist mother and a Nigerian, Christian immigrant father. Tunde Olaniran was destined to bring his own brand of passion and fire to life. A life that includes the new MTV video Cobra, a Master’s degree in Public Administration, touring with bands throughout Europe, on-campus advocacy for women, performing, song writing, and a long-time job in education and outreach for Planned Parenthood.
Calling him eclectic hardly does justice to the man whose childhood took him from Flint to Africa, to Europe and back. “My mom is from Flint,” said Tunde (toon day). “She met my dad when he moved here for college. When I was five we moved to Nigeria for a while. We came back to Flint briefly before my dad joined the army and we headed to Germany.” Much of the Nigerian side of the family had immigrated to London, so Tunde spent a lot of time with family there. Then it was back to Flint for middle school, a move to Grand Blanc for part of high school and a return to Flint Central for graduation.
His thoughtful, soft spoken, manner belies the sense of social justice that powers his long history of challenging authority, the innate leadership qualities that inspire teenagers to come to the table, and the cutting edges of his musical rifts.
At the Lunch Studio in downtown Flint we talked music. “I didn’t feel like I had anything unique,” said Tunde. “I mostly sang in school, not in a church choir or formally.” Music was never a career option until he auditioned in 2003 for Chicago Idol where he shared the stage with R. Kelly and Syleena Johnson and received accolades from then-unknown Kanye West. Tunde made it to the final 15; the experience was to shine a light down a new path.
“Being your own entity on stage in front of a thousand people was amazing,” said Tunde. He came back to Flint and joined the band Taste This. He wrote a song. “I got really positive feedback on it.” It was the spark that propelled him to write others. The band began to do gigs more regularly. “Having to perform is like boot camp. We played three hour shows. It takes tremendous stamina to keep people engaged, make it really entertaining. It was an intense few years.” The group opened for Michael Moore’s movie Sicko in Chicago.
Tunde went on to record the well-received debut solo album, Infinite Modulation (a collection of eighteen original songs), and later teamed up with fellow musician and electro-rock producer Brian Preczewski (aka Controller) from Lake Orion. The men formed the duo, Stereoluxxx.
It was MySpace that led Tunde back to Europe. Impressed with a solo album by German producers Chris De Luca Vs. Phon.o., he sent them his version of the light-hearted Diamonds In My Grill. The men liked what they heard and asked him to collaborate on their album Supercontinental. Tunde wrote and performed three tracks. He went on to tour Europe, sharing the stage with acts like Switch, Ebony Bones, Diplo, XXXChange, and Jahcoozi. “The European tour was crazy,” said Tunde. “It was so much fun.”
After the European tour came performances in Vancouver. An appearance at South by Southwest (the biggest North American indie music festival, held in Austin, Texas),and the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. But the highlight was opening for Robyn at Crofoot in Pontiac. “I absolutely love her music,” said Tunde. “She has been such an influence on me. She’s all about having fun. And that’s what I want my audiences to have – fun.”
Weird-soulful-old school-catchy-uplifting, all have been used to describe Tunde's sound. “My style has changed over the past three or four years. My music is more passionate. The focus is on simplistic structures, but with urgency. I’m not R&B and I’m not rap. I’d call it a blend of electronica, dance, and darker, idiosyncratic pop.” It’s a style reflected in his new Cobra video that is making the rounds on MTV.
Cobra was shot entirely in Flint’s historic Capitol Theatre. The video was made by Detroit-area artist, musician and videographer Natasha Beste. “I wanted the video to reference Bollywood films at a subconscious level,” said Tunde, “We tried to make it look like it was an old, ‘80’s VHS film.” Tunde explained how you need at least 5,000 hits to leverage better placement on the MTV website. “Enough hits and it gets televised,” he said. And that could open a whole new world for this man who refused to attend a mandatory Bob Dole rally at his high school.
At home around the world, and yet committed to his city, Tunde loves being in Flint. “It has helped me grow. There are so many cool people here – politically, socially, and artistically.” Tunde is on the Board of Flint Handmade, an organization that seeks to nurture a local handmade economy and environment. “My art often intersects with what’s happening in Flint.”
