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'Art In The District Detroit' Puts Cass Tech, CCS Student Artwork On Display

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From installing a 3D mural and painting fire hydrants along Woodward Avenue to creating sculptures and interactive art, high school and college students continue to make their creative mark in The District Detroit.

In January, Olympia Development of Michigan and Ilitch Charities announced their innovative Art in The District Detroit program in collaboration with the College for Creative Studies.

Since the partnership’s announcement, art students have begun creating and installing creative works throughout the burgeoning 50-block, mixed-use development.

The partnership, made possible by an $800,000 donation to CCS from Ilitch Charities and Olympia Development, has engaged local students, artists, professionals and city residents in the process of public art installation in The District Detroit.

This summer, under the direction of CCS Community Arts Partnerships instructor Sunshine Durant, nine students mostly from Cass Technical High School used paint and enamel to design seven fire hydrants along Woodward, spanning from the Fox Theater to the new Little Caesars Arena.

Inspired by the theme, “MI Eyes Seeing Detroit Through Michigan Eyes,” students designed hydrants that communicated pride for their hometown and native state.

Near Comerica Park, for example, a hydrant stands covered in orange, white and blue with animal stripes and an Old English “D”-stamped jersey as an ode to the Detroit Tigers mascot.

In addition to painting hydrants, students created small sculptures made of wood and foam materials.

With guidance from nationally-known urban development planner and Street-Works co-founder Richard Heapes, they designed and installed a mural at Alexandrine Street and Cass Avenue inspired by the word, “Detroit.”

Durant said students cut, sanded, painted and assembled the 7-letter, 152-piece mural, which drew inspiration from the abstract art and organic shapes found in the works of critically-acclaimed Detroit artists, Charles McGee and Gilda Snowden.

In between their unique, hands-on art projects, the teens visited the Detroit Institute of Art, The Baltimore Gallery and the Lincoln Street Art Park, a non-traditional sculptural park in the city’s New Center neighborhood.

“It was an amazing experience,” Durant said. “Students learned that they can actually have a career in the art field and have creative jobs.”

All participating students were part of City of Detroit’s Grow Detroit’s Young Talent program, which pays students for their summer contributions, Durant said. 

One of those Detroit high school students, Isaac Jackson, said he especially enjoyed the privilege of having his artwork displayed in public—something he had not yet experienced with his school art assignments.

The aspiring painter and fashion designer said he found delight in painting a fire hydrant near Comerica Park, where all the Detroit Tigers fans in his family could see his creation. Jackson said learning about Charles McGee’s 3D-style murals, which deviate from the flat murals he had previously encountered, was another highlight of his summer.

“I really appreciate the program. It has changed my life and opened up a lot of opportunities for me,” said Jackson, who hopes to attend CCS in the near future.

Students at CCS began making their mark earlier this year through The District Detroit-sponsored public sculpture research project. Through this initiative, CCS fine art students submitted proposals to have their sculpture designs installed near the new Little Caesars Arena on Woodward.

Through a juried process overseen by the college’s community+public arts:DETROIT (CPAD) advisory council, a panel selected the “Movement of Champions” sculpture created by CCS undergraduate student, Jonathan Phillips.

The advisory council featured local artists and creatives, including George R. N’Namdi, founder of The N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art and Cass Tech architecture instructor Kimberly Harden.

Art and architectural students at Cass Tech participated in a shadow project inspired by Phillips’ work to learn more about the sculpture process.  The Movement of Champions sculpture is slated  to debut in April 2018 on the Detroit Tigers’ opening day.

In addition to the sculpture project, CCS students are contributing to the arena’s visual landscape by creating interactive art for the blue Comerica arch featured inside the arena’s southeast entrance. 

MFA Interaction Design program candidates enrolled in the school’s HTML and JavaScript-focused Programming for Designers course will use their newly honed programming skills to create animated artwork for the 9x14 feet archway’s LED screen.

The CCS study of the arch will continue into the spring 2018 semester during a related course titled “Prototyping and The Internet of Things.” Students will learn about sensors and hardware prototyping that could ultimately make the arch responsive to stimuli such as the sound of arena crowds.

To culminate the fall 2017 semester, teams of communication design students at CCS will present visual community identities for the five distinct neighborhoods in The District Detroit: Cass Park Village, New Arena Area, Columbia Street, Wildcat Corner and Columbia Park.

Shannon McPartlon, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at CCS, said the partnership with the Ilitch organization has been invaluable in helping CCS to provide opportunities to its students and “helping Detroit youth make a real, long-lasting impact in the community.”

“Ilitch Charities and Olympia Development have been devoted to educational innovation for a long time, and CCS shares their belief in the power of education to strengthen communities. This partnership contributes to the ongoing vibrancy and continued economic development throughout Detroit,” McPartlon said.

About The District Detroit

The District Detroit is one of the largest sports and entertainment developments in the country. Located in the heart of Detroit, this 50-block, mixed-use development led by the Ilitch organization unites eight world-class theaters, five neighborhoods and three professional sports venues in one vibrant, walkable destination for people who want to live, work and play in an exciting urban environment. Home to the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Pistons and Detroit Lions — The District Detroit represents the greatest density of professional sports teams in one downtown core in the country.

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