the detroiters


"Cultivating Change": Artist/Gallery Director Answers Our Four Questions



Artist and Gallery 555 Co-Director Monte (aka Jacob Martinez) started on the path of running a gallery after graduating from the University of Michigan Art School in 2002 and needing to find studio space. The space he, Carl Goines, and Andreas Garcias found in the Ann Arbor Technical Center, would become 555 on Third Street. After a year of making art there and showing other UM students in its exhibition space, 555 moved to Ypsilanti and dropped Third Street from its name. They stayed there for another year before being forced out to planned redevelopment of the property. (Note: This has yet to occur.) As fortune would have it, they met up with Ric Geyer in Detroit at a Cool Cities Conference little over a year ago. Geyer had been buying buildings in Detroit (including nearby Gallery 4731) and stepped up to the plate offering the collective a five year deal on the place. Today, 555 at 4884 Grand River Avenue is not only a place to see art, but to have working artists in the building.

In addition to Monte, 555 is run by Co-Director Carl Goines, Director of Development Nicole Parker, Exhibitions Program Coordinator Dan Gay, and Development and Communications Officer Sarah Evilisizor.

Currently Gallery 555 features "Fabric of Fear: Art after 9/11." Arts Editor Nick Sousanis' review of this powerful exhibition appears currently in Metro Times. (A version of that review will appear in archives at a later point.) While there to review the show, Sousanis caught up with Monte to ask him's famous Four Questions.

(Please check out our art exhibitions calendar here.)


Why not Detroit? People seem to be afraid of Detroit. There is a history of fear in Detroit, but if you cultivate it right this can be a catalyst for change. I guess that's one of my big things is creating change. I mean if you really think about it, people are afraid of crime in Detroit, but if you go to New York or Europe for that matter on your vacation, you might get mugged. It's not less likely, perhaps it's more likely here, but you can run into it no matter what big city you go into. For me, I'm willing to accept that here if we're going to be here.

Detroit has a lot of potential. When I first came to Detroit, I started to salivate at all the buildings that were here. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think it was possible to survive in Detroit. It should be survivable. We're here. First year. We've made it, now can we make it for another 20? We have the Scarab Club that just celebrated its 100th birthday, the Detroit Artists Market just celebrated 75 years, not necessarily in the same building, and the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit is in its 27th year. So there are precedents for the arts making it in Detroit. I hope that 555 can sustain this as well for that amount of time. It would be great to come back in 25 years, come to this space and it would be like going home.

I also think the artists of Detroit have to move out of Detroit and come back. I think there's a lot of Michigan people who stay in Detroit and never leave and don't get to see the possibilities of Detroit. If you go outside of Detroit and live somewhere else for a year or two, then come into Detroit, it's like, "Oh shit, there's a building there. It looks like the one I had in Chicago, and you can buy it here!" And in Chicago you can't.

I'm from Texas. When I left it was like Detroit. It was bad hard times, Reaganomics was in, and where I'm from, San Antonio, was depressed. When I left the arts were just starting to take shape. I come back 10 years later and the arts are thriving. And I'm pissed because I wasn't part of it. And still today I'm not part of it. And I'm still pissed. People say, I'm from there, I should be part of their dialogue, I should be part of what's going on there, but I'm not. But I'm here in Detroit, so I have to cultivate it right here, right now. This is like my other education. Graduating from UM with a Masters in Fine Arts is great, but my education doesn't stop just because I graduated. So this is the other side of my life trying to educate myself in the business of art.


We're trying to cultivate the arts - having a studio alongside a gallery creates a certain kind of energy. We have artists working in the space - already creating energy. We have artists coming from other spaces into the gallery creating more energy. You mix those two together, and when the general public comes in they're happy. We've had people come into here and say, "Wow, I have a place that I can go to that I feel comfortable, that's not a bar. I see people that are just like me." They are able to talk to people without having to get drunk (not that that doesn't happen here, believe me it does happen!)

My education comes from San Francisco where I lived for 10 years, living in a space where the arts are thriving, where my friends lived, painted, and worked in artists' lofts. I had a fourth floor to myself in downtown San Francisco, 14,000 square feet - a thousand bucks! It was fantastic, next to the water, downtown. I say that's part of my education because what I know and learned in San Francisco I'm trying to cultivate here. Not to say that San Francisco is better, but the opportunities that they've instilled in my head that I can apply to Detroit work. They work. But we need support.

As to the answer to the question "why art?" Because it's all I know how to do. You can't pull that artistic outside of me. It is who I am.


The future of Detroit lies in its youth. It's in cultivating respect for those who have and those who don't have and cutting through the lines of racism. If I was the mayor of Detroit, I'd be cultivating the arts. I mean really cultivating them. Not saying I would be cultivating them and using them for economical development, but bridging the economy and the arts together. New York, LA and other big cities are known for their arts. I think Detroit has that same potential.

Detroit is a metropolis rising if they want it to rise. Because that's what it was at one time - a metropolis. That's why I started to salivate the first time I came into Detroit. We're driving into town and I start seeing these huge buildings in the distance, and it starts looking like a Batman movie. Then you drive in and see all the crumbling buildings and you say, "Holy Fuck." [Editor's Note: Robin probably never said such a thing.] Yeah, they're ugly, but you see the potential. And that's why I'm here - because I think there's potential in Detroit.


I was thinking about that over the last few days after reading that article about Revolution Gallery closing. While it's not Detroit proper, it's still known as one of the important contemporary arts spaces in Detroit and all of Michigan. And I'm thinking, hey, that's bad, if you want to look at that as a bad thing. So now it gives us and other Detroit arts organization a boost to say, "C'mon people, get it together. Let's keep this puppy on track. Let's move this thing forward." I'm not going to die because the Revolution died. I want to make it worth even more now because the Revolution died.

I think art spaces in Detroit can survive if the community becomes a backbone. Then you at least have a chance. No community, no patrons, no support - no art.

Someone said to me art is dead, painting is dead. And I'm going, "painting is dead?" I have a hundred people in the gallery that are painting and you're telling me that painting is dead? As long as people are painting and making art, it's not dead. I hate when people say that. Trends die. Art doesn't die.

- Nick Sousanis

Who will be the next detroiter to face our four questions? Watch this space...

For a look at detroiters past, here's a few:

Mayoral Candidate, Freman Hendrix
State Senator, Hansen Clarke
Arts enthusiast, James Dozier
Community Leader, Detroit Synergy Co-Founder David Naczycz
"The Passenger" writer/director Jamie Sonderman
DEQ founder, DJ Shortround
Author Lynn Crawford
Godfathers of Techno, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson
Theatre Artistic Directors Oliver Pookrum and York Griffith
Art Gallery Directors Aaron Timlin, Phaedra Robinson, and Mitch Cope

Other (non-4 question) Detroiter interviews from our archives:
Artist Charles McGee
Artist Tyree Guyton
Artist Scott Hocking
Artist John Ganis
Sculpture Conservator Giorgio Gikas
Artist Peter Williams

© 2002