Steve Hughes knows how to get things done. When he's not running Hamtramck's Public Pool art gallery — located down the street from his home — or working on his zine, Stupor, Hughes rehabs houses — when the market crashed, he just bought the house next to his. "The guy who owned it before did some crazy wiring and stuff in there, and I was always worried that he was going to burn us down," he says. "So I bought it and fixed the wiring and all that stuff, so now I know we're not going to burn down — on that side at least."
It's that sort of DIY attitude that shaped the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival, which celebrates its fifth year on Saturday. Hughes founded the festival with fellow Hamtramck resident Steve Panton, the owner of the now-defunct 2739 Edwin gallery, ran out of Panton's home. "He lived in a loft, and instead of filling it with furniture and a TV stuff and stuff, he made an art gallery out of it," Hughes says. "He reached out into a community, and offered his space and created this community arts space."
Hughes admired the sense of community that occurred when Panton let people into his home. "There was something happening in town, and it was happening at a place where there wasn't any commerce connected to it, really," he says. "It was just a totally sort of selfless sort of situation. (Panton) did it just because he loved art — just like a lot of the artists making stuff around here. They're artists that make art. Maybe they're not going to make any money off of it, but they can't help it anyway. They're so driven, and a little crazy. I appreciate their effort."
In that spirit, the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival was originally conceived as a sort of community studio crawl. "We were both interested in looking at people's work in their studios," he says. "It was a really small version of what we're doing now. Now we don't even have to ask people to be involved — they come to us and they want to do something, and they tell us what to do and we put them on the schedule."
This year's festival is split into two parts, dividing the town into a north side and a south side. The open studios start on the south side at 1 p.m., and at 3:30 p.m. the south side studios close up, and the north side starts up. "There's a little bit of a logic to it, in terms of getting from place to place," Hughes says. "It's a walkable city, but you're not going to be able to do it all, even with a car. It's gotten too big."
But it really is a disservice to describe the festival as a mere studio crawl (the posters for the event promise "music on porches"). "Some folks are having bands play," Hughes says. "There's a couple of artists who are putting on some sort of performance in their backyard. I have no idea what they're going to do, which is part of the greatness of it."
There's also the Good Tyme Writers' Buffet, a sort of marathon literature reading and potluck that will be held at the Public Pool gallery. "I didn't want to put on something that was another reading that I'd have trouble sitting through," Hughes admits. "I really love readings, but I can only handle so much of it. Also, I love potlucks — I love the idea of the inclusiveness of potlucks. That's a pretty huge community neighborhood thing."
In all, there are more than 40 venues that will participate in this year's festival, and the list was still growing at the time we spoke with Hughes. Hughes encourages people in the neighborhood to join in by throwing their own events and posting them on the Facebook page for the festival.
The DIY attitude and neighborhood is exemplified in the posters promoting this year's event, which feature the work of more than 40 artists. Hughes says the artist Jonathan Rajewski came up with the hand-scrawled template with a blank space in the middle, so other artists in the community could make their own posters. "I don't know why nobody came up with that brilliant idea before, but it was such a great visual," Hughes says. "It embodies the idea of the festival — it's all about making it yourself and creating an ownership over the festival."
Even the mayor of Hamtramck, Karen Majewski, was convinced to make her own poster. "It was great to have her involved," Hughes says. "Now we're less likely to get shut down by the cops!" — mt
The Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival starts at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 11. Maps, schedule, and other information is available on the event's Facebook page or at the Public Pool gallery; 3309 Caniff Ave, Hamtramck; 313-405-7665; apublicpool.com.