The Artist Village
By Eric T. Campbell
The Michigan Citizen
The larger than life technicolor murals of Chazz Miller are the first signs that you’re nearing the Artist Village. The numbers of murals indicate a rooted commitment to the neighborhood.
The enclave of artists and that make up the ‘Village’ have been slowly expanding their vision of community workshop and art sanctuary throughout a cluster of buildings that sit on the recently neglected block of Lahser, just north of Grand River.
“Everything you’re about to see, literally, was donated,” resident artist Chazz told this Michigan Citizen reporter as we stood ready to tour the facility. The Artist Village is a collaboration of John George and the ‘MotorCity Blightbusters’, who helped to secure the first building and Chazz’s ‘Public Art Workz’, which attempts to restore and beautify public space through art. The use of the word ‘village’ in the name is literal, and indicative of the spirit that drives the mission.
“The whole concept is the ‘village’, and working with the corner store and with the new businesses that come into the area,” says co-founder Alicia Marion.
Chazz’s background is in commercial art, which he studied at the Columbus College of Art and Design.
“I never knew anything about this starving artist thing until I started doing the community work,” laughs Chazz. “But the blessing is now I’m going back full circle.”
After spending years in the corporate realm Chazz intends to bring his experiences directly into the neighborhood. “Now I’m focusing on the merchandising and branding of Artist Village and Public Art Workz.”
The Artist Village is space loosely divided into a gallery showroom, workshop, café, music venue and courtyard. Every square inch is covered with artwork in various states of completion. Chazz is devoted to the idea that quality and quantity of work is the sign of a prolific artist.
The ‘Village’ is a beehive of activity and as we walk through there are volunteers working on renovation projects that include apartments on the second floor and a coffee shop next door. From the courtyard we look over a fence at a two story vacant building who’s owner, according to Chazz, could easily benefit from the spirit of restoration exhibited by many artists.
“I’ve got a list of at least ten people that want to move here. These are people that, just like me, know how to build, got their own tools. If you give them a good price they’ll go in and fix it up while they’re living there.”
Paul Betts has spent years in community service and is immersed in the ‘Village’ vegetable garden as well as reconstruction.
“I’ve been involved all over the country doing different things,” Betts said. “The change here has been remarkable and this is a spontaneous change for the future.”
Dionis Curtis is another partner in the Artist Village community and devotes her time as the principal web designer. “There are a lot of good characters down here,” Curtis told the Citizen. “A lot of good energy and a lot of creative people.”
Paul Bologna has been in the neighborhood for 49 years as the proprietor of Paul’s Barber Shop. He’s seen first hand the recent comeback of a historic neighborhood which, for several years, dealt with low commercial occupancy.
“The difference between five and six years ago and now is that you’re seeing more people come around,” says Bologna. “Instead of the empty building, it’s full and full of different things.”
Passing on the artistic tradition and inspiring youth is a large part of the program at the Artist Village. Students from the Nsoroma Insitute recently visited the Artist Village to participate in a screen printing project that incorporated their own designs.
“Part of my mission is to reeducate and reestablish the values of our talents, of our intellectual property,” says Chazz.
As we looked upon two of Chazz’s murals, he talked about the artwork and its emotional relationship to the community. The Martin Luther King mural was started with the help of volunteers, whom Chazz loves to interact with in a way that incorporates their contributions.
“Part of the spirit of it is that everybody gets to lay their hands on it — it’s not just about me. My thing was always to find the ying and the yang between the both. I can showcase real, and high art at the same time.”
There’s a piece on the south side of Grand River whose winged principal is pushing away with head bowed in reverence. It was painted after an historic building on the corner burned down.
“The whole thing is to fight that negativity off with colors.”
The Artist Village hosts ‘Creative Juicez’ with open mic poetry and music every Saturday night hosted by Sparrow. Call 313-532-4350 for gallery hours. The Artist Village is located at 17340 Lahser 1 block north of Grand River.