Shortly after arts writer and publicist Amani Olu arrived to metro Detroit by way of New York in 2016, he began working on the campaign of Afrofuturist and art scene fixture Ingrid LaFleur's ultimately unsuccessful bid for mayor. It was then that he says he began to get introduced to various local galleries and art groups around town. Thus, the Detroit Art Week was born.
Olu says the inaugural event, which kicks off Friday, mostly works by taking things that were already happening and uniting them all under one banner. "I'm thinking about an international audience, and I said, 'Well, if you come to Detroit for the first time, and you're experiencing art, what should you see and what should you know?'" he says. "I felt like it's important that we celebrate the people who have been living and working in this community for a long time, not just like newer, trendier, flashier things that are happening."
With that, the event kicks off with a dual exhibition: Repetition, Rhythm and Vocab featuring Detroit abstract art stalwarts Carole Harris and Allie McGhee at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Olu says for the event's first year, it was important for him to pay homage to black artists like Harris and McGhee.
"Let's just be honest, I don't get to come to Detroit and be in this space without the foundation that they've laid," he says. "This is really their space. I'm actually coming in as a visitor and saying, 'Hey, I have this skill set, I have these relationships, these resources, these connections, but you guys are really the stars.'"
Olu says it was also important to him to highlight artists of color. "Detroit is a predominantly black city. I'm from Philadelphia, which has a huge black American culture," he says. "The two cities are very similar in a lot of ways, and I felt like I wanted to create some foundation on which we can build."
Starting at 4:30 p.m., the DIA will host a talk with Harris and McGhee, moderated by Olu. Other events include an artist talk featuring Mario Moore at David Klein Gallery's Detroit branch (4:30 p.m. on Saturday), an opening reception featuring artists Victoria Shaheen and George Vidas at Playground Detroit (6 p.m. on Saturday), a night of DJs to benefit Cristo Rey High School at the Stanley Kresge Estate (9 p.m. on Sunday), and an avant-garde musical performance at the recently re-christened Red Bull Arts Detroit (formerly the Red Bull House of Art; 7 p.m. on Sunday). All told, Olu says Detroit Art Week will include the work of more than 100 artists, nearly 20 galleries, six studio visits, and eight events.
"You sort of see art in the day and then you party at night," Olu says. "That's how it's supposed to be."
Detroit Art Week runs from Friday, July 20 through Sunday, July 22 at various art galleries and venues; The full schedule is available at detroitartweek.org; Events are free.
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