Blog: Christopher Schneider

Christopher Schneider moved to the Detroit area in 2001 to attend the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Since then he earned an MFA, taught as an adjunct professor at five Metro Detroit colleges and started two non-profit programs: the Cranbrook Summer Art Institute, which offers classes to teenagers on the Academy of Art campus, and Hatch: A Hamtramck Arts Collective, which has grown to over 50 members in its first year. He is also a photographic artist.

Though he's only lived in southeast Michigan since 2001, Chris has sunk his roots into the region. He explains why.

Photograph by Dave Krieger


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Christopher Schneider - Most Recent Posts:

Post No. 5

 
Ah, what would Michigan be without the Upper Peninsula? I've just returned from a fantastic camping trip up there. Angry Lake Superior, placid Lake Michigan, Pictured Rocks, local eateries and wildlife galore—I couldn't have asked for anything more. And believe it or not, I actually saw both a mink and a lynx! Now who among you can say that?

One striking thing about the UP is that it doesn't really want to be a part of Michigan. In fact, every now and then the Yoopers vote on whether or not to secede and form their own state. I can't blame them—they are definitely disconnected from the rest of our state in ways more than just geography.

All I can say to the UP is, please don't leave us! I promise to spend my vacation dollars on you. I promise to speak well of you and to not make fun of your accent. I promise to visit at least twice a year and to kill my share of mosquitoes. I promise to be friendly to the locals and to not act like an obnoxious urbanite/suburbanite. I promise. I promise. Please stay. Michigan needs you.

On another note…oh how I wish I would hear someone beg Detroit in a similar way! Even though I'm feeling mellow, healthy and happy after spending three days in the UP (even with an aching back from heavy canoeing), I find I still have these fires burning within. Oh Detroit, how I love thee! Why don't you get more love?!

Did you know…

…Insurance companies do not want to insure cars or houses in Detroit? Despite a 20+ year good relationship with my insurance company, upon moving to Hamtramck my auto insurance went up exactly three times my previous rate! Then when I requested that they insure my home, they denied me. The reason? My detached garage was in poor shape.

… Mortgage companies do not want to invest in Detroit? I was approved for a $150,000 home loan for down payment on a house in the Detroit suburbs. Yet I was denied a $50,000 home loan from that same company for down payment on a house in Hamtramck.

… Utility companies virtually ignore Detroit customers? When I bought my home in Hamtramck, it took two months to turn on the gas and electric. Two months! Once I filed a complaint with the State of Michigan, it was turned on the very next day.

But, did you also know…

…that Detroit was named the most liberal city in the US? Yes, it beat out Seattle, San Francisco and Cambridge. The Bay Area Center for Voting Research ranked every major US city according to its voting records. Detroit turned out to contain the most staunchly liberal voters, followed by Gary, Indiana and Berkeley, California. The most conservative? Provo, Utah.

Post No. 4

Hurting cats

Not too long ago I was being interviewed for a publication. She wanted to know what is toughest part about running the non-profit art collective called Hatch. I told her that sometimes it is like herding cats. She sheepishly laughed.

A week later, just before the story was heading to the printer, she asked, "I don't understand what your group has to do with hurting cats."

Thus, lesson #1 in starting a non-profit:

Watch what you say. A-n-n-u-n-c-i-a-t-e.

Actually, lesson #1 is to start with a reliable core group of people to build around. Watching what you say is more like lesson #14.

Lesson #2 is to do something that is actually fun. For example, one of our first organized events was Dr. Sketchy, where we regularly host a figure drawing session at The Belmont bar in Hamtramck using burlesque dancers, cross-dressers and other enjoyably notorious folk as models.

Lesson #7 (I am skipping the boring ones) is to make friends. We made friends with Hamtramck's newest coffee house, Café 1923. Now we have a place to exhibit work, host meetings, and sit around thinking about what my next photo project should be (red pants… portajohns… stuffed animals…bachelors…).

Lesson #11 is to pay attention not to those who talk a lot but to those who actually do things. Whenever I hear someone start to say, "You should…" I tune them out. What they are going to tell me is that they have a great idea that they have no intention of pursuing themselves.

