The biannual Art X Detroit (AXD) festival held a virtual event on Zoom on Wednesday honoring 22 local artists who created a range of exhibitions across Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck between June 2019 and July 2020.
The event coincided with the launch of a catalog showcasing the projects as well as a podcast that gives the artists an opportunity to discuss their work. Listeners can tune in to all eight episodes of the podcast now on the AXD website (artxdetroit.com). There, they can also view a virtual copy of the catalog or sign up to receive a free limited-edition print version.
AXD is a festival that celebrates the creativity of Detroit-based artists in a range of mediums, including performance art, documentary and live music. Its first three iterations, in 2011, 2013 and 2015, were produced by Midtown Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing community development in Midtown Detroit. After 2015, there was a renewed focus on reaching neighborhoods beyond Midtown, so control of the festival was handed over to the Kresge Foundation.
At Wednesday’s virtual event, Marsha Music, a Detroit writer and cultural historian, read an excerpt from her AXD project, an anthology of essays and lyric poems called the Detroitist, while AXD artists Richard Newman and Senghor Reid participated in a panel discussion about their works. For Newman, who co-directed a daylong performance piece called “Freeways and Sidestreets,” inspiration came from imagining the value of the tiny corridor between Hamtramck and Detroit. Reid, who created an interactive performance about water justice, was inspired by having visions of himself walking down Seven Mile Road in a wetsuit.
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Also at the event, Julia Yezbick played a clip from her film “Marratein, Marratein,” which explores the relationship between Detroit and Beirut, Lebanon. She talked about the heartbreak she experienced earlier this month after a chemical explosion killed at least 177 people in Beirut and encouraged the virtual audience to donate to relief funds.
In early 2019, the Kresge Foundation made a grant to a company called Creative Many Michigan to reimagine Art X Detroit. Creative Many Michigan then offered 22 local artists $7,000 each to create films, projects and exhibitions centering on the theme “Living X.”
Cézanne Charles, who was director of creative industries for Creative Many Michigan at the time, says “Living X” was meant to symbolize “an emergent and urgent time” that “wasn’t completely defined.” The national mood was intense and marked by upheaval and uncertainty.
Between the moment when organizers settled on the “Living X” theme in March 2019 and Wednesday’s virtual event, words like “upheaval” and “uncertainty” have become exponentially more relevant.
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“No sooner had we made the awards to the artists for their 22 projects,” said Charles, “than Creative Many Michigan decided to fold as a strategic decision of the board of directors.” Charles stayed on as the director and curator of AXD, managing it through her own hybrid design studio, roofoftwo in Ann Arbor.
“We could not have predicted how much upheaval and uncertainty (there would be),” Charles said. “There’s something special about the way that artists are persistent and resilient and sort of catalyzing like the present moment. It has just been an honor to see how that unfolded over the last year.”
It was important to Charles that this iteration of Art X Detroit be neighborhood-based. In the past, festival events have taken place primarily in the Midtown, downtown and Eastern Market areas. This time out, she wanted the festival to amplify the work that many artists are doing in their communities.