Art X Detroit biennial returns, bigger than ever 

X marks the spot

Neatly summarizing what exactly Art X Detroit is all about is no easy task. Part visual art exhibition, part music festival, part lecture series, and part various combinations of all of the above, the biennial event defies easy characterization, showcasing the work of local artists awarded arts fellowships from the Kresge Foundation over the past two years. The fellows run the gamut of just about any discipline you could imagine — case in point, this year's happenings around town involve vintage Detroit techno, an elixir-making exercise, and a multi-media salute to the first human in space, among many others.

Kresge Foundation program officer George Jacobsen likens the fellowship experience to a laboratory — a series of experiments with unexpected outcomes. "What's exciting, and what comes out at Art X, frankly, is the series of conversations and collaborations that emerge organically," he says. "We don't know what we're going to get until it emerges. You're going to see something you haven't seen before."

Each year, 18 fellows are selected by a panel of local and national art experts and awarded grants of $25,000, while one eminent artist gets $50,000 — a de facto lifetime achievement award. The grant money comes unrestricted, but fellows are encouraged to explore outside their comfort zones.

"What we provide is — and I hesitate to call it this — risk capital," Jacobsen says. "We say we want to provide support for you to take your work in a different direction, to try something you haven't tried before."

All artists are expected to exhibit new work created during the fellowship period, with the exception of eminent artist Bill Rauhauser, who will display a retrospective of his Detroit street photography from the 1950s through the '80s. Additionally, Arthur R. Labrew, a musicologist and professor, died in February before his fellowship was completed, so his work will be featured in an exhibition in memoriam.

This year marks the largest iteration of the event, now extended to 10 days spread out over three weekends in April. The footprint of the event has expanded as well — previously confined to Midtown, the event now includes venues in Eastern Market and downtown. In all, there will be more than 50 events in nearly 20 venues, representing 38 Kresge fellows — 2013's visual and literary arts fellows, 2014's dance, music, film, and theatre fellows, along with the two eminent artists.

Some of the most notable events this year include a multifaceted performance by Detroit techno godfather Juan Atkins on Saturday, April 25 at the Garden Theater. Atkins celebrates the 30th anniversary of his record label, Metroplex, and 35 years of making music. His daughter, vocalist Milan Ariel, will also join him onstage, along with other instrumentalists.

Meanwhile, eminent artist David DiChiera, a composer, educator, and founder of the Michigan Opera Theatre, will stage a unique event on Sunday, April 26 at the Detroit Opera House. An Afternoon with David DiChiera invites special guest musicians and even the entire audience onstage for an intimate performance of a selection of his works.

Not all events are so celebratory, however. Writer and performer Sherina Rodriguez Sharpe's event, titled On Becoming [Unfukwitable], will no doubt be a heavy and emotional piece on Saturday, April 25 at the Garden Theater. The one-woman show revisits her experience of being molested by a family member when she was younger, with Sharpe adopting the roles of various family members and utilizing different forms of literature, from legal documents to traditional Filipino songs.

Jacobsen says that since 1924, the goal of the Kresge Foundation was, broadly, "to promote human progress." Early philanthropy focused on what Jacobsen calls large capital projects — college campus buildings, hospital wings, and art centers. In 2006, Rip Rapson, the former head of Minneapolis' McKnight Foundation, came on board as president, bringing with him a background in urban policy as well as an affinity for the arts (his father, Ralph Rapson, was a noted Modernist architect). Under Rapson, Jacobsen says, Kresge moved away from large capital projects to more numerous artist-based grants. "They're smaller grants, but perhaps no less impactful," Jacobsen says. "You can't really have a vibrant community without a vital arts and culture ecosystem. Individual artists are part and parcel to all of that."

Art X Detroit has various events planned from April 9-26. Check out artxdetroit.com for the full schedule, venue information, and reservation requirements. All events are free and open to the public.

More by Lee DeVito

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