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June 9, 2011
eric schantz & saginaw love ERIC SCHANTZ OUTSIDE OF SAGINAW'S OLDEST GASTATION
MARY KATHERINE QUASARANO
THURSDAY JUNE 9th, 2011
MARY KATHERINE QUASARANO
THURSDAY JUNE 9th, 2011
(Artist + City Love + Action = Transformation)
I'm on my way to meet Eric Schantz, a mural artist, and we're connecting at the site of his latest work, a series of murals covering the oldest gas station in Saginaw. Not familiar with the area, there is a concern that I'll miss the site or Eric. Not a chance! The bold, beautiful colors and text artfully covering a quaint brick building is a dramatic sight. Eric pulls up, jumps out of his car, and smiling broadly says, "It's going to be a lot easier for me to take you on a driving tour of the art and talk as we go. Are you ready?"
For several years, media outlets have distributed professional photographs taken of boarded-up buildings, faded and colorless walls, decrepit rooms, and other images of post-industrial urban blight in Michigan. These images have served as fodder for cynics and pundits arguing that the greatness of some Michigan cities has come and gone. They have unwittingly provided visual reinforcement to the flight of the State's young, educated professionals in their belief that there is nothing for them here.
These same images, so destructive in the above-referenced context, helped give birth to the work of a constructive community artist and activist. Schantz is a native of Saginaw and negative images of his beloved city did not turn him away; they drew him closer to the City and to understanding and embracing his call as artist, activist and human being.
"Our (Saginaw's) image was so negative. I see Art as the only way to re-build post-industrial cities. It's the only way to change how a town is perceived. People love public art and I'm freely giving it to them." Schantz's work is, in fact, changing the way Saginaw is perceived by its own people - and the world.
When he began to explore mural painting, he soon learned that asking permission and seeking funding was leading nowhere, and that bureaucratic red-tape was a cold-blooded enthusiasm killer. Schantz decided to give his work away, let it speak for itself, and do what he knew it would: promote art.
"Giving art away has made all the difference. I didn't set out to do mural work but I love it now. This work combines everything I love to do in one job: create art, take risks, work intensely, create social capital, and give something lasting to my community."
He has reached out to, and worked with, members of the local graffiti-art community, or as he calls them "undercover artists." They have engaged in deep conversations about art, being on the same side, and exploring places to paint. He has been given the tag (name) 'Schweezy' by the graffiti community, and these artists will not deface his work. Schantz knows there's nothing more powerful than well-informed, motivated citizens, and he's doing his part to help bring them forth. He lives his statement, "Art moves us past the barriers."
His first project Skies over Saginaw displays blue skies, warmth and light on boarded up windows and walls. SaginawLove serves as one of the city's most popular backdrops and provides countless photo opportunities. From the day he left for the Kansas City Art Institute, the haunting lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel's song America (It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw - I've gone to look for America…) have inhabited Schantz's thoughts. When he returned home to Saginaw from Kansas City years later, and as his work grew, he was inspired to paint the song's lyrics, along with accompanying images, on boarded up windows, doors, brick walls, parking lot structures, and even soccer goal posts throughout Saginaw. Schantz's work of love became a feature story on NPR December 2010.
Saginaw's oldest gasoline station, where our tour began, is located on the northeast corner of Washington & Atwater Streets, and serves as his latest canvas. The Saginaw Valley Historical Preservation Society couldn't be happier. As travelers move south along Washington, they are greeted by the sight of a brilliant red Pegasus rising from the ground of this historical structure. The Preservation Society was awarded $2,500 from the MotorCities National Heritage Area, an organization based in Detroit that works to preserve automotive historical artifacts. The funds will be used to relocate the building one day, and a number of locations are under consideration, including the Children's Zoo and Farmer's Market.
How has this artist morphed into activist? Schantz believes that if everyone in Saginaw (or any community) gave just two hours to improving their local landscape, the world would change. As we walk along a parking structure, Schantz points out some weeds growing amid the flowers and shrubs. "Everyone can do something. Pull up some weeds. Grab a garbage bag and pick up some trash. Do it every time you walk the dog and I guarantee that over time you won't see garbage or weeds piling up. People throw trash into yards where there's already trash - where there's pride, you won't see trash."
This empowering belief extends to support of the arts as well. "City government was not set up to make a city better; it was set up to manage the city. Artists have a social responsibility to the work that they do. We need people out in the field to take care of their city. We learn culture through Art. Artists, musicians, poets and writers all tell the story of what is happening here and now. I want my art to be used 5,000 years from now to tell the story of what life looked like at this point in time."
