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Hearing Voices: Joe Ferraro, Artist/Co-Producer of the "Damned II" art showcase

There's art. And there are art shows. And then there's the "art show as art," which is how local artist Joe Ferraro describes Damned II, a dark Detroit showcase of introspective, deeply personal -- and sometimes deeply disturbing -- creations from an array of what Joe terms "outsider artists."

These ain't Halloween carvings for the trick-or-treaters. In its second year, the event—held in Detroit's Tangent Gallery/Hastings St. Ballroom on Oct. 29 and Oct. 30 (Devil's Night, of course) — is a Stygian mash-up of art showings, performance theater and a masquerade ball. Meanwhile, the feature art ranges far and wide: from works by numerous locals to offerings by international artists like Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger -- the Oscar-winning designer of the "Alien" monster from the sci-fi film series -- to bizarre creations from rock star Marilyn Manson.

With Devil's Night and Halloween approaching, I sat with Joe to find out why he and fellow Damned II co-producer DVS believe that their dark works will shed more light on Detroit's already-significant influence on the larger art world.

Detroit art is distinct and, in that tradition, we wanted to make sure there's nothing like The Damned Show anywhere else. We are showing the world what we can do creatively, what Detroit artists who work in this genre are doing and how we are a big part of something that is being done across the globe. You don't have this convergence of such artists in one place anywhere else, where you invite them to show their work and actively display not just what they are creating, but what they are going through.

We chose Devil's Night as a part of our theme because it's a part of Detroit history, obviously, with the mischief and, later, with the arsons. People who know the stereotype think of places burning down. And yes, there is the association with our show to hellfire and damnation — but it's not the damnation of Christian mythology. It's that internal damnation that comes with introspection, that internal conflict you have before you can make meaningful change in your life.

In past centuries, the Halloween season has represented a time of transition, a time when you bridged planes and brought the physical and spiritual together. So we're trying to gather people together to experience something positive at a time of year when many people who think about Detroit are still thinking of destruction.

We wanted to focus on especially the "outsider" artists. Those are people who may not be classically trained in the arts, who may not have a fine arts degree -- a degree at all -- but for whatever reason they're determined and compelled to create work. And these are artists who have maybe never shown or had a showing in a show before. You won't see their stuff at a gallery out in Birmingham (a ritzy Detroit suburb).

There are class differences among artists here in Detroit, and we wanted to create something that, from beginning to end, would stand out from your normal, so-called "high-class" showing. We're the guys who generally don't get exhibited in modern galleries or rub shoulders with the big collectors. You go to Birmingham, and you stand around, drink wine, eat cheese and talk about the painting. You come to Detroit for "Damned II," and there's something for all of your senses, from the ball to a six-course dinner. You're looking at art, but there are also performance pieces that are part of the art. You're completely immersed in the larger experience. The show is art in itself -- and you're part of it.

We also wanted to make sure it was affordable for everyone, which is why ticket prices are $6.66 in advance. We know times are tough and people can't always afford to enjoy good art at other places. It was a conscious decision to be able to make this as available to as many people as possible. Everyone should be able to enjoy art, whether it's the darker works or more traditional stuff.

That's also a reason we're trying to align ourselves with people who are doing work with the community. We care about Detroit. Not only do we care about the artists here and are trying to promote the artists. We're also trying to help our homeless. The homeless rate is skyrocketing because of the unemployment rate, because of the collapse of our industry as a whole. Last year, we gave food to the Gleaners Food Bank. This year we're donating to Burners Without Borders. This is about giving something back.

And that's also why we're in Detroit proper -- the Hastings Street Ballroom -- not in places like Birmingham. Detroit counts more than a lot of people know when it comes to art. And we want people to come from all over and experience what we're doing and what our city has to offer.

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