All posts by Steve Panton

Research – DIA Exhibition Programming

Summary: based on a comparison with eight similar metropolitan art institutes across the United States, the DIA produces one-third as many exhibitions as would be expected from an institution with its financial and physical resources.

Background: A visitor to the Detroit Institute of Arts in mid-July 2022 would have seen a total of two exhibitions. The first was an annual show of work by Detroit-area School students. The second was a small installation of paintings and works on paper created by contemporaries of Van Gogh.

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160 Ijania Cortez

Born Detroit, 1990, Lives in Detroit

In Transcendence: A Portrait of Corey Teamer, a 2018 mural by Ijania Cortez at Brush and Baltimore, the eponymous figure rotates to face the viewer through three successive images. Each image is slightly larger and at a slightly higher elevation, and this, combined with the glowing orange, Rothko-esque background, reinforces the ascendant trajectory implied by the title. 

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159 Juan Martinez

Born Bogota, Colombia, 1976 / Lives in Detroit 

In San Clara Del Cobre, Mexico, where a nineteen-year-old Juan Martinez went to trade school, and where copper working goes back to the pre-Columbian era, they do things the hard way. Standing in a close circle around a hot ingot, typically manufactured from recycled scrap, the copper-workers beat, in turn, to flatten the ingot to the desired thickness before creating the beautiful utilitarian objects for which the city is known. It is punishing labor, but there is a magic in the rhythmic blows, the cascading sparks, and the gradual transformation of the metal. 

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155 Diana J. Nucera working as Mother Cyborg

Born Chicago, IL, 1981 / BFA, San Francisco Art Institute, CA;  MFA, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, IL / Lives in Detroit

WHAT IS AN ALGORITHM?” Ask Mimi Onuoha and Mother Cyborg in their 2018 zine A People’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence. If the question appears startling in its directness, it may be because we have become accustomed to having the spotlight pointed in the opposite direction, to have algorithms direct their gaze on us. Onouha and Cyborg’s zine is a grassroots statement of non-conformity to this power dynamic.

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153 John K. Bunkley

Born Detroit, 1964 / BA, Oakland University; MLIS, Wayne State University / Lives in Detroit

I‘m a Fellini fan,” confides painter, musician, archivist, and all-around cultural polymath John Bunkley. “The question I’m always asking myself is, ‘What would Fellini do if he came to Detroit?'” It is a good question. What would the late Italian director, whose films famously interpret everyday life as a magical synthesis of dream and reality, make of the otherworldly streetscapes and raw humanity of the beautiful city of Detroit?

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152 Onyx Ashanti

Born Iuka, MS, 1970 / Studies at Grambling State University, LA / Lives in Detroit and elsewhere

Somehow, I will dissolve into one of my constructs ….. I don’t understand the process yet.”

The late Detroit poet and musician Mick Vranich described his ever-increasing estrangement from even the outermost reaches of mainstream culture as a process of moving from the underground to the underworld. There’s a similarly inexorable feel to Onyx Ashanti’s ongoing life journey of transformation, transhumanism, and, as the above quote predicts, perhaps even transmutation.

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149 W C Bevan

Born Medina, Ohio, 1986; Studies at Memphis College of Art; Lives in Detroit

Hobo hieroglyphs and graffiti conversations of indeterminate age flashing by on successive railroad cars. Buildings, streetscapes, and the signature architectural details of long-past designers. The sun, rising in the east and setting in the west. Past histories, big and small, hinted at by countless physical marks or archived records. Every W C Bevan mural begins with one foot in its local environment and the other in the artist’s eclectic but highly coherent worldview. 

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148 Kayla Powers

Born Dallas, Texas, 1988 / BA, Western Michigan University / Lives in Detroit

Sometimes I wonder if my work is really about performance,” Kayla Powers confides, offhandedly. It is a strange conjecture from an artist whose primary medium is weaving. Still, it makes sense when you realize how deeply intertwined Powers’s art is with her desire to model a particular type of relationship to the world.

Power’s work is determinedly local. She sources regionally grown fibers, and, crucially, she has developed the knowledge to create natural dyes from plants that she grows and forages in Detroit. Powers has learned these skills through a lengthy process of research and experimentation. Still, she is generous in making them available to others through workshops and how-to articles on her website. As she says, “being a good community member is important to me.”

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Advocacy – Require the WCAIA/WCC to follow a transparent process when appointing board members

Objective: Require the Wayne County Commission to follow an open and transparent process when appointing board members to the Wayne County Art Institute Authority.

Why we’re doing this: To allow the Art Institute Authority to draw from a broader pool of qualified applicants, and hence permit it to hold the DIA to higher standards of delivery.

Actions to date: In April 2021, we wrote to the Art Institute Authority requesting that the term expiration dates for the board members be added to the Wayne County Art Institute Authority Home Page.

