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Kalia Keith

By Matthew Lewis
March 28, 2014

For the last six years, Community + Public Arts: Detroit (C+PAD), a program of the College for Creative Studies (CCS), has collaborated with Detroiters and artists to create community-driven public art projects in neighborhoods across the city. To date there are 23 such projects around town.

We are not talking run of the mill stuff, either. The projects that C+PAD has worked on are innovative, interactive spaces that came into being thanks to the ideas of the people who will end up using them—neighborhood residents.

The Edible Hut and Memory Field in Osborn’s Calimera Park, the Talking Fence and Illuminated Garage in Brightmoor, the Food Justice Amphitheater in Cody Rouge, and The Alley Project in Southwest Detroit are just a few examples of where C+PAD has worked with artists and residents to bring public art projects to life.

For the last two years, Kalia Keith, Community Arts Development Coordinator at C+PAD, has facilitated these types of projects, organizing community meetings and helping artists and residents overcome obstacles to achieve a collaborative vision.

“To me, art breathes life into neighborhoods,” says Keith, herself an artist and CCS alumna (she studied crafts and metals). “It gives residents a voice to create new realities for their communities.”

Sometimes a voice needs a microphone to be heard. That is where Keith, a champion of neighborhood voices, comes in. Her office may be in the CCS’s Taubman Center for Design Education in New Center, but much of Keith’s work occurs in community centers around the city at meetings that happen after work hours.

Keith and C+PAD are currently engaged with residents of Brightmoor in Northwest Detroit to design and implement an art project on an expanse of vacant land in the neighborhood. The Detroit Blight Authority cleared the land of blight during the summer of 2013, which got residents thinking creatively about strategies to keep blight away and transform the land from a liability into a community asset.

The Brightmoor Alliance, a coalition of community development groups in the neighborhood, applied for and were awarded a $50,000 Knight Arts Challenge grant to fund arts projects to transform the 14-block area. The Alliance turned to C+PAD to assist with the process.

Since then, C+PAD has helped them convene five meetings and will continue their involvement in the project through its implementation. Keith helps channel residents’ creativity by facilitating the discussions, as well as taking care of practical matters like making sure that everyone gets fed.

C+PAD’s partnership does not end when artists finish their projects. Keith continues to works with artists and community members to program public art spaces with activities, such as concerts or art classes—really whatever the community wants. Keith is currently assisting Kate Daughdrill, one of the artists involved in the creation of Calimera Park’s Edible Hut, and Osborn residents pull the proper permits they need to host a series of concerts at the Hut throughout the summer.

C+PAD is looking to form new partnerships in different neighborhoods over the coming years. “We are really pushing ahead toward working with Detroit Future City and the Greening of Detroit to form more positive spaces in the city,” says Keith. Keith and the C+PAD team know that there is no shortage of ideas within communities for creating those spaces.

All photos by Doug Coombe

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