It was an uncommonly cold Saturday in early September but I wanted to check out the Market on the Avenue that takes place twice a month on Livernois across from the University of Detroit Mercy. So I headed out on a cloudy afternoon. Apparently, most of the folks in the neighborhood chose to chill at home because the attendance was sparse.
That was too bad because the Live6 folks put together an event to be proud of as they work to enliven and revitalize things along the Livernois-McNichols corridors. There were some of the usual neighborhood festival accouterments. Drey Skonie and the Klouds Band played onstage while DJ Sassi Blaque maintained a festive atmosphere with sounds through the afternoon. There were artisans plying their wares and face painting and food. D-Town Farm had a table there selling vegetables, as well as Eastern Market.
There were also things that really made it worth my while to be there. One is that on the south end of the market space, two men were painting a mural in real time as the festivities took place. I went over and talked to the artist who happened to be Felle'.
Felle' has been in the local media recently for his big tribute painting of Aretha Franklin. Felle' is a nationally known artist who does sets for Tyler Perry's stage shows and backdrops for the likes of Beyoncé and Jay-Z. So it was cool to walk up to a guy at a neighborhood market and find out he's a famous artist. Felle' typically creates large visuals. Media referred to his Aretha painting as a "mural" but Felle' says the 100-feet mural on Livernois (between Florence and Grove Streets) is his first. Everything else is just, well, big.
But it's what Felle' was doing that I found so worthwhile. His painting "LeRoy the King" is a tribute to the late Detroit artist LeRoy Foster, who was known as The Black Michaelangelo. Foster's first name was pronounced as the French le roi which means "the king." Foster, who died in 1993, is not so well-known as the sweep and majesty of his art would warrant. His mural "The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass" adorns the Frederick Douglass branch of the Detroit Public Library.
"LeRoy the King" reflects some of Foster's work. The image of Douglass appears in two places. There is a nod to Michelangelo in there too, And a mysterious shadow figure represents Foster because among all this sweep and power created by him, he is mostly unknown.
To have the artist there to explain the story of his mural is an unusual treat. This mighty piece of work right there on Livernois shows some of the long-term commitment Live6 is giving to their effort. The Market on the Avenue is on a stretch of empty lots that take up nearly half the block. It's been cleaned up and manicured and it looks like it could become a lovely venue that is tied to the community. Foster once lived in an abandoned theater nearby on Livernois and Felle's studio is on the same street north of Seven Mile Road.
The other feature of the day that I found so enthralling was a cooking demonstration by Nessa Bandele, a natural food chef focused on plant-based foods. She made a sweet potato stew right there in front of her gathered audience and made it all come alive as she explained what she was doing and why.
As her stew simmered in the pot it looked like something my mother, who is from New Orleans, would make. Just as I thought that, Chef Nessa started into a discussion of how West African cooking came together with Italian cooking in New Orleans to help create their unique cuisine. Nessa referred to it as "diaspora" food — which apparently means that wherever black people go, we be cooking.
She gave us a money-saving tip: Whenever you have leftover food that is probably not going to be eaten, Nessa suggests that you cook it down into a broth and use that broth as an ingredient in other meals. And we had the okra discussion. As Nessa added okra to the stew a lady in the gathered audience mentioned she didn't like the slimy texture. It's a common complaint about the vegetable. Nessa pointed out that the slime was a good thing when it came to moving things out the other end of the digestive tract.
What stood out about the day was that I learned good stuff, and I saw a little more about how Live6 is working. There is one more Market on the Avenue this season (Saturday, Sept. 22), but what they are really pointing at is the Sept. 29 Light Up Livernois event as part of the Detroit Month of Design festivities. It's the third year for the design and creativity celebration on the Avenue of Fashion, with gallery tours and business specials, and they keep the lights on and operate late into the evening.
The Avenue of Fashion is a mile north of the Live6 crossing, but part of this effort is to enlarge the centers of activity and enliven the corridors between them. As more and more enterprises develop, the more the center of activity spreads out.
Right now things on the Avenue of Fashion have picked up. There's actually a big construction project right on the corner of Seven Mile and Livernois at the old B. Siegel department store site. Smaller projects dot the area, and there is a feeling that the density that drives foot traffic is almost there.
The traffic on Livernois needs to slow down some, but we are getting there. Those islands in the middle of Livernois that I hated so much when they first appeared over a decade ago are beginning to make sense. Livernois, at least in stretches, can become a green, pedestrian-friendly avenue.
Now there is a beautiful mural on the stretch across the street from UDM. Another piece of the puzzle. Each piece adds another element to the big picture — this one with deep cultural ties to the community.
Maybe that's the way to look at this whole development thing — as a big puzzle. When you start putting it together, you work on a part here and a part there as you try to get a sense of the big picture.
If you want to get a clearer sense, go to the market space on Livernois and look at "LeRoy the King." Then you get the big picture. It's 100 feet long and it's all Detroit visually, culturally, and imaginatively. Even on a cold, cloudy day you can see that.
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