On September 21, 2018, we opened our doors early to celebrate the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, with a very special exhibition, featuring local and national visual and literary talent. Thank you to all participating artists, and to all who came out to celebrate The Queen, as well as the opening of our new space. The work here is still on-going, so we especially thank you for being a part of our construction and transformation process.
The Irwin House Global Art Center & Gallery will mark its grand opening with a grassroots tribute to Aretha Franklin. Located on Detroit’s historic West Grand Boulevard between LaSalle and C.L. Franklin Blvd. (Linwood), the emerging art space lies in the path of Aretha’s childhood home and her father’s church – New Bethel Baptist – where her great legacy began.
The exhibition – SuperNatural Woman: Tribute to the Queen – provides a space for creatives, on the local level, to respond to the spirit of Aretha Franklin with visual, literary, and performative arts. While there certainly have been, and will continue to be, widespread tributes to the Queen of Soul involving industry heavyweights, this exhibition allows Detroit community artists to participate in and share an intimate reflection of our own, where we can share memories and explore Aretha’s life, music and impact in our lives as a woman, matriarch, activist, and die-hard Detroiter.
“Detroit is reeling from Aretha’s loss in a way the rest of the world can only imagine. She was part of the fabric of the city and this was her neighborhood,” says Irwin Gallery Director, Omo Misha. “Many people here remember Aretha and her family from childhood and, of course, New Bethel still serves the community. These are memories and encounters that Detroiters have coveted for a lifetime. We are shaped by these moments…not only with Aretha but with all of our legendary artists. But, without contest, Aretha was The Queen…The Queen not only of Soul, but of all our hearts.”
The Irwin House is an outgrowth of the vision of the late Council B. Irwin, Jr. and his lovely wife, Valerie. Avid art enthusiasts and collectors, The Irwins traveled the world, acquiring art from the earth’s far reaches and patronizing Detroit area artists. This Center will become a public home for their proud collection and will showcase the works of under-represented artists from the local and international communities. Opening the art center has involved the hard-fought two-year rehabilitation of an early 20th century house, which once served as a doctor’s office on the historic Boulevard. Construction is still on-going on the 2nd level of the building but the main gallery is feverishly preparing to open for its inaugural exhibition – now appropriately and lovingly celebrating Ms. Franklin.
The exhibit will feature the work of established and emerging Detroit artists, along with invited guests. A growing list of participating artists include: Amber Doe, Amir Bey, Beau McCall, Cyrah Dardas, Arthur Bacon, Donald Calloway, jessica Care moore, John Sims, Ingrid LaFleur, Makeba Rainey, Noreen Dean Dresser, Sabrina Nelson, and Santo’nio. The tribute will also include an on-line component that will allow creatives all over the world to share their love for The Queen by uploading their original works. The on-line exhibit will accept submissions throughout the exhibition period and maintain permanent real estate on the web. Misha leads the exhibition’s curatorial team alongside conceptual artist and writer, John Sims, and Sabrina Nelson.
“Her force was both cultural and political,” Sims told NBC News. “Her love and advocacy for black people was undeniable and her feminism unshakable. Before there were Black Lives Matters and #Metoo, the Queen was challenging us to ‘think’ and ‘respect’ ourselves, and to become better partners, better citizens and better humans.”
SuperNatural Woman will open to the public at The Irwin House Global Art Center & Gallery on Friday, September 21, 2018 with an opening reception from 5:00-8:00pm. The exhibition will run through January 21, 2019. Public programming will include artist conversations, readings, and tribute performances through the close of the show. Irwin House Gallery & Global Art Center, 2351 West Grand Blvd. Detroit, MI 48208 | Ph: 313.932.7690. Visit http://irwinhousegallery for scheduling and additional information.
New Bethel Baptist Church, where Aretha Franklin first took stage, is a stone’s throw away from The Irwin House; the family home, even closer. Our cross-streets, LaSalle and Linwood, are the streets Aretha was raised on and where she went to church, respectively. Linwood, in fact, was renamed C.L. Franklin Blvd, after her minister and activist father. We are sitting in the midst of Aretha’s home turf.