As for social capital, Schantz is one of the area's wealthiest individuals and most successful residents. On any given night on the town, the drinks are flowing and the food is free for "the guy who paints really cool stuff all over town!" Hugs are routinely exchanged and tears have been known to fall as Schantz and fellow Saginaw citizens exchange stories of how Schantz's work has changed the way they see the city - and at times - themselves. He wants his legacy to having been known as a person who was truly happy and he's well on his way to realizing that goal.
As we conclude our tour of this art gallery called Saginaw, and stand on the northeast corner of Washington & Atwater, Schantz waives his arms excitedly as he describes the gas station project. Car horns blow and waves are exchanged as passers-by acknowledge the presence of the artist and his work. Eric Schantz's work is displayed throughout the corridors and walls of what could be the largest public gallery space in Michigan. The gallery is the City of Saginaw, and Schantz is its most widely displayed - and relatively unknown - artist.
As he drives off, I am at once struck with the knowledge that in meeting and touring Saginaw with Eric Schantz, I have experienced and witnessed firsthand the truth of Margaret Mead's words:
Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.More of Eric Schantz's work in Saginaw
THURSDAY JUNE 9th, 2011
THURSDAY JUNE 9th, 2011
Try to imagine a world without design. The Internet would have nothing but text, car dashboards would take hours to figure out, signage would not exist, and restaurant menus would be hard to navigate. Countries would have no flags, companies would have no logos and athletes would wear plain white uniforms. At AIGA Detroit they are working hard to nurture those designers who, in turn, nurture our world.
Founded in 1914 as the American Institute of Graphic Arts, AIGA is the oldest and largest professional membership organization for design. A chapter of the national organization since 1986, AIGA Detroit has been reaching out to Michigan's entire creative community including: designers, educators, art directors, web developers, printers, illustrators, photographers, artists and students. Underlying the organization's work is a commitment to demonstrating the value of design to businesses and the power of design in our culture
"The best examples of design," said Melanie Derro, Design and Business chair at AIGA Detroit, "are where it is so successful you don't realize design was involved. People can interact with it, but don't realize what went into it."
Derro, also a Graphic Designer and partner in a local design firm, is about to collaborate with the non-profit Get Fresh. Get Fresh brings fresh food options to local party stores throughout Detroit. "Get Fresh comes with a solution to the problem of access and availability of fresh produce," said Derro. "Our job as designers is to make the community aware of the product. How do we get the customer to pick the local, fresh option? How do we make the fresh option enticing? How can you change buying habits in a positive way?"
There's a misconception that design is just the visual - a logo, a brochure, a coffee cup. "But design is more than a pretty picture," said Derro. "It involves research, analyzing, problem solving, creating solutions. It's a whole process."
A good example is AIGA Detroit's SHOUT program. This mentorship program works with groups of high school students from Detroit's College for Creative Studies and Cass Technical High School. The objective is to engage students in the design process by developing projects that will make their community better. Student teams, first, assess their community and identify a community issue they want to improve such as school food service or recycling. "Something close to their hearts," said Derro. Next, students work to create a solution using graphic design, posters and a blog to communicate their ideas.
"We want them to understand the impact a designer can have on the world," said Derro. "That design is not purely aesthetics. It also has to do with functionality, problem solving and how people will interact with the solution. They learn that they can become the designers of their environment."
Another AIGA Detroit outreach effort is the Conjunction Project spearheaded by Elizabeth Youngblood, Community Impact Director for AIGA Detroit. "The idea was to get together with a company running on pure energy and pure will," said Youngblood. "A company that had been around for several years but needed a hand with incorporating design."
One of their first pro bono clients was Home Furever, a no-kill, animal rescue based in Southwest Detroit. Once the client was chosen, Youngblood put out a call to the membership for volunteers. "One person acts as the Art Director for the project," said Youngblood. "I function as the Creative Director and other volunteers are the designers." Together the AIGA team worked to develop an identity system including donation boxes, banners and business cards for the organization. The result? "A neighborhood where enough dogs have been picked up and fostered that residents now feel more comfortable and safe," said Youngblood.
The Conjunction Project has also provided rebranding design services to the 555 Gallery and designed permanent outdoor signage for the Detroit Black Food Security Network's gardens. Their current project is working with the Boggs Education Center, a charter school focused on place-based education. Youngblood's team is designing an interactive web tool explaining the concept of place-based education.
