few weeks back I caught up with Rice at the Bankle Building, (Woodward south of
Mack) which serves as his event headquarters and residence, to discuss the festival
and his commitment to community over the years. This particular evening Rice has
found a few minutes out of his busy schedule of planning "It's Okay, We're
Here" an event intended to commemorate the six month anniversary of Detroit
By Design's events programming and raise funds and kick off the excitement for
the Woodbridge Summer Fest. We're sitting just outside the back side of the building,
while inside, the Bankle is abuzz with activity as volunteers are hard at work
hanging the skate-board related art show and laboring feverishly to construct
a wooden half-pipe for use by professionals at the event now less than 24 hours
away. Despite all that's going on around us and all that's left to get done, Rice
is surprisingly calm - indicative of his lengthy experience with such things.
And so it is no surprise to learn that this dedication to community that
goes with planning these events has its roots deep in Rice's past. He credits
community organizations as helpful role models in his own transition into the
responsibilities that come with adulthood and realizing that there are other outlets
towards being a part of society beyond just working at one's job.
early outlet as a young adult for this desire to build community took shape with
"Super Bad Ass Productions," an edgy, specials event planning company
Rice founded about 10 years ago. The outfit put on multimedia shows with art,
music, and fashion side by side, and achieved such success that the Metro
Times declared him the "Party Engineer" back in 1999. But at some
point, that life wasn't enough, and Rice took time off from event planning and
traveled. An extended stay in London had a profound influence on his approach
to community, and he finally returned to Michigan and specifically Ann Arbor to
He quickly reconnected to the local cultural communities and
was instrumental in helping Gallery 555 come to Detroit. At this time he also
became reacquainted with car designer and painter Camilo Pardo owner of the Bankle
Building. Although working as an ophthalmic photographer in Ann Arbor (and commuting),
Rice leaped at the chance to reestablish himself in Detroit and soon took up residence
in the Bankle Building and began planning events for the space.
With this new beginning came a new philosophy, and to reflect this
transition into a more inclusive community organization, he changed
the name of his former event planning company to Detroit
By Design. Rice describes DBD as a, "Community centered
arts collective that supports and promotes thought provoking music
and performance and artistic exhibitions while being mindful of
its impact on a larger local community." All this happened
six months ago and things have been pretty much non-stop since.
even these successful events were not enough, as, "For me, there has to be
something more than just putting on an event that's really fun and just showing
art work. It's important that those things are out there, but I want to see results
in affecting the broader community." As Rice got more involved in the community,
he got to know people working in and around the Woodbridge area, including Ric
Geyer of 4731, Phaedra Robinson who among other
things is part of Art on the Move and founded the Center for Creative Exchange,
and Aaron Timlin, of the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID).
In Rice's view, the Woodbridge area is the hottest new arts and culture site in
Detroit. "I see Woodbridge being Detroit's next big success story over the
next two years and I want to be a part of it."
And so a festival was
born. As the idea for the festival began to take shape with the contributions
of local community leaders and local artists, the Woodbridge Neighborhood Development
Corporation, a non-profit housing development organization founded by resident
Ed Potas threw their support behind it. Like other Detroit neighborhood festivals,
this represents a great opportunity to do something large scale for the local
community, and so the organizers went about recruiting as many local cultural
organizations as possible to sign on to participate in the event.
site for the festival is Scripps Park on the corner of Grand River and Trumbull
Ave. This wedge-shaped park was built by George Booth, founder of Cranbrook Academy,
and named for Detroit News founder James Scripps, both early residents of the
neighborhood, along with Detroit baseball great Ty Cobb. Improvements are being
made on the park, including $20,000 worth of work by Deloitte and Touche, part
of which went towards the restoration of the park's Pergola (an arching entranceway)
which will serve as an electronic stage.
The events of the day will showcase
the achievements of the neighborhood residents and local arts organizations over
the last year. In fact, 80% of the musical acts are residents of the community.
Detroit City Councilman Ken Cockrel, Jr., will be on hand to commemorate a significant
achievement for the area - a Cool Cities designation worth $100,000. It's important
to note that by holding a successful event as this one in the neighborhood, it
goes a long ways towards showing granting organizations that this is a viable
venture in which to devote greater resources. In addition to being a great way
to spend a Saturday in August, Rice describes the festival as an important opportunity
to pool resources and create coalitions, an opportunity that "we as a community
can't afford to pass up."
For Rice, this commitment to Detroit and
its communities is not without sacrifice. He declined an opportunity to go to
graduate school in art at the University of Michigan to keep active here. He doesn't
offer this with a hint of regret but an optimism and enthusiasm for the city.
"This is a wild ride. I want to hang on and see where it leads. There is
too much potential in Detroit and the people I'm working with between community
building, non-profits, development corps, and more to let go now. I feel like
there's something kind of special growing in Detroit."
this enthusiasm, optimism, and dedication in Rice and his collaborators that make
this festival possible, and the larger project of making Detroit more livable
something one can imagine as becoming reality. By bringing all the different organizations
together, the Woodbridge Summer Fest should go a long way toward having a lasting
impact on the community at large.
However you can get there - walk, bike,
skate, or drive if you must - head on over to Scripps Park this Saturday and be
a part of something special.
The festival takes place Saturday, August
13, 2005 from noon to 10pm.
For a complete list of all the musical acts, artists,
performers, and vendors that will be on hand for the festival, please go to: www.Woodbridgesummerfest.com
- Nick Sousanis (firstname.lastname@example.org)