Lesson #21 is to find a benefactor that will help us get our very own building. Um, we still need this one (ahem).

Since starting Hatch a little over a year ago, we have grown to over 50 members who come from all over the area. We host booths at festivals, go on gallery crawls, create printed material (and Hatch patches!), critique each other's work, and find any number of ways to get our artwork out in front of your eyes. Our plans for the future is even more grand. There's talk of a fashion show, a record label, book publication and the biggie—a community art center. All of this is possible because on one giant reason. I'll call it reason #25: Living in and around Detroit makes this possible. It has the creative class, the space, the need and it will have the funding.

Recently The Detroit News ran an article with the headline, "Detroit's art scene fades: Area leaders see young talent moving away and local galleries closing". This is quite a declaration coming from a paper that doesn't have a section that covers art and culture in the area (unless their anime blog counts. I kid you not—they have an anime blog and nothing on art). Is the sky falling, too?

Let me just say pbtht to that.

Want to be up on the local art scene? Try The Detroiter at for all things involving art, theater, literature and music. Or ask Mr. Dozier to be added to his email list at dozier0568@sbcglobal.net. You will receive a weekly rundown of all the art shows in the area along with his own pearls of wisdom.

Of course, you will also want to keep up with what Hatch is up to at www.hatchart.org.

Post No. 3

Oh, imagine what Tiger Stadium could be!

Recently the city of Detroit decided what to do with the old Tiger Stadium — turn it into a parking lot and a little league ball field.

While the ball field idea is cute… what a missed opportunity! Detroit is thinking small at a time when thinking big and optimistically could be winning people over.

Let's think what else our historic stadium could be. I know, the place is old and needs repair, but seriously, how bad can it be? It handled a million visitors just a few years ago. Besides, with the right vision, the expense of rehabbing it would be nothing compared to the draw that such a monumental building could offer. So what should it become?

It could easily be the most unique (fill in the blank) in the country.

Library. YMCA. School. Who in the country wouldn't say, "Detroit is turning Tiger Stadium into a school? That's cool!"

And I have one more suggestion: a community art center.

Look at the example of Hamtramck. Erik Tungate, Community and Economic Developer of Hamtramck, is currently working to turn the town's old police station into an art center. The act alone gets people's attention. It also sends the message that exciting things are happening in Hamtramck. In return, the city gets a new art gallery and an area where creative people can develop their craft. As you look across the nation you can find many examples of cities that have turned themselves around by encouraging the creative class to move in and rejuvenate the place (just look at Cleveland, Houston or NYC neighborhoods such as Williamsburg and Chelsea).

Pittsburg turned an old mattress factory into an art center (and called it "Mattress Factory"). Alexandra, Virginia turned an old torpedo factory into an art center (and called it "Torpedo Factory"). Turning Tiger Stadium into an art center would top them all. It would be spoken about for years to come. It would put national attention on the Detroit art scene, too, and do wonders for changing our image. Imagine the sculptures on the field! I venture that it could become one of Detroit's top tourist attractions.

What message is Detroit sending to us by tearing down the stadium? Not a good one. While Tiger Stadium (a positive symbol of the city's history) is torn down, the old train station (a symbol of disappointment and decay) continues to stand. Nothing new, nothing exciting, just a few more acres of Detroit's 16 square miles of unused property.


Post No. 2

If they only had a football team

Most Michiganders know that the University of Michigan’s football team was ranked #5 in the nation a week ago --before losing to Appalachian State and falling out of the rankings altogether. 

Most Michiganders do not know that the Cranbrook Academy of Art is ranked as the fifth best art school in the nation (yes, they even rank art schools —“they” being the US News and World Report). However, the school has had some important losses in the past year.   

Three department heads retired or moved away, including Carl Toth, who was recently awarded "Educator of the Year" by the Society of Photographic Educators. The senior member of the faculty, Tony Hepburn, has already announced he will be retiring at the end of the school year. Considering there are only ten faculty members, a lot of new blood is coming.   

But that is not all. Cranbrook has four full-time administrators. Three of them left their positions this summer, including Gerhardt Knodel, director of the Academy, taking with him over three decades of service. 