Still, Tunde saves some of his best for the youth of Flint. “I’ve been a peer educator for Planned Parenthood since I was fourteen,” he said. Now Manager of Educational Outreach for East Central Michigan, part of his work involves developing and hosting sex education classes for youth. He is a part of a coalition that has developed an innovative text-messaging system which lets young people text questions to a central location and get accurate information and referrals to local resources.“We’ve convened a youth advisory council that is helping to put on a conference in Flint called MI Peeps.” Youth attending the conference can apply for $2,500 grants for projects that address health disparities in the city.
His current project is developing a new sex education program for Flint schools based on input from Flint youth. “The kids know what they need,” he said. “The performance aspect of my music informs my work with the kids. My kids can act, write a play in a day, and perform. They understand that delivering the message is all about entertaining people.” Yet most of his kids don’t know he’s a performer.
“My music has messages around the power of personal choice, personal freedom, and the conflict that is innate in the human connection. Conflict is not bad. It shows you are achieving something. I learned that from my mother. On the outside, I’m just like her.”
“One of my earliest memories is of me having a tantrum in a store. Instead of trying to calm me down my mother simply left me. When I finally caught up with her she said – I can understand words, but not screaming.” It was just one of the lessons she imparted to her son.
“I have a tendency, wherever I am, to develop a leadership role. Sometimes I don’t want it, but it seems to happen anyway.” In 2004, Tunde helped organize the Voices for Women on Campus group at University of Michigan in Flint. Part of the Women’s Studies program, Voices for Women on Campus promotes social justice, equality and women’s rights by giving voice not only to women, but to all students. “Many of the friends I made during that era helped mold me into thinking about bigger issues. I’m never - ‘we can’t do it’, it’s ‘how we can do it’.”
But on the inside, he says he’s more like his dad. “My natural tendency is to be alone.” This, for Tunde, is a rare occasion these days. He’s coming out with a new album (recorded in Royal Oak), getting ready to release his third video, performing at the grand re-opening of the Cranbrook Art Museum in Detroit and gearing up for an East Coast tour. “The show I’ve put together is probably my best. It has a real androgynous passion about it. Performing is the most fun part of being alive.”
LINKING ARTISTS TO BUSINESS
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 29th, 2011
On South Madison Ave. in Grand Rapids’ Southtown district, there is a brand new business center that is incubating its first class of eight budding entrepreneurs – including two men that are building their businesses around their artistic talents. Erick Pichardo, a visual artist and graphic designer, is establishing (with Yarixa Jimenez, his fiancé) Epic Emporium, a gallery/print shop/gift shop, that includes much more than the colorful locally-produced works of art on the wall. Dean Wiers-Windemuller, a gifted guitarist, has opened Southtown Guitar, to offer guitar lessons, guitar sales and service.
The idea of LINC's Business Incubator is to give the entrepreneurs a financial leg up in launching their business, plus the support to improve their odds for sustainable success. Pichardo and Wiers-Windemuller had to qualify for the program, which included developing detailed plans for their new enterprises. "Their ideas had to be a good fit for the building and the neighborhood and be sustainable for the long run," said Jorge Gonzales, the director of the program. "Dean had a solid plan and a good concept to connect with schools and other local businesses. Erick has been one of our local 'starving artists' with lots of talent and some great ideas. When we reviewed his plans we saw the opportunity to help him build more business capacity to make those ideas a reality and create a lasting business model."
Dean Wiers-Windemuller first became acquainted with LINC because he and his wife qualified for a LINC-sponsored housing assistance program, which they used to purchase their first home. Their home is also located in the Southtown neighborhood close to the new storefront. Dean is a native of the Grand Rapids area; he left to go to Wheaton College in Chicago, and is pleased to make his return to Grand Rapids to build a life and a business here in Michigan.
