We got no return calls from the folks in charge, but we’re told on good authority that the Detroit Festival for the Arts is kaput — at least for the coming year. That was the word that came to us this past week after a gathering of the University Cultural Center Association, which is an engine for redevelopment in the area and sponsors the Festival of the Arts and Noel Night. The organization is putting the festival on hold, we’re told, to concentrate on the Midtown Loop Greenway project, described at the UCAA Website as:
a 2-mile greenway trail that will follow existing street patterns, specifically following Kirby Street, John R Street, Canfield Street, and Cass Avenue. Warren Avenue will serve as the central connector. The Midtown Loop will connect the campuses of Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center, and will be linked to greenway initiatives in surrounding areas, providing a key component of a larger greenway network linking New Center to Downtown and the River.
But it’s no secret that the Festival of the Arts, which would have been held for the 23rd time in 2009, like all the local festivals, is up against hard times with the faltering economy and competition for shrinking corporate-sponsorship dollars. Last year’s festival went ahead absent a sponsor with the clout of a DaimlerChrysler or a Macy's, the type of sponsors that had been part of the equation in earlier years.
Then there was last year’s last-minute double-whammy: planned headliner Miriam Makeba cancelled because of an injury, after which miserable storms and rains put a wet blanket (excuse the pun) on much of the remaining weekend.
Even with the crowded festival season in Detroit, this is a loss. The Festival of the Arts — which took over the streets and lawns around the Charles H. Wright Museum, the Science Center, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Historical Museum, the Main Branch Library, etc. — boasted great music from local, little-known and unknown acts along with Makeba-level main attractions. It included a major gathering of local and national poets, not to mention theater and dance, children’s activities and an art fair. Originally held in September, the festival was moved up to June more recently to get a jump on the festival season. (Pictures from last year’s festival can be found by clicking here.
Loss of the festival for a year raises concerns that with the festival tradition interrupted once, the UCAA may back away from it permanently rather than retool and revive it. Whether any other organization would step up to fill the potential void is another open question. —W. Kim Heron