has its origin story."
(And no, this isn't advance hype for the new Star Wars film.)
We are who we are as a culture on account of the road we took to
get here. This is no where more true than in Detroit.
Yet for a place with such a rich, if challenging past, it's rarely
something that's discussed. At least here at home. Outside the state
or abroad, Detroit is the subject of endless fascination, analysis,
and commentary. (Think Berlin's "Shrinking
Cities Project" and you've hit the tip of the iceberg.)
A series of events and exhibitions through December of this year
are set to bring that history home for at least one aspect of Detroit
Culture: The Detroit Artists' Workshop (DAW). Event co-organizer Cary
Loren (of Book Beat and Destroy
All Monsters) sat down with us to shed some light on the group's
history and the 40th anniversary celebration of DAW.
On November 1, 1964 poet John Sinclair, photographer Leni Arndt (Sinclair),
poet/filmmaker Robin Eichele, trumpeter Charles Moore and others formed
what would be known as the Detroit Artists Workshop. The group represented
what Loren calls Detroit's first "real avant-garde." While
there had been other collectives and collaboratives before this, Loren
justifies his characterization because it brought together all the
aspects of culture - writing, poetry, music, film, painting, essentially
they sought to create a bridge between culture and politics. Beyond
that, it was truly an interracial organization - seeing black and
white living together under one roof in the cooperatives (an all too
rare thing in heavily segregated Southeastern Michigan.) In fact the
Workshop came about directly after all of the founders were witness
to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a Dream Speech"
which he debuted in Detroit before presenting it more famously at
the march on Washington. "Everybody in that audience remembers
it as a pivotal moment in their lives."
The Workshop's activities were centered around the recently opened
Red Door Gallery, which brought in international and non-regional
works. There was an overlap of activities from art openings, music
performances, poetry readings, the publication of 'zines, (see The
Mimeograph Revolution here) and political activism all for the
advancement of culture and understanding between people.
emphasizes the importance of better understanding what the Detroit
Artists' Workshop did: "People don't have a sense of history;
this is an attempt to make them feel a part of it." The Artists'
Workshop directly led to the creation and fertile environment for
such things as the Cass Corridor art movement, the legendary Detroit
rock group the MC5, and poster artist Gary Grimshaw.
The threads of the Detroit Artists' Workshop played a vital role
in shaping ideas and people around the country and the world as its
influence reached out across space and time in diverse ways and locations.
Iggy Pop and the Stooges and the whole punk rock movement that spread
across the planet took their cue from ideas brewing in the Workshop.
Loren's own anti-band Destroy
All Monsters formed with Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw, and Niagara picked
up where DAW had left off. Loren states that we can see Detroit's
cultural influence on places which celebrate it more outwardly like
Seattle and even Paris, France, which in 1968 witnessed a Student
Revolution which more than a little bit resembled ideas originating
By acknowledging this history, the event is intended to help educate
people, and show that "the workshop idea never ended, and is
still relevant today." Whether we know it or not, those of us
involved in the cultural activities of Detroit today benefit from
the efforts of these pioneers who came before us and the groundwork
they created. As Loren said of Detroit then and is true for Detroit
now, "This place formed who we are" and continues to do
There are a host of connected events going on through December
31, from symposiums to exhibitions. To find out more about all the
events around the 40th anniversary of the Detroit Artists' Workshop:
For Cary Loren's article on the Mimeograph Revolution click here.