A City's Spirit

Phaedra Robinson: detroit contemporary

Phaedra Robinson is a CCS graduate, director of detroit contemporary. Founded in 1998, the gallery is a contemporary arts and performance space which exhibits local and international artists of all mediums. By placing local artists alongside outsiders, established artists next to emerging, and different mediums all under one roof, detroit contemporary seeks to further the growth of the Detroit art community.


The year previous to moving here I traveled around the US for almost a year, spending time in almost every state and parts of Canada. Actually Detroit was one place that I didn't go to. I just went through Kalamazoo and Port Huron into Canada. It was very brief. When I visited (CCS) I only had a few hours and there was a certain energy that I felt. At the moment I felt it … I knew immediately that this was where I wanted to be.

I don't think there is any other places in the United States like Detroit. Just the amount of conflict and struggle that has happened here is significant. Often people have referred to Detroiters as being survivors. I think there is a lot of truth in that. I really like the sort of do-it yourself, wilderness kind of living - even though it is very difficult compared to most cities to live here. And so there's that wilderness potential. It's like - you are stranded on some island and you can build your home. It's kind of a similar thing. You don't have as much interference, and it's affordable. The potential to create out of the history that's here and the amount of raw information, and the physicality of everything.


At the point when I had to make the decision … the only real thing I could see myself being happy doing was making art. Through the process of making art and going to school and talking with friends, … a lot of ideas [came about], excitement for more venues for art here, and the possibilities of what could be done with the art here and what artists might need. I feel like running a gallery is a different form of art itself; it's like directing a larger work of art.


First of all there are some staple things about detroit contemporary that (founder and former director) Aaron Timlin and I both always felt strongly about. Showing and helping to support Detroit area artists who are young and emerging and showing enormous potential - and also showing long time artists who have been a part of creating what we have now. I believe (both groups) will always be a part of detroit contemporary. So things aren't necessarily now and then, it's all contemporary, regardless of who's making it.

One show that I am definitely very excited about, a year from now, is a curators exhibit. It's an exhibit of work, bodies of art, made by people who are full time curators and directors of art galleries. That came solely from a personal need to show. Because directors and curators of galleries are often at a disadvantage when it comes to their own art. And people don't often see them as artists, they see them as directors first and foremost. I won't be showing my own work, of course, in the show.


The positive and negative attitudes I take about the future of the city are meshed into one feeling. Right now there is an enormous amount of groups - non-profit, commercial and independent - that are all trying to do something for the betterment of the city - changes are being made. Since I moved here in '96, I have already seen an amazing amount of changes.

The other part of it is realistic negativity. There have been so many projects throughout the years [that were] supposed to turn the city around and suddenly make it a mecca and have everyone coming in throngs to Detroit. And we've seen how that has not happened.

And I think to mesh those two together and have a positive outlook on it - I think the city will hopefully always retain the essence of what is Detroit. I feel like it will also improve in a lot of ways, just for the general quality of life of the citizens here. And it already has, so much, thankfully. But I don't really feel like any time soon we will be living in the highly populated, gentrified city - like Chicago or New York. Nor do I think we need to. We have to concentrate on smaller things before we can get there.

detroit contemporary
5141 Rosa Parks Blvd.
Detroit, MI 48208
Thurs-Sun 12-6pm.


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