HATCHing Creativity

With a propeller-topped head, a ham sandwich and smoking jacket for a torso and a pair of fishnet-clad legs shyly responding to cheers and applause, man, woman, child and lunch are whimsically welded together by a quartet of artists. The mixed media piece is part of the Exquisite Corpse collage exhibit hanging on the walls of Hamtramck's Café 1923. Created by the members of HATCH, these collaborative art pieces provide the perfect metaphor for what this Hamtramck arts incubator and collective hopes to achieve.

Old idea, new application

Business incubators – organizations that help young companies survive and grow – are common; arts incubators for artist entrepreneurs are a rarity. HATCH was conceived as "a place where art can breed, where ideas are born," explains its founder and president, photography professor Christopher Schneider. Impressed with the number and quality of local artists he had worked with on Hamtramck's Beautification Commission, Schneider – and at the urging of Erik Tungate, the city's director of community and economic development – formed a nucleus of 12 artists in 2006 to launch HATCH. The mission: to provide a networking outlet for artists; offer affordable studio space and assistance in getting works to market; and to provide educational classes, art space, and exhibits for the community. The plan must have struck a nerve because in little more than a year, membership has grown to 52; attracting cartoonists, poets, photographers, sculptors, painters, musicians, architects, fashion designers, ceramicists, and printmakers.

Though the value of arts and culture organizations have long been promoted –the creative sector is estimated to contribute $2 billion into Michigan's economy annually and employ 108,000 people– organizations like HATCH are too few and far between. But attitudes are changing and local leaders are warming to the notion of support. Neeta Delaney, president and CEO of ArtServe Michigan, a non-profit arts and culture support and advocacy organization, says the new economy is based not only on knowledge, but also on ideas and invention. "To be successful economically, you have to attract talent," Delaney explains. "These creative workers are the same ones who form new companies. Economic development involves far more sectors than in the past."

Room to grow

And the arts have fabulous growth potential in southeast Michigan. Schneider, who moved here from Florida to receive his MFA in photography from Bloomfield Hills' Cranbrook Academy of Art (U.S. News and World Report places it in the top five art schools in the nation) says: "In Detroit, you're able to do something if you have the desire. In New York it would be impossible – too big, too expensive, too many things already. Detroit has a lot of need. It has a large population, but not as many art and educational outlets or galleries as comparable-sized cities," says Schneider, who is also founder and director of the Cranbrook Summer Art Institute for teenagers. Since its inception in 2004, enrollment has more than tripled from about 50 to 160 students today, he says. "The success of the [Cranbrook Summer Art Institute] program is indicative of that need."

It's vital to ensure that our young, who represent the future, have good exposure to the arts. Delaney explains that arts classes, now required in Michigan's new high school curriculum, consistently encourage necessary outside-the-box thinking because "when we're trying to cultivate an imaginative and creative workforce, it has to be nurtured somewhere."

Delaney also believes that community-based arts education, such as the courses in song writing, watercolor painting, and relief print making that HATCH offers, is an essential component to building a creative community. "People don’t want to be merely consumers of art, but also participants. They become more engaged in their communities and realize their own creative potential, which will flow over to their professions."

Creative capital

ArtServe has lobbied legislators for the primacy of arts and culture funding to Michigan's reinvention and the efforts have gained some traction. Delaney says the bill that reduced state funding for the arts now includes non-binding language saying the state intends to restore the cuts in fiscal 2008. In addition to shaping public policy, "ArtServe can also focus on working with communities and regions on innovative pilot projects, of which arts incubators and collectives are a natural," she suggests. "Investing in these groups shows that Michigan thinks highly of creativity and artist entrepreneurs. The buzz eventually seeps out across the country. You'd be surprised at how informally networked creative individuals and artists are; they have a good read for which regions of the country are supportive and inviting to them."

And vibrant areas hold a lot of allure for the workforce. "People get a good impression of a place if it has art hanging around, some landscaping, murals, and coffeehouses. Artists are bringing some life to the community," says HATCH charter member and course instructor Matt Feazell, cartoonist and creator of The Amazing Cynicalman comics series. "There's an active group of cartoonists in the area, about nine of us who meet at the coffeehouse on Wednesday nights. We're always putting out zines, going to comics shows, and talking up our stuff," says Feazell. He is also working on his fourth book of comics, The Death of Antisocial Man, set in an Ypsilanti boarding house – "a mythical Ypsilanti of the mind." It is artists like Feazell whose creations and presence here make our cities invigorating places to be.

Popular HATCH-hosted events also bring color and verve to the city. Schneider is proud that the group's first juried exhibit, "Hatched" attracted over 80 entries and about 400 people to its opening, a considerable draw considering the intimate size of the Café 1923 coffeehouse. Dr. Sketchy figure drawing classes – held monthly at Hamtramck bars – feature burlesque dancers, transvestites, and belly dancers as models. And "Jam Down in Hamtown", a local concert series, showcases local bands strumming to the ears of the crowd.

Although HATCH has been very active in the community, it still lacks a permanent home. In a fine example of local business and artist collaboration, HATCH and its exhibits are now headquartered in the Café 1923 coffeehouse – a former butcher shop of Kowalski fame, now adorned with a tin ceiling, gleaming oak bar and restored meat cooler. By 2008's end, however, the group hopes to acquire and renovate a building to formalize its operations, says Schneider.

The vision is to provide studio space for 12 artists, an exhibit hall for galleries and performances, classrooms, a gift shop, and a community art space containing a darkroom and kiln, among other equipment. The old police station across Evaline Street from Hamtramck's city hall is a promising location and Tungate confirms the building is under consideration.

But major challenges still lie ahead; namely securing the $150,000 in funding that Schneider estimates will be needed for renovations. HATCH has started holding fundraisers and plans to apply for grants after approval of its application for 501(c) (3) nonprofit status. The recent $3.6 million cut in state funding for the arts will make it tough, but Schneider counters: "We're undaunted. There are other avenues, such as using sustainable building practices – putting in a green roof and using rain barrels. We'll teach the community about how they can employ these technologies themselves. There will be grant money for those aspects of it."

Schneider thinks southeast Michigan is primed for more artist incubators like HATCH because he sees the region, and Detroit in particular, as "an urban forest, ripe for anyone to come in and establish themselves in its 16 square miles of unused property. It's very unusual to have both a dense population and space."

Much as Automation Alley, SPARK and MichBio are committed to nurturing the local entrepreneurial landscape, creative incubators like HATCH can cultivate our creative landscape, turning Metro Detroit into a region known as much for its creativity as its industry. Delaney says, "Every business should ask itself how it can incorporate art, music, dance, and design into its operations to create a more exciting, interesting, total experience for its employees and clients. The arts are wonderful for fleshing out those kinds of experiences."

Tanya C. Muzumdar is a regular contibutor to metromode. Read her last article for metromode, Betting On Women.


Exterior of Cafe 1923, home of HATCH

Christopher Schneider - founder of HATCH

Interior of a recent HATCH exhibition at Cafe 1923

4 panel mixed media artwork on display

Photographs by Dave Krieger - All Rights Reserved

Dave Krieger is the managing photographer for our sister publication Model D.  Dave is a major contributer to metromode.
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