I can see the gossip mongers perking up. So what is happening? Is everyone fleeing the state and its floundering economy? Is something scandalous going on behind the scenes? 

I am sorry (for the sake of this blog) to report that, no, nothing juicy, sexy or wicked is happening. It is just a long series of coincidences. But to make this more sensational, I will blame it on ghosts. And the lack of a football team. 

I attended the Academy of Art, graduating in 2003. Cranbrook was the one and only reason I moved to the area, and it has been one of the main reasons I have stayed. They allowed me to begin a summer program for teenagers called the Cranbrook Summer Art Institute, and they stuck with me as it struggled through its first two years. Now in its fourth year, things have changed around. Over 160 students from five countries (including Iceland!) and 18 states came to our campus to take a three-week class.  

If my program is any predictor, Cranbrook may have a couple of tough years ahead —although it certainly won’t fall as far and fast as the Wolverines. Carl Toth’s replacement, David Hilliard, taught at one of the few schools ranked higher than Cranbrook—Yale. Gerhardt Knodel is replaced by Reed Kroloff, a sparkplug of a leader from Tulane. Old guard out, new guard in and now we wait and see. 

Here’s my piece of advice: think football. 

For information about the Cranbrook Summer Art Institute, visit www.cranbrookart.edu/summerinstitute

Yes, I know it needs to be updated.


Post No. 1

Why live in Detroit?

I was browsing through one of the junk shops at the Great Lakes Crossing mall when I found a t-shirt that read, "Friends don't let friends move to Detroit".

As someone who is relatively new to the area, I do not fully understand why there is this intense hatred of Detroit by fellow Michiganders. People have tried to explain it. They say it is the worst crime city, but I lived in Fort Lauderdale where they have an equal or greater crime rate and Floridians do not hate that city. They say it is terribly segregated, but South Florida is equally as divided by race and culture (neighboring schools will be 97% black and 95% white). They say it is an empty shell where no one wants to go. I grew up in Nebraska. The same can be said about that entire state, yet I can tell you its residents are passionately loyal to their home.

I don't buy the reasons I am given. Instead, I attribute it to something like this: when I was a child, it was popular to tell jokes about the Polish.

What did the Polack say when he walked into the bar?
Ouch!


It wasn't until I grew older that I questioned why the Polish had to take the brunt of our jokes—and the answer was that there was no reason. We simply, ignorantly accepted the idea that all Polish people were dumb.

When I moved to Birmingham to attend the Cranbrook Academy of Art, I was told that if I went to Detroit I would probably get shot. There was a mystique about the place, like the awe we feel watching a tiger in a pen. Nevertheless, I was lured down there from time to time. I never got shot! In fact, I found the city full of vibrancy and potential. When I graduated, I could have moved anywhere in the country. Instead, I packed my things up and moved from Birmingham to Hamtramck. It was a smart decision.

So why move to Detroit (or Hamtramck, a town nestled within the loving arms of Detroit)?

  1. The property value is low. I bought a crackhouse from the federal government and pay less in mortgage for a three-bedroom home than I did in rent for a one-bedroom apartment.
  2. The neighborhoods are neighborhoods. Families hang out on their porches, talk to those who walk by. When I am gone, my neighbors take care of my yard and water my plants. When I moved in, they welcomed me with food.
  3. The cultural mix is rich. On my street, there are at least four languages spoken. I can walk to a Polish bakery, a Yemeni grocery, or a Bengali restaurant. Local festivals and events celebrate uniqueness instead of suppress it or water it down.
  4. Opportunities are everywhere. Call me an eternal optimist, but when I drive around, I see some building and think, "Wow, that would make a great place for art studios." Or "Wow, if someone would just clean that up it would be gorgeous lofts."
  5. The entertainment is in place. Detroit has the best restaurants of any Michigan city. It also has the DIA, the stadiums, the concert halls, the galleries, the new river walk and Belle Isle. Then there is the music scene. In Hamtramck alone there are over a dozen venues playing live music—and not a single one of them will be a cover band.

That's right—I am a former Nebraskan singing the praises of Detroit.

By the way, the anti-Detroit t-shirt I found at the mall accidentally fell off the rack and was trampled on several times with very dirty shoes.

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