Garage Cultural Grows Youth Arts Programming in Southwest Detroit

Garage Cultural is a community arts education center in Southwest Detroit that was started four years ago by Executive Director Ismael Duran and Co-Founder Lydia Gutierrez from Hacienda Mexican Foods. Their vision for the center was to provide educational programming in visual and performing arts for youth in the community, with a strong focus on uplifting Latin American culture.

Over the summer, Garage Cultural engaged over 120 youth and their families through classes in music, theatre, and art such as drumming, ceramics, painting, guitar, hip-hop and voice. They share their space and work collaboratively with Motorcity Street Dance Academy which has provided students with a newly renovated dance studio for breakdancing workshops. Starting this month, they will be showcasing their summer projects and giving local artists a space to perform. Upcoming events include the “Cafe Violeta” on August 13th, the Fiesta del Rio on August 27th, and a “Teatro Popular” (TEPO) theater performance in the fall.

“We want to create opportunities for arts and culture to flourish in our community,” says Amelia Duran, Co-Director of Garage Cultural. “A lot of the people who come to Garage Cultural are first and second generation immigrant families – some of them are still learning English and therefore finding accessible arts programming can be challenging, especially with fewer art programs and resources available within the public school system.”

Garage Cultural Class

In 2014, Garage Cultural received a Knight Arts Challenge grant for a theater arts program called TEPO, short for “Teatro Popular”. TEPO is an opportunity for Latino youth to work with professional playwrights to create a play about their community. The outcome of the program will be an adaptation of the novel Don Quixote which they will perform in October.

“TEPO was my father's idea,” says Amelia. “He wanted to do something in Spanish so the community could enjoy a little bit of theater.” Ismael is a Chilean folk musician and the main visionary for the space.

Since Garage Cultural formed, the programming has evolved beyond youth art and music classes. Viewing themselves as a “hub” for community work they have produced concerts for local bands, hosted Christmas bazaars, organized monthly open mics, provided ESL classes for adults, created murals with both members of the community and international artists such as Dasic Fernández, and collaborated with projects such as The Raiz Up and Motor City Street Dance Academy. By supporting local artists, educators, organizers, entrepreneurs and youth in the community they hope to build up self-sufficiency for both the center itself and the artists coming together in their space, while celebrating the diversity and unique culture of Southwest Detroit.

Garage Cultural mural painting

“Ultimately what we are doing is trying to build community, connections, and energy in this area of the neighborhood,” says Amelia. “Southwest Detroit has a strong sense of cohesion in artist, activist and nonprofit circles, but sometimes even the immigrant populations can be disenfranchised from participating in those spaces. We want to help build a sense of solidarity among these families, so they don’t feel so isolated and alone here.”

“Cafe Violeta” Art and Music Showcase

Garage Cultural will be sharing highlights from their summer programs at the upcoming “Cafe Violeta” on August 13th. Amelia describes the Cafe Violeta as a “peña”, a spanish word used in Latin American culture to describe a place where a group of people can come together to organize, celebrate, and uplift their community via music, food and dance. The Cafe Violeta is a monthly performance showcase that aims to engage both individuals and families in the community, with a strong emphasis on engagement of both children and parents.

“My father prides himself on creating youth-friendly programming that is not merely ‘latchkey’. He wants there to be an intergenerational dynamic within the space,” says Amelia. “When the parents drop their kids off at Garage Cultural for guitar or art lessons, he urges them to stay and talk with each other, and later come to the Cafe Violeta to see their children's progress. That builds a sense of collective involvement and power within the space.” Ismael adds that for the youth, “they too are learning something – even if they are just getting a first taste of art and culture.” This introduction is enough to spark their interest into something they may seek to cultivate more deeply later.

Garage Cultural Amelia and Ismael
Ismael and Amelia Duran, founders of Garage Cultural

Currently Garage Cultural is largely a volunteer driven project, supported by Hacienda Mexican Foods and based in the company's old warehouse. In the coming years they look forward to deepening their partnerships in the community with other arts organizations, and bringing new groups and creative programming to the center. They also plan to grow their outdoor performance area, and hope to build a green space in the vacant lot adjacent to the building where a burned out liquor store once stood.

Garage Cultural will also be participating in the Fiesta del Rio: Best of Southwest Detroit event on August 27th at the West Riverfront Park. The event will feature an exhibit of artwork made by youth from their summer programs as well as work by professional artists, live music from national and local acts, local food vendors, and more.

Garage Cultural is a sponsored project of Allied Media Projects. To make a tax-deductible contribution to support the project’s youth arts programming in Southwest Detroit, click the link below.


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