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Big visions, big grant, big growth

The soon-to-be renovated third floor of the Carr Center

The soon-to-be renovated third floor of the Carr Center

Carr Center receives $100,000

By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen

In September, the Arts League of Michigan received the largest single year grant Knight Arts Challenge has yet bestowed — $100,000.  The grant will be used for multiple programs at the Virgil H. Carr Cultural Arts Center. The over 40,000 square foot multi-story Carr Center, home of the Arts League, is located in 118 year-old building overlooking Paradise Valley Park in downtown Detroit. Originally built as a German music and cultural center in an era when Germans made up a third of Detroit’s population, the Carr Center maintains the tradition of the building as an active artistic center.

Oliver Ragsdale Jr., President of the Arts League and the Carr Center, took the Michigan Citizen on a tour of what the facility is and what it plans to become. The first floor has a flexible gallery, with walls that can be re-figured for every new show.  Currently on display is the “Creative Spirits” show consisting of works by 23 artists as young as 11 years-old all the way to octogenarians. Toward the back of the gallery is a store area — the grant will help the Carr Center open the store, which will in turn offer an opportunity for local artists to economically empower themselves — and there are also visual arts and framing studios.

The Carr Center has always allowed artists to use the facility as a performance/rehearsal space, but the Knight grant will help significantly expand this program dubbed the Artists’ Hub. Recognizing that artists need access to space in order to hone their craft, the Carr Center will soon be open from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. for artists to schedule work, rehearsal of performance time. “It will be  a game changer,” Ragsdale says, “because dancers don’t have a place to rehearse or do their work.” Oftentimes neither do bands, theatrical performers, painters and the like. Artists in all these disciplines will have access to free space in the Carr.  Ragsdale doesn’t see this as merely a good opportunity for artists now, he sees it as an investment in the future, “when dancers meet musicians, who meet writers, who meet painters, who all start collaborating,” you change the discourse of both aesthetics and the city, he says.

Showing off the galleries on the second floor and an open music hall, Ragsadale says: “The acoustics in the building were built for music so the acoustics are wonderful.” He lists a wide array of musical performances the Carr has organized there from Detroit symphony to techno to international jazz.

The third floor of the facility houses an enormous theater, which Rasdale told the Citizen, is where the Michigan Opera theater rehearsed before the Opera House was renovated. Although not functioning yet, Ragsdale vows to renovate it soon.

The arts league will also use Knight dollars for the Carr Center Arts Academy (CCCA), a Saturday arts program for middle and high schoolers in the fall and spring which feeds an intensive summer program. CCCA programs concentrate in visual arts, dance, theater and jazz and CCCA  teachers are professional artists and/or faculty from the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater and Dance and the U-M School of Art and Design.

Ragsdale proudly reports one hundred percent of past CCCA students have graduated high school and gone to college. There is still room for students in the CCCA’s fall program, beginning Oct. 19.

The public is invited to an open house at the Carr Center Oct. 15 at 5:30 p.m. to learn more about the Arts Academy programs. Artists can contact the Carr Center to schedule free work/performance space by calling 313.965.8430

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