Polka dots and a parade

Sep 15, 2004 at 12:00 am

Later this month, some 500 shoes painted by Detroit children will be displayed in Sydney, Australia. Trees will be wrapped in clothing and draped in found objects, and a whole lot of polka dots will be painted, well, everywhere. Sound familiar?

Let’s start at the beginning.

It’s a small world. A few years ago a native Detroiter came back to her home city and discovered Tyree Guyton’s public art extravaganza, The Heidelberg Project. The woman, Aku Kadogo, now a resident of Australia, was blown over. Turns out the art of indigenous Australians (aborigines) commonly features circles. Kadogo wanted to make a connection between her old home and her new one, between the art of Guyton and the art of the Australians. She contacted Guyton and they stayed in touch, trying to figure out how to connect the dots, so to speak.

In February of this year, there was a riot in Sydney’s Redfern Community, a low-income, inner-city area traditionally populated by native aborigines. Turns out the poverty and racism in Sydney aren’t so different from the poverty and racism in Detroit. Kadogo saw her link.

On Sept. 23, Guyton and Heidelberg Project administrator Jenenne Whitfield are traveling to Sydney to undertake a major public art installation, performance and music event in a cultural exchange with kids from Sydney. The setting will be a Redfern park.

Guyton has been to Australia twice to begin work on the project and to meet with local aboriginal artists. He was shocked at what he found.

“Traveling 12,000 miles to another country and there are polka dots all over the place. I was dumbfounded,” he says.

Over the past few months, The Heidelberg Project has been working with children in Detroit and Royal Oak to paint and decorate shoes — that’s right, shoes — and to put notes in the shoes that follow the prompter: If my shoes could talk, this is what they’d say about me …

In this way, children in Australia will get to read messages from Detroit children. Guyton’s art in Detroit, featuring found objects and household items that blanket abandoned houses and lots and hang from trees, has always employed shoes. The shoes are potent symbols for the artist, explains Whitfield.

“Tyree didn’t have adequate shoes when he was younger,” she says, “and he had to put cardboard in his shoes. …” She says Guyton’s grandfather, who came from the South, told him of another link with shoes that had to do with lynching.

“His grandfather said all you could see was the soles of the shoes,” Whitfield says. “We’re lifting the souls/soles of the people in the community,” she says. “Shoes, they are what transports us from one place to another.”

Whitfield isn’t thrilled with the apathy the international art project and exchange has received in Detroit. The Australian government has coughed up $120,000 for the project; the U.S. Embassy in Australia has donated another $10,000. The Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore has donated a pair of her shoes and asked that “our cities become united in a mutual cultural exchange” and in her own personal note, asks for a pair of Mayor Kilpatrick’s shoes to hang alongside hers, says Whitfield. So far, no answer from Kilpatrick’s office, Whitfield says.

Whitfield says she hopes to start a Web site and bring Detroit students to Sydney. But so far, Detroit and Michigan officials are giving a lukewarm response.

“I don’t think we should have to struggle the way we are to make people in Detroit understand how this is a benefit for Detroit,” Whitfield says.

“Whether folks understand it or not, this is going to put Detroit in a very positive light.”

To raise money for the project, the Batista Gallery in Ferndale is holding a fundraiser and art opening this Friday. On display will be Guyton’s works inspired by the aboriginal art of Australia. The Heidelberg Project is asking the willing to donate $2,000 to sponsor a pair of shoes to travel to Sydney. Bring your note and shoes to the gallery.

The fundraiser takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. The Batista is located at 756 Livernois St., Ferndale. Call 248-544-4627. Tickets are $50 and a strolling supper will be provided. Please RSVP to the gallery.

Art parade hits Woodward

Walking is not an encouraged activity in Detroit. First of all, it’s hard to find places where a person can traverse more than a few blocks without crossing an exhaust-laden eight-lane highway or trip on craters in sidewalks. Additionally, motorists in this town seem to have a general disdain for those taking it pedestrian style across and along in-town byways.

But later this month, a group of artists, art-lovers and supporters of several Detroit nonprofits are getting together for a historic do-gooder Detroit pedestrian event: an eight-mile fundraising parade up Woodward Avenue (no, not on the streets fer chrissakes, on the sidewalks), from downtown Detroit to Ferndale. The Detroit Art Parade hopes to raise $10,000 for the nonprofit Detroit Artists Market, Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, Detroit Synergy, WDET and Detroit Summer. Organizers hope the money will ease a bit of the pain suffered over the last two years when Gov. Jennifer Granholm had to take out a knife and slash arts funding in half to ease hemorrhaging in the state budget.

“The cuts affect the groups in a major way. We’re nonprofit and we rely on grants and the money just isn’t there,” says Kerri Schlottman, director of development at DAM.

The march is heading “right over the Eight Mile line to symbolically show that we are right here in Detroit,” continues Schlottman. “We’re going into their space, and we want them to come into our space and check us out.”

The organizers of the first-annual Detroit Art Parade expect to see about 150 people turn out. The parade begins at 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 26. Walkers will meet in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts and then walk along the east side of Woodward to Nine Mile Road. And they’ll be no common walkers — in the tradition of the wacky art parades that take place in New York and San Francisco these paraders will be dressed as their favorite pieces of art, as individual floats, as wacky pompom girls and cheerleaders, and in other imaginative manners.

The parade will begin with a contest for best costume and best float and will make two stops at historic churches along the way.

Following the parade is a pub crawl at bars and restaurants along Woodward near Nine Mile. A percentage of food and beverage sales will be donated to the benefiting organizations. Everyone is welcome to attend — and to pledge money toward the worthy event.

A parade fundraiser will be held Friday, Sept. 17, from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the former site of the detroitcontemporary art gallery, now the new home of the nonprofit Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, at 5141 Rosa Parks Blvd. A $5 cover will be charged after 10 p.m. The party will feature food, drinks and insanely good entertainment, including local flamenco group Alquimia Humana (featuring two members of the Immigrant Suns), Polish and German electroclash from Krashpulz, Ryan Gimpert (aka Gimp) with reggae dub music, Detroit’s only multimedia Native American performers fusing traditional music with electronic sounds, jazz duo Blackman and Arnold, a return by the infamous funk night DJs Scott Craig and Brad Hales, and a raffle to win prizes such as a signed Red Wings hockey puck and artwork donated by Park West Gallery. If you want to pitch in, show up. Pledge forms can be found on the Web site: detroitartparade.org.

Lisa M. Collins is Metro Times Arts & Culture Editor. Send comments to [email protected]