What is being done for Detroit’s neighborhoods? It's a common refrain amidst the revitalization taking place in the city’s Midtown and downtown areas. Thanks to a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History has an answer - lighting up some of its darkest neighborhoods with projections of Detroit’s elders.
In December 2012, 40% of the 88,000 lighting fixtures in the city of Detroit were broken or in need of repair. This situation literally and metaphorically leaves tens of thousands of citizens in the dark, and has come to symbolize the darkness of desolation, danger, and abandonment.
One of the 56 winners of Detroit’s Knight Arts Challenge, The Wright Museum’s “Shine a Light” project will dispel the darkness with images of those who have commanded respect and provided hope through two long term, large-scale video installations, and one mobile installation that will travel to Detroit’s darkest neighborhoods. Each will illuminate the legacy, vitality and fabric of Detroit, providing safe passage for city residents while honoring elders and ancestors who have nurtured generations of families and communities.
One such elder is Alma Greer. A retired teacher, principal, and 30-year veteran of the Detroit Board of Education, Greer made it a point to take her kindergarten class to visit the International Afro-American Museum when Dr. Charles Wright and his partners opened it in 1965. Now, she’s dedicating her 80th birthday celebration to the museum by asking family and friends to raise funds for the “Shine a Light” project in lieu of birthday gifts. The Knight Foundation Challenge grant provides $120,000 over two years for the project, but requires that the museum raise matching funds. “Scarves and perfume are nice,” Alma states, “but what would make this birthday special is the act of giving to the museum so that ‘Shine a Light’ can be made as inspiring as I know it can be.”
The museum has commissioned distinguished filmmaker Julie Dash to create these works of public art, engaging her unique capacity to imbue moving images with ancestral spirituality. Dash, best known for her groundbreaking 1991 work, Daughters of the Dust, the first feature film by an African American woman to receive general theatrical release, most recently held the Bob Allison (Allesee) Endowed Chair in Media at Wayne State University. Working in collaboration with a team of Detroit-based media artists, she will gather the silent, moving images, expressions and gestures of Detroit elders as they reflect upon their memories of the city and their hopes for the future. Leading the production team is veteran producer and documentary filmmaker Juanita Anderson, Media Arts and Studies lecturer and Director of Film and Digital Initiatives for the Department of Communication at Wayne State University.
Though “Shine a Light” is in its beginning stages, Dash and Anderson have already begun capturing footage as a part of their Detroit Elders Project. A firm timeline has not been established, but project members point to the next DLECTRICITY Exhibition of Art & Light, scheduled for October 2014, as a potential opportunity to unveil one or more of the completed installations.
About The Wright Museum
Founded in 1965 and located at 315 East Warren Avenue in Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. For more information please visit TheWright.org.