Catching art to catch air: the gallery that’s helping build Detroit’s newest skatepark

A conversation with Library Street Collective’s Anthony Curis

"It Takes a Village" benefit exhibition at the Library Street Collective in Detroit. (Bre'Ann White, Courtesy of Library Street Collective)

DETROIT – There’s a new skatepark being built in Detroit’s East Village and a one-night-only art show is helping raise necessary funds for the park. Set to open next spring along with the Charles McGee Legacy Park, the skatepark is backed by Tony Hawk and NewLine Skateparks, a company that has built thoughtfully designed skateparks around the world.

On September 2nd, the Library Street Collective along with the non-profit Jefferson East, Inc. held a benefit exhibition called It Takes a Village taking over the downtown gallery, as well as the neighboring Louis Buhl & Co. The show displayed the works of over 70 local artists to support the upcoming build.

We chatted with Library Street Collective’s Anthony Curis, a Detroit native, about the fundraiser, the new park and what it means to celebrate a decade of art in Downtown Detroit.

How did the fundraiser go for you?

It was great, the attendance was really incredibly. There was so much support from the artists that were participating, to the stakeholders in the project like Tony Hawk and McArthur Binion, and Joshua Elling from Jefferson East, Inc. was there as well. And just the city as a whole. This one was pretty special.

How did you get involved with the skatepark, Jefferson East, Inc., McArthur Binion and Tony Hawk?

We’re in the process of transitioning an old vacant church into a cultural arts center that will have two gallery spaces, a library and a whole bunch of other things. We started that project a few years ago and it’s in construction right now, it’s called the Shepherd. That’s where Jefferson East got involved. We’ve done work with them in the past, but in terms of some of the public spaces we’re doing at the Shepherd, they were an ideal non-profit partner for this project.

McArthur Binion’s involvement with the skatepark came about from McArthur’s foundation and residency: Modern Ancient Brown which is going to be located at the Shepherd. He’s been really interested in getting involved in the neighborhood in different capacities.

So when it came time to start talking about the skatepark, Tony Hawk and some people from his team got involved. We wanted it to take the shape of something a bit non-traditional, maybe something that felt more sculptural or artistic in some way. So we started those conversations with McArthur and he was very generous and excited to get involved. So that’s where it almost became a collaboration in some ways with Tony and McArthur in terms of functional aspects of the park as well as the artistic kind of design elements of the park.

JJ and Anthony Curis at their home in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan. (Courtesy of Library Street Collective)

How did the Charles McGee Legacy Park come about?

So the Legacy Park is the last project Charles ever worked on. We started talking about that project well before the Shepherd project came about. We have this interest in the intersection of art and activation, really trying to find creative ways to bring people together and involve our community of artists based here in Detroit. We have this plan for the future where we would be developing or improving public park playscapes and involving artists in those conversations. So Charles, being the figure that he is, was an obvious choice to do this with. Then when the Shepherd came about, all of a sudden it came together to do this at this site and have a park there where Charles could lead the design. Unfortunately, in the middle of the process, Charles passed away. But the design of the park was 100% fully Charles and Charles’ ideas.

Can you talk about some of the art that will be shown at the park?

So there’s three clusters of sculptures and those clusters each take a different shape and form based on different bodies of work by Charles over the last 50 to 60 years. There are these 12-to-14 foot figurative sculptures which is really Charles’ first truly figurative work that he’s done. The other two clusters have their own ideas behind them. Charles was really interested in this concept of creating sculptures and a space that was engaging and approachable for children and the community as a whole. And he wanted to find a way to lessen the way that public art can sometimes be a bit confusing or unapproachable. Charles really wanted these works to exist amongst the people and creating them in a way that really engaged with them physically, allowing the visitor to become part of the work in some way.

Was there anything you were looking for with the artists you worked with for the fundraiser?

We left it open and broad. We mentioned the idea of themes of community and togetherness, and obviously, skateboarding and other activities. We didn’t want to tell them what to do, we left it more about the ideas of creating a public space and seeing how each artist reacted to that in different ways.

Was there any piece that really stood out to you?

There’s a pretty large-scale painting by the artist Tyrell Winston, who’s now based here in Detroit, and it’s a painting part of a series of work that he calls Punishment Paintings. It’s usually athletes or celebrities and he writes their signatures over and over again for various reasons. He actually involved Tony in the process and flew out to California, went to Tony’s and they worked on the painting together. Tony started the signatures and then Tyrell abstracted them into the painting you saw in the exhibition.

What does it mean to you to be playing a part in this skatepark?

My wife and I have always been interested in looking at the gallery beyond the brick-and-mortar. When we first opened the gallery 10 years ago, we were always deeply interested in finding ways to impact our community. It became our mission in some ways where we put as much emphasis on what we do outside of the gallery as we do inside the gallery. So this project is a very special one for us. It’s really exciting and we’re just thrilled.

Your gallery is celebrating 10 years now, congratulations, what’s the future looking like for you and the gallery?

A lot of our time right now is focused in East Village. We’re working closely with the East Village association, Jefferson East, Inc. and other stakeholders in that neighborhood to really find ways to bring art and culture into the identity of the neighborhood but doing so in a way that residents are not only receptive, but excited about it.

To learn more about the Library Street Collective, as well as more about the Charles McGee Legacy Park, visit LSCGallery.com.


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