Located in vivacious enclave known for its flavor, Stairwell Gallery is a product of vision, hard work and togetherness tucked away on a residential street in Southwest Detroit. With the exception of a wooden sign on the front lawn, neighbors may not know that this two-story house keeps one of the latest additions to the ‘DIY’ art scene. The entrance of the gallery is through a side walkway that visitors pass through into the backyard. In full bloom since its spring opening this year, the young art gallery has enjoyed a successful season under the direction of artist and gallery proprietor Zak Meers.He credits friends and fellow artists being a key component in the startup of the gallery space. “Living and working at Ponyride, working with and for the folks at Inner State Gallery and my [artist] residency at Red Bull house of Art Cycle 7 has helped me understand a bit more about what it means to produce a valuable cultural event. I’ve learned more than just the programming of a space, but the hard work and dedication that comes along with it and the need to cultivate a connection to the community. Phil [Cooley], Roula [David], Jesse [Cory], Dan [Armand] and Matt [Eaton] have all been excellent mentors to me.”
Since its humble beginnings this May, Stairwell Gallery has hosted three art shows and is evolving with each exhibition. As Zak explains, “There is a formula I’m tinkering with for the space; in [the] first year I’m working hard to refine it, so that next season the gallery can produce even more valuable events.”The roster of talent he has housed includes Detroit-based artist NNII, who not only utilized the main gallery room [and the actual stairwell of the house showcases artwork] but also extended his vision into the backyard to create several installations that utilized found natural materials from throughout the city. The exhibit, A: Regular Basis explored what that means to encounter the “Abstract vessels we experience everyday…that push the limits of the medium, in hopes to tell that story of our everyday existence, the one where there just aren’t any words for.” Notion explained he found the used tires on the Eastside of Detroit where he lives, along with scavenged wildflowers and various donated out of date school chalkboards to create living sculptures expressing concern over the state of Detroit Public School systems, “and the industry or the status quo, running over education or elevation, or wisdom or spirituality.”
Smiling On The Inside opened in August featuring Detroit-based artist and ceramist Amber Locke, which included digital pieces and several ceramic vessels with superimposed image transfers as an allusion to our adornment of unoriginal content revealing an adaptation in global identity. Locke is an artist living in Detroit with a BFA in Industrial Design and Ceramics from WSU. Her work draws heavily from Bi-cultural Identity, collaborative process, Consumer Culture, and the Ceramic Arts to transcend the utilitarian object.On September 15th Stairwell Gallery will present San Francisco based Matthew Bajda and the exhibition, “Mace of Disruption.” By way of photography and sculpture, Bajda will explore subjects of fear, safety, and media examining ways in which these concepts are manipulated to influence public perception and opinion. The month of October will conclude the gallery’s programming season for the year with a group exhibition, which is not yet announced. The gallery is also in process of planning fresh and unique art next season. Meers explains, “Next year is already in the works with a super talented lineup of [Detroit] artists, and one from outside the area.”
At a young age, Meers was inspired by bountiful displays of street art adorning his San Francisco neighborhood. In the wake of the Mission School Movement, Zak found inspiration in the pieces of local street artists and the perspectives of people like Rubi Neri, Barry McGee and Jason Williams. At the age of ten, Zak found his version of heaven in works he viewed from MUNI buses he frequented up and down 24th street. Meers recalls, “It was like an outdoor museum.”
Early years of creating came courtesy of Christmastime art sets as Zak nurtured his affinity and knack for art (thanks, Mom!) As a youngster he began to create cartoons and comics of his own, but comments, “the streets were my biggest influence.” Accessible and approachable art has always enthused Zak, and this congenial feel is reflected in his Stairwell Gallery.
As an art enthusiast and creator, having a space to show work has been a lifelong dream for Zak Meers, “I always wanted to have a gallery or storefront that was related to the arts.” Zak recollects. With so much talent in the Metro Detroit area and the world in general I don’t think there will ever be enough room to showcase everyone but at least with one more space I can do my part to give talented people an opportunity to showcase their work.” He continues, “Detroit is so full of amazing artists that the space almost programs itself.”
As the well-known Martin Luther King Jr. saying goes, “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” This is exactly the leap Zak Meers took with starting Stairwell Gallery, and he was able to achieve his goal with the help and expertise of a cooperative art community. As Zak remarks, “When I bought the property the space was really raw but the layout was really conducive to a small gallery. The width of the stairwell and the detached feel of the upper room really worked well together and differentiated itself from the rest of the property. I felt it could work as a space to showcase art.”
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Words by Hailey Dukes. New kid on the block + sponge for all things Detroit. Student to this earth and the people, places, and things on it. Walking an unceasing journey to observe, feel, analyze, understand. Inspire me! Follow Hailey on IG @wolf___hailey // Twitter @heyygirllhai.
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