No one can know how close Detroiters feel to our legendary artists. Nearly every one of us has a story…about a neighbor, co-worker, schoolmate, babysitter, or mother’s cousin’s friend who was one of Motown’s greatest. We can casually point out their houses, and sometimes their relatives houses. We went to school with their children. We own the music because it sprang from our experience. And, the magical souls who made it are nothing less than aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, and brothers. Deep in our hearts, they are family. And, Aretha Franklin was, and remains, the mother-lode.
For every homegrown Detroiter, Aretha Franklin embodies the spirit of our great city: Her absolute excellence in her craft, her strength and resilience, her unabashed and unwavering presence of self, and her mystery, which could only be deciphered from the sacred inner circle. The fact that Aretha remained one of us ’til the end was a source of pride we carried deep within our cells. With change sweeping through the city, and a Black uncertainty that most of us here have never known, she gave us one quiet confidence that soul still lives here – that it hasn’t entirely been bought, sold, displaced, silenced, replaced or moved to the suburbs. She and her gifts belong to the world but, mostly – and what she made clear – she was ours.
“Her force was both cultural and political,” Detroit native, conceptual artist and writer, John Sims, told NBC News. “Her love and advocacy for black people was undeniable and her feminism unshakable. Before there were Black Lives Matters and #Metoo, the Queen was challenging us to ‘think’ and ‘respect’ ourselves, and to become better partners, better citizens and better humans.”
The Irwin House will honor our sister and neighbor, Aretha Franklin, with SuperNatural Woman: Tribute to the Queen – an exhibition featuring visual, literary, and performative works exploring the multi-facets of Aretha and the riffs that sought to empower us for six decades strong. That well has stopped flowing, but will never be silenced. We owe it to Aretha, the Black experience, and Detroit, to continue to share and learn from her story, our story, and to make sure history gets it right. This is, perhaps, the most important function of art.
Happy New Year! I can’t believe it’s been 365 days since we uttered these celebratory words!
Our doors have not opened to the public yet, but we’re happy to have strengthened our alliances with community partners, supporters, friends, and artists in this past year, and witnessed positive changes coming to our WEdetroit community. And, yes, we’re making strides of our own!
Admittedly, summer was challenging as we attempted to focus on the exterior of our establishment – including signage, landscaping, painting, and external repairs to the structure. Given the unforgiving Michigan winters (in full swing right now!) we’d hoped to complete these outdoor tasks so we’d be curb-ready in the event of winter grand opening.
Thanks to our friends at RockStar Group, we did make headway on the signage (below). But, to put it nicely, we never seemed to forge the right relationships with the right contractors to get the rest of the work completed before snowfall. We’re still working on that, and welcome your recommendations.
Until Spring (which seems so far, far away) we’ve focused our attentions back indoors, and may indeed have a blustery Winter opening. We’ll keep ya posted! In the meantime, we were proud to exhibit work at The Carr Center as part of the Detroit Diaspora exhibit curated by Michael Kelly Williams and Dr. Cledie Taylor. We are also looking forward to showing work from the Irwin Collection in an upcoming group exhibit at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. (Your invitation to the opening is in the mail!) We’re looking forward to a great year ahead, making new friends, supporting and building the arts in Detroit, and so much more.
Here are a few highlights from the year past:
Thank you so much, Detroit and beyond, for being a part of our journey!
Earlier this month, we embarked on a fundraising campaign that we expected would last up to 45 days. Yet, to our astonishment, we met our $4,000 goal in less than one week! Why? Because this on-line community of giving, sharing, and supporting simply rocks!
That community is Kiva – the world’s first and largest micro-lending service.
As of this week, Kiva celebrated the distribution of over 1 billion dollars among nearly 2 million small businesses, in more than 80 different countries. With as little as $25, anyone, from almost anywhere in the world, can help aspiring entrepreneurs and change-makers build community and prosperity. And, through the support of 61 generous lenders – most of them strangers – The Irwin Gallery experienced, firsthand, how fabulously powerful $25 can be.
