Two years ago, I visited the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh which has been 30 years in the making. I realized then that it is truly possible to create an unconventional, sustainable, nonprofit art space. Our vision of 555 in the future:
555 owns the buildings it occupies. The roof is repaired and new energy efficient skylights are installed, water no longer leaks in. Solar panels are installed on the southwest side of the skylights, providing enough electricity to power the lighting systems for all of the studios, common space, and galleries. A green roof is installed providing additional insulation and drinking up much of the water collected throughout the year. The ceilings are insulated with shredded blue jeans or some other recycled material. Heating is no longer an issue and the staff is paid, arts programs run year-round.
The studios, exhibitions, artist residency, and educational programs are funded. Local artists occupy 50% of the studios, local colleges and universities sponsor a shared studio to instill collaboration, Artists in Residence occupy the remaining studios. The studios are provided at no charge allowing the artists to focus on their work. Classes and workshops are held in the wood shop, metal shop, media lab, sound studio, ceramics studio, and photography lab. Instructors range from Detroit artists, to national and international artists participating in the Residency program. Artist Housing is established in the Woodbridge neighborhood, providing a much needed balance for the artists working at 555. The large gallery space is utilized primarily for installations and performances. The first floor gallery continues to be utilized by local artists and students participating in the educational programs.
The large storefront windows formerly bricked in along Grand River Ave and Warren Ave. have been opened allowing the Downtown and Midtown traffic to see the life and creative energy at work. A small cafe is sandwiched in the middle of the building, providing jobs for the local artists as well as attracting additional patrons who want to drink and dine in the heart of a working art space. The billboard located at the intersection of Grand River Ave and Warren Ave is an LED screen, displaying images of artists at work, art work on display, and videos created in the media lab. Sculptures are installed around the building and throughout the neighborhood. The intersection is a dynamic and inviting entrance point to both downtown Detroit and the Woodbridge neighborhood.
Well, that's some idea of the direction we would like to go. 555 is organic, so it will change and evolve in ways that I can't imagine. For now I hope people will embrace what we are currently doing and help us work to create what is possible.
It's raining, raining hard. I'm home but I've been thinking all day about 555. Wondering how much water has made it's way into the building, either through the roof or the old skylights. Also trying to figure out how to afford the drive downtown this week.
Over the last few months I've been planning with my father to lighten the work load so that I could spend more time at 555, working on my own sculptures and moving things forward with the organization. Problem is, gas prices have gotten so crazy that working a little less makes it really difficult to get to 555. Might need to keep working full time so that I can afford to be involved with 555 and everything that has been established. It will work out though, not sure exactly how, but it will.
I just need to look again at the list of folks who have space at 555 and I'm inspired to figure it out.
ILL Magazine- a collective that creates digital music magazine highlighting local musicians, performers, artists, and designers,
District 81- owner Ty Haygood designs men's fashion,
Detroit Summer- a nonprofit collective working to provide educational arts programs to Detroit youth
Allied Media- whose members are working to develop the annual Allied Media Conference held in Detroit,
Jason Matthews- founding member of ILL magazine and photographer
Diana Nucera- Allied Media Member and multi-media artist working to establish a media lab at 555
Jenni Greer Cure- Recent Cranbrook Graduate and Printmaker working to strengthen 555's Artist in Residency Program
Nicole Parker- 555 Co-Founder, Photographer, Mixed Media Artist, and Marygrove College Arts Instructor
Eric Froh- Recent Western Michigan University Graduate and sculptor working to develop 555's Metal and Wood shop studios
Sabrina Nelson- College for Creative Studies Associate Admissions Director, DIA arts instructor, print and mixed media artist
Mario Moore - CCS Student and son of Sabrina Nelson
Erin Moran- former grant writer of Red Ink Studios in Flint and print/mixed media artistUnfortunately, we don't have the absolute cheapest space in town, Russell has the market, but we have always worked to create a space that was more than individual pods for rent. We don't want to be landlords, we want to run an art space and provide resources and opportunities to artists. The programs that we have managed to create include the studios, Artist in Residency, education, and exhibitions. We've set up 17 studio spaces, which have been reconfigured as needed, and integrated the gallery spaces so that the studio members all have immediate access. They can take a break from their own studio work and see what's new in the gallery spaces or if they need some extra flex room they can spill out into the galleries, sit in or participate in an event, discussion, or performance, or plan an exhibit or arts event of their own.
