Spread Art is an artist-run creative incubator designed to foster new works through collaborations with artists, curators, and organizations from around the world. With Operations now concentrated in Detroit, (the organization just moved from NYC recently!) Spread Art supports emerging artists through group and solo exhibitions, music events, and performance showcases, and also facilitates opportunities for youth and adults to explore their creativity and increase self-awareness through art. Spread Art supports the creation and evolution of art festivals and cultural collaborations locally, nationally, and internationally.
PLAYGROUND DETROIT sat down with the duo behind the organization, Thomas Bell and Christina de Roos, to ask them about Spread Art and their recent re-location from Bushwick, Brooklyn, to Corktown, Detroit. The two are originally not from Detroit, or NYC, both growing up elsewhere.
PD: When was the first time you visited Detroit? What was your experience and impression of the city like?
de Roos: “I first visited Detroit in Oct/Nov 2011. A lot of aspects reminded me of the feel of Bushwick, Brooklyn when I first moved there in 2003. I was struck by a similar sense of creative possibility, but on a much grander scale.”Bell: “I first visited Detroit in Oct 2010. I was there for two days on a work-related trip. I met a lot of great people and left feeling like Detroit was a playground for artists– so much space to do things. Aside from the obvious difference in geographic size – with Detroit we are talking about an entire city, not a community within a borough of a larger city, like Bushwick or LES, for example, Detroit offers the opportunity for individuals and community organizations to “own the dirt” and therefore have a long-term, sustainable impact- that for myself and most of the artists I’ve collaborated with- that was not a reality.
PD: What did you find that was so appealing about it versus staying in Brooklyn?
de Roos: “In Bushwick, when we looked into purchasing a building to rehab for an artist co-op, the lowest purchase price we encountered was $500K, and that was for a 4 family building – structurally sound, but rat and roach infested – that would require an additional $30K – $50K in immediate electrical and other renovations. Despite our awareness that this was likely the only path to being able to stay in Bushwick for the long haul, we weren’t able to pull off what would have been needed to make this happen. And due various factors, including rising rent and other job opportunities elsewhere, everyone that was involved from that group has since moved out of NYC. It is too early to know exactly how Spread Art will take form in Detroit, but the combination of palpable creative energy and relatively low real estate prices have us hopeful that we will be able to put down roots in Detroit in a way that we couldn’t in NYC.”
de Roos: “The goals of the artist residency program are to support artists in their creative practice, to encourage collaboration among artists and across other disciplines, and to foster opportunities for the creative sector to contribute positively to the larger community. We are particularly interested in supporting artists who have historically had limited opportunities to develop and/or show their work, for instance because they are early career, or the work is experimental or political, or for any number of other reasons. The residency program is not limited to artists, but also open to curators, presenters, theorists/reviewers, and others who are part of the ecology of of a thriving creative community.We have a 2,200 sq ft space in Detroit for live/work residencies from 1 week to 1 month. In addition to space to stay and work, residencies include internet access, use of a projector, and sound system. We will also arrange an exhibition or performance for resident artists. We will also be able to provide bikes to get around the city, and will work with artists to make introductions to potential collaborators from their field or another area of interest.The program is similar to the residencies we offered in Mexico, where in exchange for each residency week artists will be asked to volunteer a small amount of time with a community organization. This might mean an hour as a guest artist in a K-12 school, or teaching a public workshop in his/her creative discipline, or volunteering for a non-art program. We don’t have a lot of restrictions as to what this “giving back” has to entail, and many individuals already have a community project they are involved with in their community, so this is another attempt to fostering connections and sharing ideas across geographic areas.”
de Roos: “Spread Art in Detroit is located in a three-story, turn of the century department store that has been renovated into two floors of loft apartments, with a light-filled studio space on the main floor (suitable for movement-based classes or other workshops) and a rehearsal/performance/exhibition space in the basement. The artist-owner is enthusiastic to support our programs of artist collaborations and exchanges as well as classes/workshops, exhibitions, and events. There have been events and exhibitions in the building in 2002, so Spread Art is able to contribute efforts and programs to an existing vision and mission for the building. The location is 2572 Michigan Ave in Corktown of Southwest Detroit.”
Bell: “For the last 5 years, Spread Art in Brooklyn was located in an 800 sq ft garage that was converted into a fully functioning live/work studio and storefront gallery/event space. The main difference between the spaces is of course the size, and not having to build out the space in Detroit from a raw garage with no water. After many years maintaining a physical location in Brooklyn, Spread Art is excited to concentrate efforts toward a physical space in Detroit, while continuing to program events and exhibitions throughout NYC in collaboration with other venues.”
de Roos: “I see many possible scenarios for Detroit, and am not nearly informed enough to have a sense of which are more likely than others. My choice, however, is to envision what I want to happen because I believe what we imagine is what becomes our reality. So from that perspective, I see a thriving community that draws from all aspects of its history- including and especially its immeasurable contributions to social justice – to redefine itself through bottom-up initiatives that reflect core values of interdependence, sustainability, innovation, and creativity. In this Detroit, it is individuals and community organizations that have empowered themselves to drive the progress and agenda of the city to achieve a redefined and shared notion of prosperity. As I’m thinking this I have in mind the transition some countries are making from measuring GDP to GNH, Gross National Happiness. I can think of no better place than Detroit right now for those who want to live, create, collaborate, and experiment our way to a future in which everyone thrives.”
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