A proven and self-described “global force for good,” Kiva exemplifies the remarkable strength of ordinary people, and provides a window into the world as it should be. The Irwin Gallery is so incredibly honored and humbled to be a part of this magic – especially in the age of “No” and proliferating predatory (corporate) practices. In the midst of systems, institutions, authorities, and even lifestyles malfunctioning the world throughout, Kiva has been consistently, increasingly and simply, working.
With this 0% interest loan, we look forward to continuing construction on our space – which includes a critical electrical upgrade, lighting, insulation, and some walls and ceilings. This doesn’t cover all of remaining costs but, it gives us a vigorous push that puts opening day well within reach. For us, and for 2.4 million others around the world, Kiva has changed the game.
We are so encouraged and grateful that we have been inspired to pay it forward by lending to others through the Kiva platform, even as we work toward our own goals. We invite you to do the same: If you are a small business-owner, the global Kiva community is waiting to assist you; or you can search the site for the next generation of entrepreneurs, whose lives you can change with as little as $25. Or, both!
Learn about The Irwin Gallery’s recently disbursed Kiva loan HERE!
Join us in lending to other Kiva entrepreneurs HERE!
As we prepare the Irwin House for opening, one distressing issue has been the burned out house a few doors down. Although, there had been complaints of suspicious activity and local authorities called to the property over the years, the blight had at least been relatively hidden by brush in the warmer months, then snow in the winter. No real comfort in that, however – even though we didn’t have a clear view of the house, who knows what lurked in the shadows. Wildlife was the least of our concerns.
This winter brought minimal snow and certainly there no leaves on the trees, offering us a ghastly, unobstructed view of the site. Crumbling, hollowed, and garbage-strewn, the property behind the trees was far worse than we’d imagined. How could we welcome world visitors to our block with a virtual haunted house sitting just yards away? How could we tout the power and benefits of art with no control over the safety and aesthetic of our own vicinity? What power did we have to beautify, or otherwise rectify the site, especially with neighbors abusing it for their personal refuse. Years of complaints seemed to fall on deaf ears.
But, the City was listening.
While we waded through bureaucracy to try to figure out how to get the structure demolished – with the support of Mildred Hunt Robbins of the West Grand Boulevard Collaborative (WBGC) and DeAndre Calvert, Community Liaison for Councilmember, Mary Sheffield – the City of Detroit responded.
On Tuesday, March 21, 2017, a demolition crew showed up around 8:30 am. By 3:30 that afternoon, the abandoned house and all the debris it entailed, was history. Crews returned over the following couple of weeks until a blemish-free landscape was delivered by the close of the first week of April.
The City of Detroit’s Demolition Program has not been without its criticisms and setbacks. More than 11,000 blighted structures have been leveled since it started in 2014, but the program fell under investigation in 2016 amid concerns about escalating costs. Removal activity was suspended for two months, and resumed only after the City adopted several new protocols in light of federal concerns. Many citizens are impatient to learn when, or if, demolition will be coming to their block. Whatever your feelings are about the program, it is improving the quality of life for Detroiters and expanding possibilities for the city. We don’t know what will become of the new vacant lot on our block – we won’t be buying it, we’ve got our hands full – but, we look forward to creative new neighbors, wishful innovations, or even fresh public space, soon to add to the historic landscape of West Grand Boulevard!
Learn more about Detroit’s Demolition Program HERE and find out where they’re going next and where they’ve been!
It’s a new year, and with it comes a great many changes and uncertainties. Those of us who live and love the arts know for sure, however, that art feeds the soul, strengthens communities, and can even create change. As the Irwin House team forges ahead with renovation (a process that has, admittedly, taken longer than we’d hoped) we are keeping our eye on the prize – creating change, with YOU, in our proud Detroit community!
While we work through these final kinks (floors, lights, and getting pretty!), we invite you to keep in touch with us here for progress reports and other art news. Please don’t hesitate to reach out and say, “Hello!” We’d love to hear from you and begin building friendships and partnerships even before our doors open.