"Design is everywhere," said Youngblood. "In an ever more competitive world, good design is how organizations differentiate themselves. It's become increasingly important, in fact critical, as public expectations have increased. Good design has become the standard."
Both SHOUT and Conjunction highlight AIGA Detroit's commitment to the principles of design and its role in making the public more aware of issues affecting their community and creating grassroots initiatives to provide solutions.
AIGA is also committed to keeping talent in the state. "In the past we focused on programs and lectures from national and international speakers," said Derro. "Now we're focusing more on local folks, highlighting the area's talent and opportunities." This focus on local has helped shine a light on the city's gifts and assets and played a role in building a community culture of creativity.
"People don't realize what we have here, right in our own backyard," said Derro. "There's a lot of passion in the city for changing the environment. That has enticed a lot of creatives to stay. Many recognize and are empowered by their ability to make a difference here in the city. In larger cities you just can't have the same impact."
Maybe that's why AIGA has seen their membership increase by 20% in the past four years. "Even though the economy is down, our membership has grown," said Derro.
Now over 475+ strong, AIGA Detroit boasts a young, vibrant and diverse board with a membership ranging from students to well-seasoned pros.
"We offer creatives a great sense of community. It's a place for entrepreneurers to start-up and mentors to mentor," said Derro. A recent social networking event at Cliff Bells featured a contest where members were divided into teams and given a hodge podge of items from which to create a collage based on a theme or focal point.
"AIGA has been instrumental in supporting and maintaining Detroit's design community," said Derro. "It's a place to get involved, to lend your voice to an issue you are passionate about. A lot of our programming starts that way. Someone from the membership or the Board will bring an issue to the group and AIGA gets involved."
For its members, AIGA Detroit provides a sense of empowerment to change their community. For the community, AIGA Detroit offers a sense of empowerment to find their voice. For the city of Detroit, it's a match made in heaven.
MUSIC WITH A MESSAGE
THURSDAY JUNE 9th, 2011
THURSDAY JUNE 9th, 2011
Someone lit a torch in Isaac Kalambu, or King Isaac as he is known on stage, when he was a young boy in Zimbabwe. That someone was reggae legend Bob Marley, who Kalambu credits with sowing the seed that would eventually blossom into a lifelong passion for reggae music and spreading messages of healing and hope.
"The music that I write is concerned with the well-being of people," said Kalambu, who began writing poetry at 14 and turned to writing lyrics after being inspired by reggae stars like Marley, Jimmy Cliff, and Gregory Isaacs. Kalambu's most recent work, a collaboration with Gregory Issacs entitled "Isaacs Meets Isaac," earned the MSU professor a Grammy nomination earlier this year.
"It was unreal," Kalambu said. "If you would have told me that I would work with this artist and the album would be nominated, I would have told you that you were out of your mind." Working with the reggae legend was magical for Kalambu, "this was an artist I grew up idolizing," he said of the late Issacs, who passed away just two months before the Grammy nomination was announced.
Kalambu said he believed Isaacs's presence on the album contributed to the recognition it received, but that the album's overall quality made it stand out as well. "The songwriting was very solid, our vocal qualities worked well together, and the production was of a high standard. That all made for an attractive package."
While the album was recorded in Jamaica between 2004 and 2009, Kalambu used a local sound engineer Joseph McSweeney, photographer David Koppen, and graphic designer James Carter, all based in the Lansing area. "These are people that I know and trust and it's good of course to keep the business [in Michigan] when you can," he explained.
Kalambu said he applies what he has learned as a musician to his work in the classroom at Michigan State University. "Those experiences are invaluable, they are applicable to anything and everything I do," he explained. Kalambu, a professor of ethnomusicology, the study of folk and primitive music and their relationship to the people and cultures they belong to, said, "Students are always eager to know how the writing process goes and the personalities that have impacted the lyrics."
Currently, he teaches during summers, and splits the rest of his time between his duties as Assistant to the Director of African Studies, recording music, and being a single father. He is in charge of undergraduate engagement with the African Studies Center, helping students learn and do more work in Africa, encouraging them to use the center for their education and social activism.
Kalambu, the single parent of a twelve year old boy, admitted splitting his time between teaching, recording music, and being a father can be difficult. "You have to know when to switch roles," he said, "but music is always with me."
