DETROIT—Ryan Myers-Johnson grew up on a stage. The Detroit School of Arts graduate, a multi-faceted choreographer and performance art producer, knows that art is what brings people together.
Johnson’s mantra: community art can transform unused public spaces and even blighted neighborhoods.
“There’s something powerful about a community dancing together in the street,” ~ Ryan Meyers-Johnson
Together with fellow organizers Frannie Shephard Bates, Carrie Elizabeth Morris, Jasmine McCord, and local organizations like Motor City Blight Busters, Arise Detroit!, the Detroit Creative Corridor Center's Creative Ventures Program, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, the Brightmoor Alliance, Blight Busters Detroit, and Replanting Roots, Johnson will bring the Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts—an outdoor celebration of site-specific performance and installation art—to Artist Village Detroit.
Artist Village, located at the intersection of Lahser and Grand River Avenue in the Old Redford/ Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit, is—on the surface—a color-splattered coffee shop. Upon closer examination one discovers winding alleys, community gardens, and spacious courtyards in its wings.
This collection of public spaces will host an eight-hour festival of overlapping dance, theatre, musical, and spoken word performances. The Sidewalk Festival is designed to create a platform where contemporary, kinesthetic artists from across the city can gather in, what Johnson calls, Detroit’s most interesting neighborhood.
“We chose to hold this festival in Brightmoor because it is a unique and beautiful neighborhood,” Johnson said. “Lately, our architecture and landscape have been highlighted for their ruin porn appeal but I have always seen the city as alive. These artists are really jumping at the chance to highlight that vibrancy. Detroit is really special when it comes to people being open, accepting positive things, and moving forward.”
Open, accepting, positive, forward-focused, and Brightmoor-based? Sounds similar to Replanting Roots, a not-for-profit organization designed to reintegrate former inmates into their communities through urban agriculture and leadership opportunities. A close affiliate to organizations like Farm City Detroit and Blight Busters, Replanting Roots shares Sidewalk’s mission to reinforce a sense of community in Brightmoor by building feelings of community ownership over public spaces and neighborhood identity.
President and Founder Harry Reisig shared the details of Replanting Roots’ Sidewalk Festival party, during which time the group plans to kick off their online campaign. The funds are specifically designed to house post-incarcerated fellowship recipients in the Simon House, located at the corner of Burgess and Orchard. Replanting Roots and its fellow Brightmoor advocate organizations share a belief in empowering local residents to help their neighbors and neighborhoods.
“I believe that the broken windows theory is accurate,” says Johnson. “By conditioning our neighborhoods to be aesthetically appealing, we can deter crime from happening there. Through visual and performance art, we can reinterpret the power and potential of these unused and underused spaces. Through community events and public art, neighbors start to believe that their neighborhood is a special place. It’s still blighted. It’s still Detroit. But it helps to actually see the re-growth.”
“There’s something powerful about a community dancing together in the street,” Johnson smiles.
After its inaugural year, Johnson hopes to grow the Sidewalk Festival, extending it to become a multi-day, multiple-stage, urban celebration of public culture. She hopes that Brightmoor and Old Redford businesses can team up with the festival to build them into the gathering through local food, beverage, and product sales.
Johnson also hopes that the Sidewalk Festival will attract visitors from across Detroit to the Old Redford/ Brightmoor area. She dreams of connecting the festival with a “Go West” bike trip where cyclists from other neighborhoods of Detroit can ride en masse to the festival (If you have any interest in organizing this for 2013, please leave a comment at the bottom of this article!).
Don’t miss Detroit’s newest summer festival! Coming to the Old Redford and Brightmoor neighborhoods of Detroit from 2 - 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3.