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Removing the Boundaries Between Us -- and Art

If Detroit seems empty to you, it might be because you're not looking in the right places.

Sunday afternoon, it seemed like everyone was on Belle Isle. There are crowds of kids, tangles of teens, flocks of families. And, for a short week-long stay, there is inspired sculpture.

My family came to this little piece of Detroit heaven to see what the artists of Access Arts. Some 19 artists created nearly two dozen projects that are integrated into Belle Isle's natural habitat. This is not a drive-by exhibit; it is a visceral, visual experience.

Add some amazing people watching, an inspired soundtrack of live music, DJs and laughter and a little summer breeze, and you have the makings of what I'd consider one of the best visits thus far.

Some background: Access Arts describes itself as “multidisciplinary public arts project." Its goal is to offer artists and the public an opportunity to intersect in a neutral space. In collaboration with Belle Isle's Parks and Recreation, they host two outdoor exhibitions annually at Belle Isle Park: one in July, the other in October. The exhibitions consist of a variety of what is described as earth art, performance and installation.

All of the art works from this most recent exhibit will be displayed until July 30 – so hurry! I missed it last year, and I truly regretted it. Really, what does it cost you to take a drive out to Belle Isle? It has everything: parks, water, golf, museums and more. (Sadly, Scott Memorial Fountain looks like it is closed for repairs; its mighty presence is missed this summer. Let's not let this one fade away because of budget cuts, City Leaders.)

I'll admit I probably missed some of the exhibits because we were traveling to them by car. Take the map from the Access Arts web site with you – it will be hugely helpful. Some folks recommended doing it by bicycle, so bring your two wheeler along if you have the chops (I had two tots in tow, so the car was all I could manage.)

The exhibits we found were subtle, sneaky things. They truly are integrated into the environment in such a way that you cannot typically find them if you were just cruising the island. But there is something so satisfying in seeing art outside of a walled museum. Don't get me wrong – I love the DIA as much as the next guy (maybe more having married an art major). But seeing that tangled web (my favorite) tied up among the trees with a blue-sky ceiling is something to behold.

This year's Access Arts Belle Isle Exhibit Artists are: Dwan Bledsoe, Juan Banks, David Howard, Mary Rousseaux, Sean Hages, Kyla Crawford, Mike Lyons Williams, Amanda Faye Cain, Clare Fox, Shannon Wilson, Jacklynn Brickman, Courtney Spivak, Matthew Scarlett, Andrew Thompson, Katie Casebolt, Sarah Stawski, Nancy Q Burns, Anthony Perez and Julie Howells.

Why Belle Isle? Co-Director Sicily McRaven notes, “The setting of the show removes some of the boundaries that are typically applied to the forms of art presented. Usually installation and performance art take place in somewhat secluded academic or gallery oriented venues. Having the show in such an open public space makes it so that anyone can see or show work.”

This year, Access Arts reached out to Wolverine Human Services, a local human services agency that provides “safety, sustenance, nurturing, and therapeutic intervention” to children. With their support, Access Arts host bi-weekly art workshops for their residents, adolescent men age 12-18.

The program's goal is to allow the young men a chance to recognize their own creative ability through exposure to contemporary public art and core art concepts. As a result of the workshops, the young men have an opportunity to develop and execute an individual or group project for an upcoming Access Arts exhibit – including this one. (The artists are Duwan Bledsoe, Juan Banks, and David Howard.)

So look for the signs. Find some great art. And find a little bit of your soul out there.

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