As a singer, songwriter, and guitarist he has fought hard to overcome discouragements and to make his artistic passions and pursuits his primary source of income. Now that he has established Southtown Guitar he believes he has the right formula. "My hope for Southtown Guitar is that it can be a place to serve the community and create a lot of traffic," shared Wiers-Windemuller. "We will be serving people of all ages and skills, including offering some higher level workshops for professionals and peers. Right now I am offering a class on the works of Paul Simon and a class on Jazz Chords for Singer-Songwriters." Early successes for the brand new Southtown Guitar include a growing list of students, and a steady stream of product sales. In response to the neighborhood needs, Wiers-Windemuller aims to establish a scholarship program and offer classes to young students with musical interest and limited resources.
Erick Pichardo is originally from the Dominican Republic and has been living in Grand Rapids for 11 years after a short stopover in New York City, where the rest of his family is based. Before this new business enterprise, Pichardo worked on art-related programs in association with local schools and art centers. “We explored artistic expression through art, drumming, and dance using Latino rhythms from the Caribbean, especially from my home Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba,” said Pichardo. He prides himself in being able to reach out to inner-city Latino youth, described as ‘at-risk,’ to offer positive experiences through art.
For one of the opening gallery exhibits for Epic Emporium, Erick tapped three other artists to join him to present a 'Day of the Dead' art show which demonstrated different cultural approaches to the common theme. The participating artists included an African-American, an Ecuadoran, a Puerto Rican and Pichardo – from the Dominican Republic. "There was a good response from the community and the quality of the art work was gorgeous," exclaimed Pichardo. This opening event set the tone for Pichardo's hopes and dreams for Epic Emporium. He wants the gallery/print shop/gift shop to be a welcoming place for the community. "This is mostly an African-American and Hispanic community. Through our work we are trying to make the whole community better for all of us. We want to create a place for communication in many different ways, to have an open door for everyone."
The program, sponsored by LINC, has offered these two artists the leverage they needed to formalize and launch their businesses – providing opportunities to earn a living through creativity – and through their gifts, contribute to an area of Grand Rapids ready for economic improvement. Jorge Gonzales emphasized that the LINC Business Center and the Business Incubator program was being funded through the generosity of local foundations and fundraising efforts targeting area corporations. "Once we start seeing the successes of these small businesses, we can make a case for additional federal or state support to duplicate and expand the system … and to continue to create more jobs and community vitality. It could be a vicious cycle of productivity," quipped Gonzales.
Jorge Gonzales is the Director of Economic Development for LINC, a housing and community resource organization, has leveraged his experiences as a community banker into leading the LINC Business Center team committed to the new incubator project. The program draws on the expertise and resources of several community organizations to offer the participants viable and attractive space at below-market rental rates. Additionally, the program offers frequent workshops to enhance the skills of the new business owners. "The workshops are also open to all business owners (including other artists) in the community," shared Gonzales. "By opening the workshops up to other business owners we improve commerce and promote economic vitality throughout the community, especially in our target area of Southtown Grand Rapids."
On November 11th, Pichardo, Wiers-Windemuller and six other new business owners celebrated their official Grand Opening. This joint celebration marked the official launch of these new businesses, representing a tremendously focused effort and months of preparation by the new owners. Pichardo’s Epic Emporium, a colorful and inviting space, was described by Gonzales as the ‘apex of the business strip.’ Wiers-Windemuller’ Southtown Guitar, having been opened for business a bit earlier, was already gaining momentum, according to plan. These creative endeavors provide a rich contribution to the Southtown area and proof that these arts-related businesses and their owners play an important role in serving up not only their artistic gifts, but also leadership and community commitment.
LINC Community Revitalization, Inc. started ten years ago as a community resource organization (then known as Lighthouse Communities, Inc.) responding to the looming home foreclosure crisis, it has since evolved and expanded to include economic development activities like the new business incubator. Gonzales proudly states "Now our work is not just housing, not just community leadership – it is also economic development. Once you have economic development, you create jobs. With the establishment of our first incubator class we have created 40 jobs in this community."