- Scott "Hully" Hullinger- a Redford middle School art teacher working on his MFA,
- Elizabeth Sutton-a photographer who works in the DIA's educational studios,
Even though we really can't afford to, we've established an artist in Residency Program, providing an artist or group of artists with space at no cost for a month or two. If we can, we find grant funding to help cover some of the expenses. The Residency program has provided space to a Chilean painter, a New York playwright, Hamtramack artist Carl Oxley III, Southwest Detroit's Mary Laredo Herbeck, and most recently Detroit Summer, whose members decided they wanted to set up for the long term at 555.
Our Exhibitions programs are up and down, as our volunteer staff waxes and wanes so to do the exhibits. Most recently we held the Ben Franklin Project.
Ben Franklin Video 1
After art school, I found a studio in the Technology Center, an industrial warehouse full of artists, craftsmen, and creative small businesses in downtown Ann Arbor. After spending a couple of months building custom furniture and sculpting in a tiny room by myself I was lured into sharing a large space with Monte, which we decided should be called 555.
As we scraped away at years of filth and funk we began to develop the idea of opening our studio work space to the public. We wanted to change the public perception that art should only be viewed in a white walled pristine gallery space by putting people in the middle of the working art studio experience. Once we opened the door we realized that we needed to make our studio available to the artists in the community that could not show their work in the downtown Ann Arbor galleries. Our studio space became a combination of gallery and work space merged into one. We exhibited art work, hosted bands, performance artists, community & student activist events, installation exhibitions, and a wedding reception for an Ann Arbor artist.
The city of Ann Arbor could not support the alternative arts scene at the Technology Center warehouse, the property was slated for demolition to make way for a new sleek YMCA. We found ourselves looking for the closest affordable work space and moved to downtown Ypsilanti, adding more artists to the group. We rented a warehouse 10 times the size of our space in Ann Arbor from the City of Ypsilanti. Studio's were set up, gallery space was built out, meetings with DDA members and city planners were held. After a year of developing the space and learning how to navigate the city red tape we found ourselves again needing to move. The city of Ypsilanti wanted to demo our building as part of the Riverside Development Project, given the choice of renting month to month while the development project moved forward or finding a new space, we started looking.
Drawn into Detroit by the prospects of finding affordable and flexible space we started exploring the city. The potential was, and still is, inspiring. As we searched for new space we began to develop the organization's structure. We wanted to provide studio and gallery space not only for ourselves but provide for other artists and educate the public about art, artists, and their roles in the community.
555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios became the official tag and we dove into researching nonprofit arts organizations and resources for the arts. While attending a Cool Cities Conference we met Ric Geyer, who at the time was an executive-on-loan to the Governor working to develop the Cool Cities Initiatives. Ric's 4731 Gallery and Studios was downtown and he was interested in purchasing more buildings. Hearing that we were interested in moving to Detroit he offered to lease space to us with the idea that we could continue to develop 555 and work to purchase the buildings from him after a couple of years establishing ourselves in Detroit. We took the offer and found ourselves beginning the process of renovation, building, exhibiting, learning nonprofit management, and cultivating relationships with artists and art supporters in Detroit.
Four years later and we are seeing the end of our 5 year lease around the corner. Feeling the effects of Michigan's economic downturn we've managed to stay afloat with the help of a diverse and persistent group of volunteers. The price of the building has grown to include several other properties and jumped close to half a million dollars. Our funds are low, we've poured ourselves and our finances into developing the space. Our goal now is to ramp up the quality of our programs, tighten our shoestring budget, and find a way to keep it moving forward.
I've been commuting into Detroit for the past four years, whenever I have a free day or a few free hours after work. Somehow I manage to make it 3 or 4 times per week and if I can't I'm online planning, networking, and brainstorming ways to further develop 555. When I make it downtown I spend my time volunteering at 555, making sculpture, and meeting ridiculously creative and talented people. I'm surprised every day by the situations and conversations I find myself in, I had always envisioned my art career being spent laboring away in my private studio tucked away in the wilderness. I can't imagine how disconnected and unaware I would have become.
I grew up knowing little to nothing about Detroit. Most of my family moved out of the city and only paid attention to the sad updates the local news provided. As I became aware of the good things going on in Detroit I was struck by the raw potential, it became clear that Detroit was the next step in my career as an artist and for 555.
I have the opportunity to direct an arts organization whose mission is to further enrich and diversify cultural life in the greater Metro-Detroit area by facilitating the development of emerging artists providing exhibition/installation space, workspace, and developing programs for the visual and performing arts. I now have a chance to blog about the work that it takes to sustain an alternative arts organization. I would like to share in the next couple of posts our challenges facing gentrification and development, the programs and resources that 555 provides, and the future plans for the organization in Detroit.