All posts by Steve Panton

Metro Detroit Arts and Culture Not-for-profit Sector Financial Overview Part 2 – Tax Returns

This report analyzes how economic and cultural capital circulates in the Metro Detroit not-for-profit arts and culture ecosystem by analyzing the tax returns of the 50 biggest art and culture nonprofit organizations. It asks questions such as how big is the sector? What % of it comes from philanthropic sources? What does this fund? What are the prevailing investment strategies?

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DIA Millage Mid-Term Scorecard – Executive Summary

This report provides a RYG scorecard for the first ten years of the DIA Millage (2013-2022). It addresses the impact of the millage on the DIA’s Finances (which we rated GREEN), the DIA’s Performance in converting resources into services and programming (which we rated RED/YELLOW), how effectively the Governance process (through the Art Institute Authorities) has operated (which we rated RED), and how effectively the Service Contract(s) have represented the interests of the residents of the Tri-County region (which we rated RED). Based on this analysis we present seven recommendations for the new Service Contract.

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Metro Detroit Arts and Culture Not-for-profit Sector Financial Overview Part 1 – Funding Streams

This report examines that the total publicly reported, ongoing philanthropic funding support for arts and culture in Metro Detroit based on an analysis of funding streams. It traces where the money comes from and where it goes, and hence establishes a baseline overview of the pipeline of transparent and repeatable year-over-year funding for arts and culture in the region.

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Overview of the Mural Painting Ecosystem

This report describes the ecology and economy of the mural painting ecosystem in Detroit. It includes six case studies of mural painting projects in the city and concludes with a SWOT analysis of the ecosystem. It recognizes, but does not investigate, the economic, social, and ethical issues raised by the relationship between public art and the property market.

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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. This is complete, see Section 4.0.
4. Make the WCAIA engage in a participatory budgeting process in order to get meaningful public input. This is part of our recommendations for the new Service Agreement, see Section 6.0.
5. Make the WCAIA include appropriate benchmarks and services when establishing the service contract with the DIA. This is part of our recommendations for the new Service Agreement, see Section 6.0.

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Background to our advocacy

Essay’d advocates for an equitable, productive, and transparent art economy in Metropolitan Detroit, recognizing that these three issues are inter-connected.

The Detroit art economy is characterized by massive disparities of wealth and income. A 2021 study commissioned by the City of Detroit found that over 65% of artists earned less than $50k/year from their creative practice and that over 33% earned less than $10k/year. These figures likely come as no surprise to artists working in the creative gig economy. At the other end of the financial scale are the hyper-wealthy elite who serve on the boards of the city’s foundations and large cultural institutions, frequently simultaneously. This network of interconnected boards collectively makes decisions that shape the city’s nonprofit art and culture economy, which we estimate at around one third of a billion dollars per year. Somewhere in between, both financially and in terms of information flow, is the parallel network of administrators, consultants, support organizations, program officers and development officers who collectively dominate the city’s art economy to the extent that little is left for cultural producers and grass roots organizations. If this seems an exaggeration, consider that when we researched the ongoing, publicly reported philanthropic funding streams for arts and culture in Metropolitan Detroit we found that only 2% reached grassroots organizations and artists.

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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