Anna Baghina forges the way for other artists 

The Catalyst

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Noah Elliott Morrison

The talk of artists moving to Detroit is nothing new. With big-name establishments like Red Bull Arts Detroit and other residencies and galleries opening up at a rapid rate, Detroit is making its mark as an international hub for the arts. But what does that mean for the local artists that have been in Detroit all along? Or the artists that have big aspirations, but lack the following or accolades to match? Those are exactly the questions that 26-year-old entrepreneur and musician Anna Baghina asked herself when she moved to Detroit three years ago.

Moving to the Motor City from New Jersey-via-Moscow, Baghina says she was drawn to the city based on the feeling it gave her when she visited. She was assigned to Detroit as part of the "Venture for America" program, an organization that takes bright-eyed and bushy tailed entrepreneurs and places them in cities that are encouraging more start-ups. "I know you should look at the facts and be more practical about where you're going to move," says Baghina, "but it really was a reaction to this city and it's strengths and weaknesses... I felt grounded in a real way."

However, it didn't take long for Baghina to realize the start-up tech world was not for her. She quit the job she was placed at two weeks in, and started focusing on the things she was passionate about — music and art. As a musician and emerging artist herself, Baghina saw a gap between the opportunities available for artists just starting out and those who are already established. In an effort to bridge that gap, Baghina founded the Forge, a space for emerging artists of all mediums — music, photography, visual art, film — to cohabitate and grow in their practice.

"It doesn't matter what skill level you are, where you're coming from or how you grew up, whatever," says Baghina. "You belong, and you're a part of the community once you step into the house." And the Forge is very much a home, located in Detroit's Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood, about 12 miles northwest of downtown. Baghina says this location was one of the most important things to her when the Forge was in its planning stages.

"We took a year to figure out where we belonged as an organization," she says. "That's something that was really important to me — not just plopping somewhere in Midtown where there's a lot of great resources already available, but going somewhere that was looking to add that value."

Baghina says that community involvement is one of the main things she encourages during an artist residence. This could mean a musician performing at the local farmer's market, or collaborating with neighbors to build the art garden in the lot next door. Other goals during the residencies for the artists, which last from six months to a year, are personal and artistic growth, being able to give back to the community, and getting validation for one's work.

"If you decide to do something creative, that's a very valid option, and if that's what you're passionate about there are ways to get there," says Baghina. "There's not one clear way, but here are two other roommates who are also trying to figure it out and a support system to help you get there."

A residency at the Forge can take on many shapes, but one staple is an event put on by the resident, usually involving one or more forms of art. For example, an event this February called "Love is Love" focused on making the time around Valentine's day inclusive for people of all genders and sexualities, and included an art installation and musical performances. All of the proceeds went to the Ruth Ellis Center for LGBTQ Youth — and it was completely organized by residents.

Aside from helping local artists grow and evolve, Baghina says founding the Forge has completely changed her life's trajectory. "It's the best thing I've done so far in my career," says Baghina. Since founding the Forge, she has also made strides with her own personal project, Soviet Girls — an indie-rock outfit that will release its first EP later this year — and also joined forces with Southeast Michigan indie rock stalwart Fred Thomas as the guitarist for his solo project. "It's helped me feel empowered to be a musician, and call myself a musician," says Baghina. "It's helped me overcome those fears of feeling like I can't play or even approach other musicians to collaborate."

Even more than artistic growth and a sense of community, the Forge has given Baghina and the residents that live there something that Baghina has often struggled to find in her years of moving and finding her place as a first-generation U.S citizen — a home. "New Jersey was my home, but there was always a part of me that felt nostalgic for the other place that I grew up in [Moscow]," says Baghina. "There was a lot of dissonance between cultures for a while and figuring out who I am within those two contexts, and feeling like a foreigner in both places sometimes... I guess I just thought, 'If I'm not going to find a home, I'm going to create one.'"

From our 2018 People Issue.

Next: The Advocate.

Previous: The Mediator.

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