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Detroit Art Week gets bigger, bolder in year two

The five-day festival beginning July 17 features 36 exhibitions with over 150 artists

Detroit Art Week founders Aleiya Lindsey and Amani Olu
Courtesy Olu & Company

Amani Olu and Aleiya Lindsey have big goals for the second year of Detroit Art Week. The festival founders hope to bring in more guests and have a bigger impact, all while raising the profile of Detroit artists to a global audience.

“Our vision is to put Detroit on the map for contemporary art with a capital ‘A,’” says Olu, who’s also the founder of the arts marketing firm Olu & Company, which produces the festival.

In terms of programming, Detroit Art Week is growing substantially—from three days to five, from over 100 artists to over 150, from 19 exhibitions to 36, from just downtown to all over the city. There will also be 16 studio visits, 10 performances, 10 panel discussions, and eight special programs. Detroit Art Week also got 19 area galleries to coordinate exhibition openings during the festival.

Programming will take place across many partnering galleries and event spaces, almost all in Detroit. Most exhibitions will be open throughout the day, so guests get to decide which venues to pop into, then maybe head to a panel discussion or performance, and end the night with an afterparty.

One highlight of the festival, which takes place from July 17 to 21, is “Young Curators, New Ideas V,” where 12 emerging curators exhibit work that tackles challenging subjects around race, sex, and politics in a 256-square-foot room at the Trumbull and Porter Hotel.

“Box of 64,” a sculpture and performance by Derrick Woods-Morrow that will be featured in a “Young Curators, New Ideas V” exhibit.
Nathan Keay, courtesy of the MCA Chicago

Others include “Show me your Shelves!,” a performance by black artists from Germany and Detroit; “Halal Metropolis,” which examines Muslim visibility in southeast Michigan; and daily studio visits to some of the city’s most respected artists.

Almost all the participating artists are from Detroit.

“We’re inviting the world to come in and experience contemporary art in the city,” Olu says. “This is different from other festivals that bring in major artists on a circuit. We’re saying that the work being made here is already really interesting and dynamic and powerful and we don’t have to bring in major artists in order to attract people. Detroit, as a place of innovation, should be enough.”

The organizers hope those guests come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Collectors should have a lot to be excited about. “We want to make collectors, or people who want to buy art, proud to do it in Detroit, instead of going to New York or Chicago,” says Aleiya Lindsey, co-founder of Detroit Art Week.

But they also tried to make it accessible for non-collectors or art buffs. The studio visits can help provide an entry into artists’ often challenging work. And the only ticketed events are the “Young Curators” exhibition, which costs $5, and the opening night after party, which costs $30. Everything else is free.

“There’s a lot of stuff at art openings designed to make people feel like they’re not supposed to be there,” Olu says. “We can’t cure that, but we can say it’s free and open to the public, and if you’re curious, you can go.”

Olu & Company want Detroit Art Week to be big—it’s already much bigger in year two—but it’s not in a rush. Currently the firm is underwriting the entire festival and hasn’t pursued grants.

“We want to start it off slow, build it, so that when a major financial institution decides it wants to support, we don’t have to compromise because we know we can do it without money,” Olu says. “Funding would strengthen, but not change it.”

It’s already developing some plans for 2020, including hitting the road with artists to attend art fairs or panels in other cities.

Given the trajectory from year one to two, Detroit Art Week could develop into something much more significant in the years to come.