By Crystal Zanders, Ecology Center’s Communications Fellow
An ecology-inspired art park is coming to Detroit’s East Canfield this spring, designed by award-winning artist Jordan Weber and sponsored by Sidewalk Detroit. Planned to be built in the footprint of an industrial plant, the art park will include tree plantings to address legacy pollution and pay homage to African queens who resisted colonialism.
The Ecology Center is grateful for the opportunity to honor the contributions of eco-activist artists in our community. Sidewalk Detroit is an organization working in partnership with Detroit communities to celebrate and facilitate art and joy for the public.
Sidewalk Detroit’s Community Focus
When Ryan Myers-Johnson launched the original Sidewalk Festival in 2012, she envisioned hosting a one-time event celebrating neighborhood streetscapes by putting on a street art, music, and performing arts festival. Sidewalk Detroit, a grassroots arts organization, was born out of that festival. It has been supporting, creating, curating, and celebrating neighborhood art and arts programming in partnership with the communities it serves ever since.
Today, Sidewalk Detroit works with artists, community partners, and the community itself to increase access to art. According to Augusta Morrison, senior program strategist with Sidewalk Detroit and a celebrated artist in her own right,
“The organization kind of grew into a more specific focus around community engagement through an artistic lens. We think a lot about spatial equity. When we are in different types of spaces, who are those spaces built out for? So, we are intentional on how we engage with residents and stakeholders (such as businesses and community leaders and civic organizations), keeping the community at the heart of the conversation. We want to go a mile deep and one inch wide. Our mission is to advance spatial equity through the lens of arts and culture.”
Jordan Weber, eco-art activist
The award-winning artist Jordan Weber was selected for the 2023 Artist-in-Residence program at Sidewalk Detroit, not just because he is a rising star in the art world but in large part because of his commitment to eco-activism and community engagement with art. He has extensive experience creating public art pieces that are free and open to the public. His past works include repurposed police vehicles that he used to create community gardens/workout equipment in Des Moines and the urban farm he designed in collaboration with community members in Minneapolis during the George Floyd protest.
For Sidewalk Detroit, Jordan Weber has agreed to create an art installation. The site of this installation has been carefully chosen. They will place it in an art park located within the shadow of the Stellantis-Mack Assembly Plant, the toxic fumes of which are responsible for some of the highest asthma levels in the country. As part of the installation, they will plant specific trees that help remove toxins from the air, creating a space that literally heals environmental violence and ecological racism.
Across the street from the park is the Barack Obama Leadership Academy, an elementary charter school that serves a student body that is 99.6% Black children who have been exposed to these toxic fumes. Part of the vision of this installation is that students will be able to walk over and experience and enjoy the art and learn about air quality. The Ecology Center, collaborating with Green Door Initiative, will install air monitors at the school and park, integrating air quality education into the installation design. Within the design of the installation will be space for the school to use as an environmental justice learning center.
Jordan Weber isn’t just deciding what he wants to do and putting in the park; he is working with Sidewalk Detroit to hold community meetings and solicit feedback during every step of the process.
The installation will be completed in stages. In the first stage, they will build 30-foot shiny metal gates as an entrance to the park, representing an entry to the forest, an entrance into healing and nature in the middle of the city. The gate design was inspired by the crowns of Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar and Queen Idia of Benin from East and West Africa representing East and West Detroit. These African queens are known for their resistance to colonialism.
Sidewalk Detroit is focused on supporting and creating art that speaks to social, political, environmental, and racial issues affecting the communities that they serve. This project is another avenue through which they are making things better.
To learn more about this project and Sidewalk Detroit, visit their website at: https://www.sidewalkdetroit.com/
*This art installation has not been named yet. Selecting a name is another process involving the community.