What’s up with Hamtramck Disneyland?

Dec 8, 2016 at 7:17 am
The colorful artwork presented a fitting background for Black Merda on the cover of this year's Festival Issue. - Photo by Marc Nader
Photo by Marc Nader
The colorful artwork presented a fitting background for Black Merda on the cover of this year's Festival Issue.

For those who still don’t know what “Hamtramck Disneyland” is, a bit of introduction is needed: It’s a large piece of vernacular art produced by late Hamtramck resident Dmytro Szylak. When Szylak retired from General Motors in 1992, he began installing whirligigs and fanciful sculptures in his backyard. Over the years, they grew and became a massive, colorful attraction standing astride two garages that drew people from far and wide.

After Szylak died on May 1, 2015 at the age of 92, the future of the artwork was in limbo for a year, until this May, when headlines announced “Art group pays $100,000 to buy, save ‘Hamtramck Disneyland.” Afterward, that art group, Hatch Art, launched a crowdfunding campaign on Patronicity, seeking a goal of $50,000 from the community, to be matched by another $50,000 from the MSHDA and MEDC.

And so it’s hardly surprising that at least one visitor, familiar only with those glowing headlines, recently noticed that the artwork is being slowly disassembled, one of the garage roofs is wide open, and wondered what the heck was going on? Didn’t Hatch Art just shell out $100,000 in May, and is now flush with $100,000 in freshly fundraised money?

Well … no. As we noted back in May, saying Hatch bought the buildings for $100,000 was sort of an oversimplification: It’s closer to the truth to say that the scrappy arts collective went into hock with a clique of sympathetic investors to the tune of $100,000. The investors bought the property, with the stated intention of selling it to Hatch.

Then, when it comes to the new $100,000, Patronicity has only just disbursed the final monies a few weeks ago, and the state agencies haven’t cut a check for the matching funds yet.

In the meanwhile, the president of Hatch Art, Scott Collins, has a message for anybody who’s dropping by: Pardon our dust.

“We did take down a lot of the art because as soon as we picked it up or tried to move it the shingles underneath disintegrated,” Collins says. “All the stuff that was in contact with roof was deteriorated, so we carefully took everything off the roofs so we can repair the structure everything was sitting on. It all had to come down. It was just coming apart in our hands as we tried to relocate or move it.”

Collins says the pieces of the giant puzzle are being moved to the Hatch Art Gallery at 3456 Evaline St., where volunteers will repaint the objects and construct new platforms for the work to sit on.

“It’s very much triage,” Collins says. “With a lot of it, there’s no way to just put a coat of paint on it anymore.”

But every piece will end up coming off at some point, being reconditioned, and put back in place. The entire garage needs to be reframed, each stud sistered, just to help it bear the unorthodox load.

Although work continues on restoring the art, the units in the buildings are fully occupied, and that’s good news too, because, Collins says, “the income from that will pay down the private loan and keep us from diverting money from rehab.”

It also means three to six more artists living on Klinger Street.

Collins says the rehab should be completed by spring, when the artist’s residency will be completed, and the garages will see their final conversion, one to become a studio, and the other a gallery.

As for the artwork, it’s hoped to be completely refurbished and reassembled on the newly strengthened garages as soon as winter’s over.

“It will be looking very fresh in the spring,” Collins says.

Want to get involved helping restore Hamtramck Disneyland? Send an email to [email protected].