Blog: Justin Fenwick

Justin Fenwick, community manager of the Arts Alliance, defines art as the artwork itself and also the process of starting something. This week Justin gives the shout-out to Creative Hybrids, a local class of artisan entrepreneurs who form collectives or set up an L3C, a type of enterprise combining business and social mission.

Post 1: A Third Way to Look at Art

Recently I went to a conference, Rust Belt to Artist Belt III, hosted in Detroit by Detroit Creative Corridor at the College for Creative Studies. The focus, "Cultivating Talent and Innovation to Transform Post-Industrial Cities" was lofty, but having been to a previous RB to AB in Cleveland, I also noticed a distinct difference in the attitudes of this regional transition. At RB to AB the focus was on business owners, universities, creative social entrepreneurialism, and the social issues of Detroit; this was markedly different from Cleveland.

On one hand you have Arts Purists. Cleveland's story was that artists first occupy, then revive an area, then ticket-based arts move in, thus creating a cultural destination with an arts foundation. Artists remain artists, mostly, and people love it.

Detroit, on the other hand, is being occupied by industrious creatives, or Creative Hybrids. Whether the Motor City legacy is influencing it or not, these individuals are artists and both entrepreneurial and industrial too.

Creative Hybrids are the few emerging adults sticking around in Washtenaw County. They churn out innovative events and organizations that break old paradigms. Some must-see examples are, in no particular order:

Arts Engagement:
  • 826 Michigan  - Their robot store is a fantastic approach to helping pay the rent.
  • FLY Children's Art Center  - Crafting/art outreach to adults at Corner Brewery and other events is genius for attracting energy to the project. 
  • Neutral Zone  - The FreNZ of Neutral Zone puts on fantastic fundraising events
  • Dreamland Theater  - Collaborative space for more than just a wide array of puppet shows.
Arts Events:
Collections of Creatives:
The majority of these are for-profit, but to particularly socially positive or innovative ends. The pressure to survive without old-school funding streams is forcing a change in idea execution. It's a scramble to self-sustain. Creativity combined with other influencers, instead of what we know as "the arts" is driving the passion required to solve this problem and energize our communities. Now the art is in starting something, not just art itself.

For example, Community Records L3C, a local organization I co-founded with Akili Jackon and Jesse Morgan, falls into all of the above categories (and so do a few I listed). CR L3C is a social mission organization that builds community by bringing together diverse populations through music and music education. We create relationships with people, organizations and communities to produce creative solutions to social barriers using art. We promote positivity in community music workshops (listen to youth songs), as well as, by providing musician support and employment.

We are a provider of alternative arts education. Everything we do is with the flair of building community, diversity, creativity, and relationships.

For us, running a business is about finding the best means possible to reaching our goals and successfully providing self-sustaining programming and services that have a positive impact on the communities that we are involved in. Everything from our incorporation, organizational structure, and way we focus on community relationships reflects our values and is unique. A for-profit with a nonprofit soul, something we like to call "The Third Way".

Uniqueness is common amongst this thread of Creative Hybrid projects, all with their own flavor of "The Third Way". They are doing it differently because common knowledge is failing. Michigan's long downturn is fueling fantastic change. I foresee a boom where creativity and collaboration dominate. The raw template left behind by our manufacturing past is rich in affordable assets as people or property. Positive creative sentiment is high. This is filling the market with some of the most innovative solutions nationwide. Once these get to scale (they could be both hyper-local or super-national), and some already have, we will see a creative boom that is very different from the old-school revitalizer we are used to.

Share your own example of a Hybrid or bring light to one I already listed. Is this where you see things going?

Note: The similarities in energy between Washtenaw County and Detroit requires stronger attention of us on forming partnerships, any examples?