The Detroit Artists' Workshop:
Threads from the Past, Fabric for the Future

an interview with Cary Loren

by Nick Sousanis

(note Cary Loren's Mimeograph Revolution article appears here)


"Everything 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.

Loren 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 in Detroit.

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 so today.

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.





© 2002