Outcomes : in May of 2021, term expiration dates were added to the Wayne County Art Institute Authority (WCAIA) web page for all nine members, with the earliest five set to expire in May 2022.

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Advocacy – Require the WCAIA to conduct open meetings

Objective: Require the Wayne County Art Institute Authority to comply with the Michigan Open Meetings Act.

Why we’re doing this: So that the people of Wayne County can hold the Detroit Institute of the Arts to higher standards.

Actions to date: we consulted with an attorney specializing in government transparency issues, and on 9/7/20, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Wayne County for information on Art Institute Authority meetings and meeting minutes.

Outcomes: As a result of our actions, Wayne County created a home page for the Art Institute Authority which includes dates for upcoming meetings, members of the authority, minutes from previous meetings, bylaws, governing legislation, service agreements with the DIA, and other information.

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Advocacy – Require the WCAIA to account for the ~$10M/year they transfer to the DIA

Objective: require the Wayne County Art Institute Authority (WCAIA) to implement checks and balances to ensure that Wayne County’s citizens receive full value from the ~$10M/year they transfer to the DIA.

Actions and Outcome to Date:

Making the WCAIA accountable for the money they transfer to the DIA is a long-term project that we have broken into smaller steps.

1. Make the WCAIA hold open meetings and publish meeting minutes. This is complete, see here.
2. Make the WCAIA/WCC follow a transparent process for appointing board members to the WCAIA. This is in process, see here.
3. Complete a benchmark of the DIA in relation to similar museums in comparable U.S. metropolitan areas.
4. Make the WCAIA engage in a participatory budgeting process in order to get meaningful public input
5. Make the WCAIA include appropriate benchmarks and services when establishing the service contract with the DIA

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143 Halima Afi Cassells

Born Detroit, 1981 / BA, Howard University / Lives in Detroit

Multimedia artist Halima Cassells relates her artistic trajectory to the birth of her three daughters – Nele, Nia-Rah, and Nzinga. This is a perfect illustration of Cassells’s belief that creativity is a practice that is inextricably intertwined with life. Homeschooled by “hippie” parents on the East Side of Detroit before heading to Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse and Cass Tech, Cassells identifies a visit to Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project (Essay’d #109) as a disorienting, but ultimately life-changing event. “It was the first time I saw art living and breathing,” she says.

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Art@TheMax VII – online

Art@TheMaxVII was an online experience including interviews with Sydney G. James (Essay’d #68), Judy Bowman (Essay’d #132), Carole Harris (Essay’d #45), Ryan Standfest (Essay’d #110), Halima Afi Cassells (Essay’d #143), and Jeanne Bieri (Essay’d #65) It also includes excerpts from Oren Goldenberg (Essay’d #66)’s video, “A Requiem for Douglass.”

The evening also includes a special performance by DSO musicians Principal Percussion Joe Becker, Assistant Principal Percussion Andrés Pichardo-Rosenthal, and cello David LeDoux in response to Carole Harris’s work.

The entire video can be viewed on youtube via the link below

Workshop – The Questions of Curating in ECOLOGY

In this highly interactive, online workshop, participants will work collaboratively to apply the curatorial process to design and create compelling projects in the field of ecology. During the workshop, participants will work in small online groups to develop their ideas by collectively discussing a series of guided questions. At the end of the course, participants will get the opportunity to review their exhibition or project proposal with leading curators.

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Workshop – The Questions of ONLINE Curating

In this highly interactive, online workshop, participants will work collaboratively to apply the curatorial process to design and create compelling online projects. During the workshop, participants will work in small online groups to develop their ideas by answering a series of guided questions. At the end of the course, participants will get the opportunity to review either a design proposal or a working prototype with leading area curators.

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135 Tawil & Khoury

Leyya Mona Tawil, Born Livonia, MI, 1975 / BDA University of Michigan, MFA Mills College, Oakland, CA 

Mike Khoury, Born Mt Pleasant, MI, 1969 / BA(Econ) University of Michigan, MA Central Michigan University, MA Michigan State University / Lives in Northville, MI

On a sparse stage, a woman’s body rolls sideways, spinning about its central axis, ricocheting from one edge of the space to the other, back and forth, sometimes at alarming speeds and almost crashing into the audience, other times slowing down, exhausted. In comparison to the familiar, childlike, head-over-heels rolling, this movement seems alien and serious. The woman is clad in a stylishly cut, army-green, hooded raincoat and wears black boots that periodically land solidly but awkwardly on the floor, searching in vain for a physically sustainable way to continue the body’s rotation. Elsewhere on the stage, a black-clad musician holding a viola alternates between periods of repeated, siren-like glissandos and silence. There is a palpable push-and-pull between dancer and musician, but who is pushing and who is pulling is hard to say at any moment in this uncompromising performance.

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