Detroit hustles harder. So it’s not surprising that the citizens of this city are turning despair and fear into opportunities during the coronavirus health crisis.
For one Detroit gallery owner and restaurateur, that means spearheading a project that feeds out-of-school students’ bellies with food and their spirits with art.
“The current pandemic has created an unprecedented situation where not only are students left without the academic, social and creative stimulation provided in a school environment, many are at risk of missing the only meal they receive each day,” says Anthony Curis, co-founder of Library Street Collective, a contemporary fine art gallery.
Library Street Collective, located in downtown Detroit’s Grand Circus Park district, is offering free weekday dinners to 200 Detroit Public Schools students each day for two weeks. In each meal package provided, students receive a limited-edition sketchbook filled with colorable drawings and graphics by 29 emerging and established artists, and a set of colored pencils.
“This initiative allows us to provide a basic need for these students, but also a source of creativity and inspiration,” says Curis.
Several artists have roots in the city. One such is McArthur Binion, an abstract minimalist, who was raised in Detroit. As one of 11 children, he attended Detroit Public Schools, including MacDowell Elementary School and Mumford High School.
Curis says that the sketchbook is using art as a catalyst to inspire and empower youth who are facing tough times with the COVID-19 crisis. Detroit has been particularly hard hit by the virus, with more than 2,000 confirmed cases and 75 deaths (as of April 1). The U.S. Surgeon General has called Detroit a “hotbed” and warned that things could get worse in the Motor City.
The sketchbook’s title, WE ALL RISE,was inspired by Detroit Public Schools’ new campaign: “Students Rise. We All Rise.” The book’s pages not only showcase the artists’ efforts, but also provide blank pages for students to create their own art.
Curis says that he was overwhelmed by the reaction from the artists who he asked to participate, and that they’ve been generous with their time and resources. “The artists involved are a mix of collaborators and artists that we highly respect,” says Curis. “Our goal was to pull together a sketchbook with varying influences, ideas and styles.”
One of those artists is Jason REVOK, who, although born in Riverside, California, considers Detroit his adopted home. As father to a seven-year-old child, he hopes the sketchbook allows kids to “use their imagination and have fun.”
Curis says that REVOK has been examining capabilities and limitations of his own custom tools to create studio work, public projects and walls. “His work involved in WE ALL RISE is an extension of this thought process,” says Curis.
REVOK created a new piece of work for the project. “I’ve been doodling a lot on the iPad lately, and some of the drawings I’ve been doing felt easily translatable for a kid to have fun coloring in.”
Gallery: Images from WE ALL RISE
Artists: Kaws & Eddie Martinez
Artists: Torkwase Dyson & Conrad Egyir
Artists: Jason Revok & Julia Wachtel
While the sketchbook is a large-scale project unto itself, the meals, too, are no small endeavor.
Dinners are being prepared at the acclaimed Detroit restaurant Standby, with the added perk of providing work for the employees during the restaurant’s forced closure. Standby is paying for the restaurant staff working on the project. Every day, the restaurant designs a new menu and prepares and packages the meals. One meal was roasted chicken, brussels sprouts, mushrooms and polenta. On another day, students received vegan curry with roasted snap peas, cauliflower, celery root, and seasonings.
Curis is a partner at Standby, which has been nominated for two James Beard Awards, as well as two other nearby establishments: Deluxx Fluxx, a bar, music venue and arcade and The Skip, a casual tiki-inspired cocktail bar and restaurant. Staff from these two venues are also part of the cooking and packaging crew for the student meals.
Other partners in the project include the Downtown Boxing Gym, a Detroit youth development program, and Forgotten Harvest, a food rescue and delivery organization. They are managing the distribution of the meals and sketchbooks to around 200 children a day.
Forgotten Harvest has a well-oiled distribution system focused on mobile deliveries, while Downtown Boxing Gym is delivering meals to students along a drop-off route. The two nonprofits have existing routes in place for food delivery to Detroit Public Schools students during the COVID-19 school closures.
Making sure disadvantaged children have access to food is key for major cities dealing with the pandemic, and that includes Detroit. Detroit Public Schools is part of the USDA’s Community Eligibility Program, a universal meal program where all students in high-poverty areas receive free breakfast and lunch at school, without needing to qualify. Many families count on these meals to keep children healthy; now that children are home and many parents are out of work, resources for food are scarce for many families.
That knowledge is close at heart for Curis. “As the father of a six-year old son, there is nothing more upsetting than the thought of a child going hungry,” he says. “This initiative provides a basic need to DPSCD students while also empowering them to imagine and create alongside a list of groundbreaking artists.”
Response from families and students has been positive, says Curis. He hopes to scale the project to reach even more people in need.
For those who want to take their own crack at coloring the designs, Library Street Collective is making the sketchbook available for purchase. All proceeds from sales of the physical book ($12 + $8 shipping) will benefit the food distribution program. Proceeds (by donation) from the e-book will benefit Living Arts Detroit, a nonprofit that brings performing, visual and media arts to Detroit young people.
Other artists not mentioned above that contributed to the book are: Virgil Abloh, Nina Chanel Abney, Doug Aitken, Daniel Arsham, Amoako Boafo, Torkwase Dyson, Sam Friedman, FriendsWithYou, KAWS, Eddie Martinez, Simphiwe Ndzube, Jordan Nickel, Jose Parla, Julia Wachtel, Austyn Weiner, Wendy White, and Tyrrell Winston.
Melinda Clynes is a Detroit-based journalist who writes about children’s issues, equitable food systems work, food, travel, beer and all things Detroit.