It’s sad but true. Detroit lacks a major infrastructure for the arts.
Sure, there are established institutions such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Artists Market and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit: MOCAD. They are great, but some of the city’s emerging artists, designers and musicians wonder where they can come together for support, promotion and simply camaraderie? Many of them are young – in the 20s and 30s – and want to make a splash in Detroit, and they want Detroit to recognize them.
Paulina Petkoski and Samantha Banks Schefman want to expand the awareness of art in Detroit and get the artists more intricately involved in the city’s growth and development.
“It is terrible with what we are faced with right now. There is not enough focus on creativity, on design. There are exciting things happening in the city, but there is still a lack of a major infrastructure for the arts,” says 30-year-old Petkoski, the co-founder of PLAYGROUND DETROIT, a new retail storefront, gallery and event space at 2845 Gratiot Avenue.
The 1,500-square-foot, street-level space is located in a two-story, red brick building dating back to 1877 on the outer edge of Eastern Market, right by the Dequindre Cut. There is an empty lot next to the building Petkoski and Schefman would like to turn into an art park or public space.
“We are excited with the response so far,” Petkoski says. “We are excited that we are by the Dequindre Cut because there are a lot of existing businesses by us. It will be a destination.”
Co-founders Petkoski and Schefman are high school friends who grew up in Detroit and lived in New York for years. They came back home to make difference in the artistic community and help emerging artists in the 20s and 30s take their work to the next level.
“There is a lot growth in Detroit and a lot more room to grow,” Petkoski says. “The artistic community must be part of that growth. There still should be room to have arts and culture for tourism. It brings people into the city.”
PLAYGROUND DETROIT has been operating in different popup venues from coffee shops to retail stores to bars for the past five years. The new space will offer up edgy art and design and feature carefully curated, exclusive merchandise including artwork, limited edition art objects, special events, and community programming.
There are also plans to install movable display walls, track lighting, shelving and display units, a DJ booth/sound system, an entertaining space with kitchenette, lofted lounge space, and a storage area for artwork underwritten.
The plan requires some big dollars and some help.
The women launched a $75,000 Kickstarter campaign to cover start-up costs and to complete interior build-out construction. “That’s not that much money compared what is being spent for sports arenas,” Petkoski says.
There are also other opportunities to donate and be a bigger part of the artistic community. For example, a mural on the side of the building can be sponsored for a $10,000 gift. The women are also open to other suggestions so if you have one, let them know.
Funds will also be used to purchase complimentary inventory, collaborative exclusive artist merchandise, programming and staffing. Renovations are currently underway with a grand opening set for spring 2017.
They plan to host six exhibitions, including two national artists, in the 2017 program year, says Schefman, a former gallery manager and jewelry designer. Petkoski is a fashion designer and talent manager. They founded PLAYGROUND DETROIT in 2012 while living and working in New York. To date, they have worked with more than 100 artists and hosted more than 50 events.
“We work with emerging artists who are passionate, are determined to make a splash and have some ambitious goals,” Petkoski says.
One of the artists they worked with is native Detroiter Joseph Konert. He recently painted murals for The Scott in Brush Park and did a large-scale painting for the lobby there as well. The massive development at 3150 Woodward Ave. adds nearly 200 units of for-rent housing in Midtown.
They also partnered with Will Leather Goods to do a show for Ouizi at its Detroit store.
It is partnerships like this Petkoski believes will help more residents and visitors connect with the artistic community in Detroit.
“There is powerful stuff here, but people may not understand how important (these artists) are,” she says,
Petkoski would like to see the creation of an arts council that would help fund local artists, award prizes, organize arts events and support emerging artists and the growth of arts organizations and their audiences.
Such an organization might also help keep art in schools and help artists make a difference in Detroit neighborhoods.
That lack of focus and a program that supports them is holding emerging artists back and Petkoski fears that may result in some of them leaving Detroit for cities with strong arts councils. Petkoski says artists will often come to her and ask for help relocating to New York where they believe art is more valued.
“There are lots of opportunities to be successful here, but they can’t feel cornered or they will leave,” she says.
PLAYGROUND DETROIT wants to help keep these young artists in Detroit by connecting them to people with more resources. Petkoski points out the organization’s audience is younger and makes up the next generation of collectors, but they aren’t alone in their enthusiasm for Detroit-made art. The older generation is also excited to see new things and is supportive.
“If we (make those connections) we could potentially keep more people here,” she says. “Our goal is to add jobs and retail to the city and continue to grow and empower the creative community that wants to stay and work here, but there is a huge lack of infrastructure. We didn’t have that in New York because it has a strong arts district.”
New York has public art programs that make art more accessible to people, Petkoski says. It does have a lot to offer budding artists, but there is one huge drawback – cost. In New York she says you can pay $1700 a month for a bedroom with two other roommates. In Detroit the rent runs from $300-$700 a month and you can always get a roommate to cut the cost even further.
In New York Petkoski found everyone is curious about Detroit, but they don’t know much about it. The catch is the city’s new image of development, innovation and growth has not made it as far as many think it has. “There is still not a good representation of Detroit out there,” she says. “It is not a blank slate. I hate that (term). We want to showcase what’s happening.”
Petkoski and Schefman are doing all they can to further the artistic community in the city. They recently did a day-long cultural tour at 15 locations for the New York Foundation for Arts. One woman on the tour was so inspired it brought tears to her eyes, Petkoski says.
“We must show we are special,” she says. “We are and that is why people come to the city. People come here from all over the world. When they are with us they are overwhelmed. Those who come on their own don’t have the same experience. They can’t find out where things are. It is more underground.”
PLAYGROUND DETROIT wants to help fix that. It is a for profit operation with a good business model – there is money for the artists and there is money for those who help make them successful.
They will split the income from sales 60-40 with the artist getting the high percentage. Traditional galleries take half, she says.
“This is work,” Petkoski says. “It is not easy to be creative. You need to make things inspiring and interesting.
“I don’t understand why people dismiss creative work. It is critical to everything you see in the world. Culture is what preserves the time. What we want to show happening in city now.”