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5e Gallery

4605 Cass Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48201

Piper Carter

By MJ Galbraith
April 25, 2014

The MC. The DJ. The graffiti artist. The dancers. The knowledge. These are the five elements of hip hop culture as characterized by the Zulu Nation. There are other elements, sure, but these five inform so much of this now decades-old culture that the seminal Afrika Bambaataa and his Zulu Nation made it their official definition. Detroit's 5e Gallery not only draws its name from this definition but its sensibility, inspiration, and philosophy. The Midtown-based gallery, performance venue, and community center has made it its mission to uphold and promote these elements in that space where hip hop and culture meet, going beyond music and art and into the community.

Piper Carter started volunteering at the gallery in 2009, doing promotion and PR work. She embraced 5e so much that by 2010, the gallery's founder, DJ Sicari Ware, offered her the opportunity to become a partner. Since then, she's been working to promote the gallery, secure funding, and offer purposeful programming. She says, too, that she spends much of her days thanking people, thanking them for their time or their money, their talents or their presence.

“Our philosophy is that hip hop is in everything and that everything is hip hop. That's the way we see things,” says Carter. “So what that means is that hip hop is the culmination of many cultures. That is why if you go to Japan, you'll see hip hop. Anywhere you go, you'll see hip hop. It may look different, it may dress different and have a different accent and maybe a different flavor, but the true essence of hip hop is the DIY culture.”

A big component of that DIY culture is hip hop's deep roots in technology and innovation. It's fundamental to the 5e Gallery too. Carter says that on any given day, the gallery is full with people on their laptops, consulting each other on different technologies and techniques relating to music production or otherwise. There's a makerspace present. Wednesdays feature an up-cycling sewing class where people can learn how to modify and re-imagine their old clothes.

Recycling and sustainability play a key role in the gallery's programming. Carter is always having conversations with young people about recycling, composting, and food. It's working so well that they now ask her what ingredients are in her food.

“We got hardcore about our recycling game to teach the young people. So now, for the young people, that's normal to them,” Carter says.

Music plays a big part, of course. Every Tuesday, Carter hosts The Foundation, an open mic that celebrates Detroit's women in hip hop. Two bands use the space to practice. A community radio station, Detroit FREQ, also broadcasts from 5e. And every week, the b-boy dance crew Motor City Rockers hold public rehearsals and lessons.

Becoming involved in 5e was an unexpected but welcome change for Carter. She was a New York City-based fashion photographer in a previous life, having done work for the New York Times, French Vogue, and British Elle. Though always concerned with sustainability issues and community building, it wasn't until she moved back to Detroit that Carter was able to fully realize this important side of her. In addition to her work with 5e, Carter is launching thestudioArena, a magazine geared toward sustainable fashion for women of color. She had no idea that moving back to Detroit would change her life so much, but she's certainly grateful for it.

“I'm having deeper conversations now around these issues and it's not going for naught. It's actually contributing to the community in a positive way. I'm actually able to see the work being done and translate it,” says Carter. “It's hard to explain what that feeling is to me. I want to say it's fulfilling. It makes me feel like my life is worth something. It's not like I was worthless before, but it makes me feel like I'm using all my breath to do something good.”

All photos by Doug Coombe.

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