Porous Borders Festival scores a victory over boundaries



Apparently, this weekend's Porous Borders Festival started with a bang. Or a boom. Or the crash-boom-bang of a marching band tromping down the pothole-pitted border thoroughfare of Carpenter. We have a friend who says she slept through it, but that seems hard to believe. It sure got everybody' elses attention along the street, which separates the north side of Hamtramck from a Detroit neighborhood to the north, with the usual class and racial disparities that accompany the border.

But this festival just about blew up business as usual. If you'd just woken up in Hamtramck a few days before the festival, you might think it must be the craziest place in the country. Remember, this all happened right in the wake of Paige Breithart's goof, filling up Hamtramck potholes with dirt and flowers, after which the festival took over various parts of town, with music, food, movies, puppetry, and — in classic Hamtramck style — plenty of booze.

To get an idea of just how ambitious this whole thing was, take a look at Lee DeVito's article from last week. All we can say is, down in it, it felt very different from other arts fests, and wound up bringing together a lot of people who hadn't known each other before.

In that way, the festival's goal of subverting our contrived political borders was a success. The "Carpenter Exchange," actually a project of several individual arts groups, deserves a serious round of applause for what it accomplished. The crowds may have been smaller than at other, more established events, but it was very multiracial, intergenerational, and featured a mix of longtime residents and visitors with international accents. Missed Marsha Music talking about the revolutionary union movement, but caught the video presentation by Hamtramck Historical Commission head Greg Kowalski, who discussed the borders of the city, and the way they define and confuse who we are, had a heady chat with Walter Wasacz about the psychogeographical borders we can learn to see, and then wound up porch-sitting and drinking Miller in a can with a group of local artists and cyclists. Everything seemed designed to complicate and enrich the idea of who we are: old and young, native and immigrant, townie and newcomer. Even the sets of live music curated by the Detroit Folk Workshop were extremely eclectic, with dixieland, mariachi, folk, and even the Bangla School of Music. 

Not to bad-mouth any of the worthy events put on in and around Detroit, but a lot of them look for a handy place to sort of take over for a day or two, with a limited menu of things designed to appeal to a specific cohort, so that neighborhood people look on with a mix of puzzlement and curiosity but mostly stand back. Not so with this event. Graem Whyte of Popps Packing was approached by one of his longtime neighbors, who brought up for the first time that he makes art out of found materials. Artists who'd lived on the block for months wound up meeting their neighbors for the first time. The programming was designed to excite as broad a curiosity as possible, as evidenced by the wide variety of music acts under a tent at St. Aubin and Carpenter, or the way the puppet shows would appeal to children as well. That whole thing about Hamtramck being a crazy melting pot was accentuated and found its expression in such unusual sights as Esteban Castro hawking tacos burgers on a corner that features a party store and a mosque.

Late Sunday night, when a screening of A Fistful of Dollars in a vacant lot had to be stopped on account of rain, the interracial crowd of neighborhood folks and artists wound up tromping down the street, taking over a garage, and joining in an impromptu concert that lasted until midnight. People from different backgrounds who'd just happened to meet at the movie, shared a few drinks or a smoke, and became acquainted, were now making music together. 

Events don't always reach these kind of border-busting highs, but it's exciting when they do. At the very least, along with the Hamtramck Arts Festival, this is the sort of shindig that should cement Hamtramck's reputation as the Best Up-and-Coming Arts Neighborhood

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