All along this short strip of Woodward Avenue, there are signs of an old town coming back to life. The restaurants, shops and bars pop up in the suburban metropolis of Ferndale, like little spring tulips.
From the second comings of music venues hatched from the wayward ashes of movie houses to the proudly bigot-free restaurants and bars to the down-home sense of community, Ferndale has made its way through the muck, while putting the brakes on before reaching the loftiness of muckity-muck.
Woodward Avenue Brewers, a charmingly refurbished old brick building, is among the many business that have breathed new life into this little town that rests on the north side of 8 Mile Road. From their wildly popular Sunday night dollar drink night to the starving musician’s favorite, half-off-food Monday, the WAB has affectionately become a tradition for many folks on either side of said barrier, especially burgeoning artists.
Whether working or playing, the WAB on any given night is a haven for creative voices; as luck would have it, they employ a particularly artist-heavy payroll. Painters, photographers, musicians and writers — the brewery is pretty much operated by an assembly line of artists. Owners Chris, Krista and Grant Johnston and Tom Voss do not take these untapped resources for granted, which is why they have been supportive to their employees in an unmatched way.
From in-house concerts like “the WAB All-Stars” that showcased rock, garage, hip-hop and rap á la WAB staffers, to their newest installation, “Brew Art,” this place of propriety and potable escape has become a veritable nurturer of egos and careers.
When asked why the WAB began “Brew Art” in the first place, manager Kevin Dietz replied “The staff is extremely creative, and this may be an outlet for them.” Though they do not solely highlight their own staff, and proudly display collectable pieces from such geniuses as Glen Barr and others, the unassuming generosity and faith from the powers that be makes the modest but amiable restaurant a real winner. Not only do they encourage staffers to hang their pieces, but when a sale is made, they take no commission. The general notion is to get the word out, and help some people in the process.
It’s a definite game plan that any or all other business owners could learn from.
Currently, the works of kitchen worker Jason Vivona grace the walls of the WAB’s top floor. This is the second time he has shown with the brewers. Selling a few pieces already, Vivona’s works have a Steven Cerio-meets-rock ’n’ roll-sketchpad appeal. Using empty space as much as used space, his style is unique and colorful, but pleasing in a familiar way. “I paint what I want to see.” he says.
As off-the-cuff as they get, his paintings are compelling because they demonstrate an element of suspended state of motion — almost unfinished, these iconic paintings imprinted with phraseology have been fostered by a business that sees its employees as people, not numbers. The paintings suit Vivona, and the WAB; they are imperfectly perfect and wrought with foresight.
Proudly displaying artwork year-round, the WAB is in constant search of new and interesting artists. You never know what genius hides behind three-and-a-half feet of bar and you can never imagine what thoughts might ramble through one’s mind while washing a seemingly never-ending barrage of dirty dishes. Who knows? The tired feet of any hard-working waitress just might support the chops of greatness. This commitment to a community and the art scene has helped to make “Brew Art” one of the most people-friendly forums for art exhibition in our fair town. The faith in the importance of opportunity is a refreshingly positive look into the sometimes ignored truths that inspire soulful art; and for this, we should thank them.
Jason Vivona’s paintings are currently for sale at the Woodward Avenue Brewery (22646 Woodward Ave., Ferndale). Call 248-546-3696 for information.Eve Doster is the Metro Times listings editor. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org