For the past nine years, he led Study Abroad trips to the University of the West Indies, located in Jamaica, and said the trips help create an appreciation of reggae music's history and culture. Kalambu explained that reggae music can be a powerful tool for promoting social change. "It has a melody, a rhythm, it can catch your attention before you know what the song is about," he said. "They're songs that speak directly to community issues and seek to address major community problems. They're songs that speak of the importance of well-living. That is the nature of reggae music, since its inception it's been music about a message."
The Grammy-nominee said he is thankful for the exposure the award has granted him, but that he aims to continue to use music to bring light to tough issues, and not to himself. "The glory isn't my goal, my goal is to lift people up."
UNLIKELY COLLABORATION GOOD FOR JACKSON MUSIC SCENE
KATIE DONOVAN AND MARIYA SMITH
THURSDAY JUNE 9th, 2011
KATIE DONOVAN AND MARIYA SMITH
THURSDAY JUNE 9th, 2011
According to Aaron Wilson, Jackson has a long history of cultural high points and low points. Even though he is only twenty-one, Aaron understands the history and context of the community that he calls home. He speaks about the heyday of the 60's and 70's when Jackson was a regular stop-off for some national music acts and the claiming rights that Jackson has to local music greats like Bob Seger, Ted Nugent , Alice Cooper and George Clinton. He describes the current music and culture scene of Jackson at a low point, mostly because of the economy.
Wilson is a musician himself with classical training on trumpet and other brass instruments. "It wasn't until I got into college that I began to have a growing appreciation for the live and local Indie- Rock music scene," said Wilson. "Unfortunately, there are very few places for Indie-Rock musicians to perform their original music and even fewer places that would welcome the target audience of teens and early twenty -somethings. There were some coffee shops that made space for this kind of music and even a photography studio at the Armory Arts opened its space for performance, however the businesses closed, leaving very few options for performance space."
Aaron Wilson saw the problem and decided to do something about it. And so began his talking campaign to define the problem and find people and organizations that would help. "One of the first people I talked to was Jonathan Greene from the Jackson Downtown Development Authority. He responded to a letter that I wrote about the need for creative performance space, I sent it to him and about 100 other people. When he said "we need to talk" I thought I was in trouble, but he was very receptive. He didn't have any solutions but he gave me the encouragement to keep talking and asking questions, and that's how I ultimately connected with the Jackson Symphony Orchestra (JSO)."
The JSO was willing to make their practice space available for Indie- Rock performances. " When I asked what it would cost for the space, Mary Spring from the JSO said there would be no charge and that they wanted any money collected to go to the performers. JSO wants to be known as musical people supporting other musical people," said Wilson. "We have had four shows in our first year at the JSO and they have all been very well received," reports Wilson. The unusual partnership between the Indie-Rock scene and the JSO has created a new place for high school and college-age kids to discover music in Jackson, a city where music has almost been forgotten. "I didn't want music to die here in Jackson, I wanted it to keep going on," says Wilson.
"I think this is good for kids, it gives them something to do in this town where there isn't always something to do," says Wilson. Jammin' at the JSO draws a lot of kids into the doors of the symphony orchestra and exposes them to music that would never have been able to make it to Jackson otherwise.
While Wilson would like the Jammin' at the JSO shows to be monthly, he has discovered that it takes more coordination, more volunteers and more time than he has to find and coordinate bands to perform. Wilson describes his unpaid job as: concert promoter, volunteer solicitor, concert producer, and concert space cleaner upper. Shows and information are posted on Facebook on the Jackson City Limits page and other social media outlets. The JSO uses their own publications and signage to help promote the shows. The next show is tentatively scheduled for September because the JSO will be under renovation this summer.
Wilson doesn't see himself as a creative type, he says he has creative ideas but doesn't call himself an artist. He believes music is one of the few creative disciplines where both right brain and left brain activity are working at the same time. "Music has helped me learn how to talk to all kinds of people. In order to survive in the creative arts you have to have community, I found my community at the Jackson Symphony Orchestra promoting this unusual collaboration," says Aaron Wilson. "I believe our successes at the JSO are inspiring other people to explore more arts opportunities." If Wilson has his way the Jackson arts and culture scene will be rising to a new high point as more and more members of the community support the arts.
People willing to help, bands willing to perform and people wanting to attend concerts are encouraged to connect to the Jackson Symphony Orchestra or email Aaron Wilson. Aaron has finished two years at Jackson Community College and is currently working part-time at a veterinary hospital and has hopes to finish his college education at Eastern Michigan in Economics and then go on to Wayne State University to study Urban Planning.