Letter to the Editor RE: Detroit Dance
This letter is in regards to "A Tale of Dance in Detroit: Pioneers and Natives" published on April 14, 2015.
A little introduction: My name is Kristi Faulkner and I am a choreographer, performer, educator and arts activist based in Detroit. My company, Kristi Faulkner Dance, is a multidisciplinary movement company that thrives on collaboration, blurring the lines between audience and performer and exploring the intersection of visual and aural experiences. Through live performance, dance for camera, and community engagement, I seek to create thought-provoking, visceral experiences. I grew up in the Midwest, moved east for a few years, then moved to the Detroit area in 2010 to begin my dance company. I didn't know a single soul in the Detroit dance scene when I moved here, but I built a network and am fueled by the innovative energy of the arts community here and am proud to call it my home.
I particularly love your inclusion of Haleem who is such an incredible and influential person here - someone who is business minded but also very cognizant of the impact he is making on his community. I also really appreciated including the perspective of Erika Stowall - one of the first friends and collaborators I made when I moved here 5 years ago. With all the empty space that seems to be "available" in Detroit, it definitely appears to be the developer's and artists' dream - this romantic notion that there's so many abandoned buildings that artists are just sweeping up and claiming is a picture many have of Detroit. And while this is true to a certain extent, it's a very different reality for the dance community.
Erika's comments about the lack of sufficient spaces to perform (and to rehearse) is a stark reality for us in the Detroit dance community. Being a dancer yourself, you know that we can't just snatch up any old building and get to work. There are lots of safety conditions that need to be met that are unique to dance - proper floors, heat in the winter, size of the space to accommodate dance - and very few places exist in Detroit that meet those conditions AND are affordable. Most of us don't have the financial backing to renovate abandoned buildings to meet the needs of the dance community, so we get creative. I've worked in yoga studios, old warehouses, galleries, parks, LGBT centers, friends lofts...we make the best of what we have even though it's never ideal.
Personal relationships and networking are really the backbone of the Detroit dance community - when I moved here there were zero places advertising rehearsal/performance space rental for dance and existing studios were asking upwards of $25 and hour for rehearsal rental, so I made friends with artists of other disciplines who helped me find available space that I could repurpose as dancing space. This struggle is one of the hardest things about making dance in Detroit especially because the financial and curatorial power really is in the hands of very few, as Biba noted in your article. It is also one of the things that is so incredibly cool about Detroit because it opened the doors to so many collaborations and ideas. Ryan Myers Johnson, for example, brought dance and other artistic mediums to the people with her Sidewalk Festival of the Arts which is now in its third year. This free festival takes place outside in the Brightmoore neighborhood and is honestly the best festival I have ever had the pleasure of performing in.
Detroit is truly a city of innovators and the dance community is doing some of the most incredibly innovating projects. I'm excited to be a part of it and really excited to see what Galapagos brings to our community. I've spoken with many people about this move and received many mixed reactions ranging from enthusiastic support to skepticism over yet another out of town developer inserting itself in the city. I think it's important to be cognizant of role Galapagos will have in the artistic community and the Detroit community at large. I'm a community organizer as well and successfully led the fight against a development project in my own neighborhood that was completely out of line with the vision of our community and destined to further gentrification. As with all development, if it's done in conjunction with the needs and vision for the future of the existing community, it will be a success for all. The dance community especially needs safe, affordable rehearsal and performance space and I personally hope Galapagos will be one of many to provide that as our city continues to grow. The audiences are there and as we continue to reach out to diversify our collaborations as artists and impact our communities with our creative expression, the dance community will expand beyond its existing borders.
I appreciate your article providing a diverse look at the people making work in the Detroit dance scene. A little over a year ago, an arts writer for the Detroit News published an article on a local company stating it was the ONLY professional dance company in Michigan. Not only was this allegation completely false because there are many professional dance companies in Michigan, but it was very disheartening to know how out of touch this arts writer was with his arts community. My rebuttal to his article resulted in a retraction of that statement but the major media outlets here still fall short of capturing the breadth of activity in the Detroit dance scene. Thank you for your thoughtful, inclusive article and for your hopeful look towards the future of Detroit and its dance community!
Artistic Director, Kristi Faulkner Dance