Art and renaissance at Detroit’s Project N: cross-cultural living room

The vision of New Enterprises in Midtown was conceived and is being created in Detroit by Harold Rais, Pat Blackmore, and John Ulansky. Led by arts and culture educator, Rick Dodson, New Enterprises builds…

Art and renaissance at Detroit’s Project N: cross-cultural living room

The vision of New Enterprises in Midtown was conceived and is being created in Detroit by Harold Rais, Pat Blackmore, and John Ulansky. Led by arts and culture educator, Rick Dodson, New Enterprises builds communities and explores the power of one collective to reshape neighborhoods and the lives of Detroiters.

They hire an army of community artists and young professional volunteers, called “destination makers,” to create programs and spaces that engage diverse audiences and take people out of their homes, rooms, and small spaces to engage with nature and each other.

It’s a whirlwind 11-month program that combines workshops and internships as well as the hiring of an army of youth-driven “destination makers.” The goal is to teach vulnerable, in-transition youth the skills necessary to become culturally competent and professionally successful. Dedicated to increasing the number of in-migrant residents, the organization also relies on a corps of international fellows that help form partnerships with other international and national non-profits that are on the ground in Detroit to promote their work.

Additionally, New Enterprises addresses the needs of Detroit’s older, non-English speaking populations. Through grants from The Calvin Kleins and various private foundations, New Enterprises helps create programs and create space for their new neighbors, through food programs, art classes, meditation retreats, and transportation services for their senior citizens and Medicaid recipients.

Although the idea of an arts complex in Detroit has been questioned, the construction of the Project is finalizing and will be announced early in 2019.

In spite of the challenges posed by the street closures, loud noises, and the long hours spent by those on site, the New Enterprises team hasn’t had a day of closure for more than 15 days in the last nine months. On the contrary, the only interruption was a two-day week, which they actually expect will make it easier to manage on the construction floor.

After this long layoff, the relief is a huge feeling.

Despite the focus on Detroit’s unemployment rate, many of the Project residents are recent immigrants who just landed here. They may not be able to speak the official language here, but they still speak the same languages as their prior homes and may be able to provide translators when necessary.

For many of the Project residents, the fact that they are now part of the population that the New Enterprises was designed to support is significant.

When we spoke with the first few trainees in their 15-week internships, in a place with only two library books (one of which they had helped bring), the impetus for them was deepened by their now newfound ability to read in the public library, and be able to talk about history and to watch a city they never saw.

They are also learning how to work effectively on a professional team with professional project leaders and with fellow workers from other cultural organizations in the area, Detroit Medical Center, The Henry Ford, East American School of Performing Arts, and the Detroit Works Project, which is developing a blueprint for the future of the City of Detroit.

Working with each individual project leader has taken some getting used to. First impressions are not everything and the community-based approach of New Enterprises only confirms what comes natural: People are motivated and eager to contribute to a place that they feel truly fits them and their needs.

We’re still coming up on the end of the second month, but the Project team are proud of the way the project has evolved and the relationships and culture it’s created. We’re aiming to create a culture that embraces the diversity of Detroitians and the fact that they can be themselves and still thrive in the City of Detroit.

I hope that there will be some sort of library adjacent to the Project that will house books and songs that are relevant to this community. Such a resource could serve many communities.

We want this project to be part of the DTE Energy Audubon Center, the Compuware Watershed, the FITCUBE Innovation Institute, the Port, and the Detroit Medical Center, where we can continue to tell stories and bring people together through the stories of our peers, the stories of the landscape around us, and the stories of our own human relationships.

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