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Culture Lab creates space for dialogue and beauty in Detroit

Without a brick & mortar space, Culture Lab hosts essential dialogues around the city

Photo by Gabriela Baginski courtesy of Culture Lab Detroit

What is beauty, how do we define it, and how does art alter—or enhance—our perception of what beauty is?

In addition to being ethereal questions to answers, all three were posed to a diverse, well-articulated panel during Culture Lab Detroit’s most recent duo of dialogues.

Thursday night’s dialogue intended to discuss the interaction of technology and beauty, and to see where they meet and where they don’t. The dialogue took place at the Senate Theater in Southwest Detroit. “It was meant to be a conversation where one could close their eyes and listen to topics that affect us all on the level of the universe,” says Culture Lab Detroit founder Jane Schulak.

From The Aesthetics of Tomorrow
Photo by Trista Dymond
From Seeing and Being Seen
Photo by Olivia Gilmore

Friday evening’s dialogue, at The Church of the Messiah in Islandview, took a different approach and addressed the theme of “Seeing and Being Seen.”

“We looked at this topic in terms of gentrification. It was equally a conversation about the color of your skin—a topic that is so relevant to today. It was very much a black space, but a very open space simultaneously. Instead of keeping one’s eyes closed and listening, it was meant for everyone to keep their eyes wide-open,” says Schulak.

Seven years ago Schulak began working in Detroit’s art scene. She noted most of Detroit’s neighborhoods felt separate from one another. In her own words, “It felt as though there was very little physically connecting the various pockets within the city. It was hard to know what each community was doing.” Hence, Culture Lab Detroit was born.

Schulak says that CLD focuses on the social practices that occur in the Detroit community. Most importantly, CLD highlights Detroit’s cultural production for the world to witness. “When CLD was born, I loved the idea of presenting dialogues in neighborhoods where people wouldn’t normally have access to such talks. Culture Lab Detroit brings sophisticated conversations to unlikely places. Culture Lab Detroit simply doesn’t exist without the village behind behind it.”

What started out as design conversations has quickly grown into conversations concerning the lives of those who live in Detroit. In this moment, Culture Lab Detroit is naturally flexible and open. It’s not an institution with bricks and mortar. It’s a mobile, social practice that can ultimately land anywhere. “We have leaders and activists helping from all over so that their Detroit neighborhoods are represented,” says Schulak.

“These dialogues are, in their own way, performance pieces,” Schulak says of the events themselves. “The audience is very much a part of the performance as well. I’ll admit, sometimes the chemistry between speakers is better than others. The strongest feedback we’ve received so far was given on Friday night. Attendees of the event were given the opportunity to talk about how they really felt within their current positions and frustrations.”

When I asked Schulak what’s next for CLD, she said, “to be honest, it’s a little secretive. I promised myself not to think about the next set of dialogues all last week, and to simply enjoy the moment. However, our brains rarely do what we tell them to.”

Although it’s unknown as to what’s next for Culture Lab Detroit, there’s little time for rest. “I’ll admit, you really don’t know how everything is going to go. It’s live, it’s scary, but that’s the fun of it and the point. Culture Lab Detroit is built to just go. We’re all involved in creating the canvas together.”